Estate Planning: Helping Protect Your Interests

A Family Member Died, Now What? How to Begin Winding up a Relative’s Legal Affairs

David A. Zobel

David A. Zobel




The death of a loved one is never easy and will likely be an emotional time for you, your children, family, and friends. You may have a lot of things running through your head about what needs to be done, when, and how. To assist you through this difficult time, here’s an outline (in no particular order) of legal considerations necessary to begin the process of winding up your relative’s affairs. You can pursue these in order or at the same time. If it makes you more comfortable, you can skip ahead and contact an attorney at the outset. Finally, it is important to communicate with other family members so these efforts aren’t duplicated.

Order Death Certificates

One of the first things to do is obtain a certified death certificate of your relative and specifically multiple certified copies of the death certificate. Your relative’s financial and service providers, debt holders, the court, contracting parties, and many other institutions may need to see a death certificate to verify your relative’s death before they will begin their internal processes of closing your relative’s accounts. While some institutions will accept copies, many require a certified death certificate, which you or your attorney can get from your county vital records office. Depending on the office, it may take some time to process your requests, so performing this step sooner rather than later is recommended. Also, please note that death certificates are often ordered by the funeral home at the time the service is planned.

Gather Your Relative’s Estate-Planning Documents

If your relative had a will, trust, or any other estate-planning documents designed to transfer any property upon death, gather those documents together. For items with specific titles, e.g. the relative’s home, vehicles, and financial accounts, check for beneficiary or transfer on death provisions. Ideally, you will locate original copies of your relative’s estate planning documents. If you just have copies, consider whether another relative has the original document or where it might be located. If the documents are located in a bank safe deposit box, a bank officer may enter the box for the sole purpose of retrieving and filing a last will and testament.

Take a Preliminary Accounting

When you are gathering your relative’s estate planning documents, you will want to start taking a preliminary accounting of your relative’s assets. Here is a general checklist of information and documents to gather in preparation for your meeting with your attorney. In general, take note of the following: Continue reading »

A Family Member Died, Now What? Preparing for the Initial Meeting with the Attorney

David A. Zobel

David A. Zobel




In our recent post “A Family Member Died, Now What? How to Begin Winding up a Relative’s Legal Affairs,” we outlined several actions to take to start winding up a deceased relative’s legal affairs, including gathering your relative’s estate-planning documents and taking a preliminary accounting of your relative’s property.

Below is a general checklist of information and documents which will be helpful for you to assemble in preparation for meeting with your attorney. It is not necessary to have the checklist completed prior to the initial meeting. However, for reference, you may want to print this post, fill it out, and bring it with you to the initial meeting.

  1. Decedent’s Background Information (may attach a death certificate in lieu of this section):
    • Full Name:
      ______________________________________________
    • Residence Address:
      ______________________________________________
    • Date of Birth:
      ______________________________________________
    • Social Security Number:
      ______________________________________________
    • Marital Status:
      ______________________________________________
    • Spouse’s Name:
      ______________________________________________
  2. Relative’s Financial and Medical Affairs:
    • Employment Status:
      ______________________________________________
    • Employer’s Name:
      ______________________________________________
    • Banks / Institutions / Brokerages (including accounts held,
      e.g. savings):
      ______________________________________________
      ______________________________________________
      ______________________________________________
      ______________________________________________
    • Safe Deposit Box Location:
      ______________________________________________
    • Pension (if so, from where):
      ______________________________________________
    • Life Insurance Policies (provider(s) and amounts):
      ______________________________________________
      ______________________________________________
      ______________________________________________
      ______________________________________________
    • Vehicles and VINs:
      ______________________________________________
      ______________________________________________
      ______________________________________________
      ______________________________________________
    • Known Creditors (mortgage, credit card, etc.):
      ______________________________________________
    • Receiving Medicaid Benefits?
      ______________________________________________
    • Receiving Social Security Benefits?
      ______________________________________________
    • Important Notes / Special Circumstances to Tell Attorney:
      ______________________________________________
      ______________________________________________
      ______________________________________________
      ______________________________________________
      ______________________________________________
  3. Documents to Assemble (If you don’t have access to an account,
    just indicate that below):

_____     Certified death certificate
_____     Copy of death certificate of spouse, if widowed

_____     Original last will and testament and any codicils (amendments to the will)
_____     Copy of trust and any amendments

_____     Copy of all bank statements from accounts titled in relative’s name from month of relative’s death
_____     Copy of all brokerage statements from accounts titled in relative’s name from month of relative’s death
_____     Copy of all bank statements in the name of the trust for the month of death
_____     Copy of all brokerage statements in the name of the trust for the month of death
_____     Copy of all retirement account statements in the name of the relative for the month of death
_____     Original life insurance policies
_____     Death certificates for any predeceased owners or beneficiaries of insurance policies or co-owners of financial accounts

_____     Original vehicle titles (including boats, motors, and trailers) in the name of the relative and trust
_____     Copy of titles for any real property in the name of the relative or the trust
_____     List of extraordinary personal property (paintings, expensive jewelry, etc.)
_____     Original savings bonds
_____     Information on safe deposit box

_____     Information regarding any creditors of the relative (accounts, balances)
_____     Information regarding any Medicaid benefits the relative received
_____     Information regarding the relative’s beneficiaries/heirs (addresses, dates of birth and social security numbers)
_____     Information on any long term care policies
_____     Copy of funeral bill

David A. Zobel is a member of Danna McKitrick’s team of estate planning and probate professionals. If you would like to learn more about the considerations above, would like assistance administrating a relative’s estate or help with you estate planning needs, one of our firm’s experienced attorneys would love to meet with you.