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A Pre- and Post Death Planning for a loved one

Losing a loved one is one of the most difficult parts of life. No matter how prepared we try to be, saying goodbye is never easy. The days and weeks that follow the death of a loved one can be nothing short of torturous. Most people do not don’t want to deal with large piles of paperwork, making the final arrangements and deal with the many legal, financial, and other tasks that need to be accomplished.

Knowing the full extent of these obligations and preparing in advance with family and advisors can ease administrative burdens and minimize stress during a challenging and emotional time.

Being prepared also helps to:

  • reduce the arguments among friends and family,

  • the attempts by those who times of grief to steal, manipulate, or forge documents,

  • investors who use grief and family division to justify low balling real estate for their gain,

  • make sure all bases are covered

Checklist for the Individual

Taking the necessary steps in advance of your death to minimize the burdens surviving family members will face and to make sure your wishes are known is the responsible thing to do. Here are some step to take:

  • Review estate planning documents. Make sure wills, revocable trusts, healthcare directives, and general powers of attorney reflect your wishes and discuss any changes with your estate planning attorney and other advisors.

  • Discuss cash needs (in the immediate aftermath of your death as well as long term) of your surviving spouse or any relative or other person dependent on you for support with your estate planning attorney and other financial advisors and arrange for appropriate resources. This item is frequently overlooked, but it can cause significant stress and difficulties for surviving family members if it isn’t addressed in advance.

  • Discuss your wishes for end-of-life care with the people you appoint in your healthcare directives.

  • Compile a list of important documents and their locations, so that family members can find things easily.

  • Consider pre-planning the funeral or memorial service. Some people are comfortable pre-planning funeral arrangements with the cemetery and funeral home and pre-planning the memorial service. For those who are not comfortable doing this, consider discussing with your chosen executor or personal representative to help with this task.

  • Speak with named fiduciaries about the details of their role, and make sure they are comfortable with handling the many responsibilities.

  • Arrange for the executor or surviving spouse to access email and online accounts. Access to online accounts and ownership of digital assets will be determined by boilerplate user agreements unless otherwise provided in a will.

  • Address the disposition of tangible personal property — things like art, jewelry, and furniture. Discussing your wishes for these items with family members or drafting a letter or memorandum that outlines your preferences can avoid confusion and disagreements after you die. This can be created as a formal list within a will.

  • If you are a business owner, make a plan for your illiquid assets, whether business succession, or establishing a priority order for the sale of real estate or other business assets. You will also want to make sure your operating agreement for your LLC or By-laws for your corporation are updated to complement your estate plan.

  • Prepare an obituary. It can be helpful for family members to prepare an obituary in advance of your death and then update it periodically.

  • Compile a list of all key contact persons.

  • Be aware of the consequences of not planning. If you don’t make some or all of these planning decisions, state or federal law may decide for you. This includes the placement of minor children.

Free Estate Plan consultation and Will prep comes with your Taxstar.LegalShield membership. Annual updates are also done free of charge. Trusts are prepared with a membership discount. Consultation with an attorney is suggested before DIY attempts for a Trust. There many different types, and poorly constructed Trusts can result to a probate default.

Executor Checklist  

If you’re in charge of handling the affairs for a recently deceased loved one, there are a few things you should be prepared to do. Depending on the circumstances and state law, there may be minor differences in each of the steps below, but the basic process is relatively the same. 

Following the steps below will ensure you know what to do when someone dies at home, at night, if they were abroad, if it was sudden or unexpected, or even if the death was the result of a long illness. 

  1. Obtain legal documentation of death - If your relative is not in hospice or in the hospital at the time of death, you (or whoever is with your relative) should call 911 to reach the medical examiner. Legal documentation of death will be important for several things, like accessing bank and other financial accounts, starting the probate process (if necessary), filing a claim on life insurance and tending to other personal affairs. You’ll want several copies of the death certificate, which you can get from a funeral home or a medical examiner. Obtaining the death certificate should happen relatively soon after the passing, usually within a matter of days. How long you actually have depends on state law.  

  2. Notify necessary parties - Do you need to tell certain individuals in person? Do you want to arrange for someone to be with certain individuals when they receive the call informing them of the death? Determine who will make the call to each person.

  3. Make arrangements for the body - If there is no written and signed request (Will or healthcare directive) for cremation or burial, then the agent under the healthcare directive may make these decisions, depending upon state law. Once there has been an official pronouncement of death (and, in certain cases, after an autopsy is completed), the funeral home will generally retrieve the deceased’s remains and prepare them for cremation or burial.

  4. Social Security - The funeral home will typically notify the Social Security Administration of your relative’s passing. The funeral home will typically notify the Social Security Administration of your relative’s passing. A spouse or children may qualify for the lump sum death benefit. A spouse, divorced spouse, or children will have to contact the social security office directly to see if they qualify for Survivor benefits. Reporting someone’s death to the Social Security Administration is very straightforward. You can speak to a representative by calling 1-800-772-1213 (TTY 1-800-325-0778).

  5. Veteran Benefits - OSA hopes that Survivors and dependents, Veterans, their families, caregivers and others will become more knowledgeable about the benefits and services offered by VA to eligible Survivors and dependents, and take the next steps to apply, if deemed eligible.

  6. Others to contact - Taking care of informing businesses and government agencies could be a job for the Executor of the Estate, if one was named. Be sure the following agencies or companies are notified: 

    1. Banks/mortgage Companies

    2. Financial Advisors

    3. insurance companies- life, home, health, vehicle (banks have accidental death policies for account holders. Make sure to get a copy of the policy)

  7. If your loved one had any dependents (minor children or adults who cannot take care of themselves) or pets, you need to find their Estate Plans quickly to see what, if any, provisions were set up for Guardianship.  If a Will or Trust hasn’t been located and there are minors or pets to be considered, arrangements need to be made immediately. If no estate planning documents are ever located, and/or if guardianship hasn’t been established, the courts may need to get involved to make a more final, long-term decision. 

  8. Secure Assets and Carry Out Other Important Tasks - As you move through the process, you may want to start thinking about things like holding an estate sale and cleaning the house to prepare it for a sale if necessary, etc. It is important to note, that during the probate process, permission to sell property may have to be obtained by the court, especially when there is no will. You want to secure basic assets and personal property by ensuring home(s) and car(s) are locked. Other simple but important to-dos can include mundane household tasks and chores such as: 

    1. Taking the trash out

    2. Checking the mail (and eventually forwarding it)

    3. Bringing in any newspapers or other deliveries, etc. 

  9. Digital Estate - Another relatively new (but increasingly important) part of estate planning is what's come to be known as a “Digital Estate.” A Digital Estate lays out all the digital assets and dictates how they should be handled (think: online passwords and accounts). If a Digital Estate is found, you’ll want to be sure to address everything in it.

  10. Carry Out Decedent's Funeral Wishes - T he Will and any other estate planning documents might be able to help you as you begin planning a memorial or funeral (which we’ll cover in the next step). Often, Wills specify the type of ceremony that’s desired, including who should be invited and other important end of life decisions.

    1. Write the obituary/death announcement - Writing an obituary or death announcement. There are many resources out there to help you write an obituary and death announcement, but remember that you knew your loved one best, and there really aren’t any rules about what you can or can’t do.

    2. Coordinate other funeral arrangements - Will you be planning a large service or funeral? You'll need to decide if there will be a burial, how people will get from the service to the graveside, Floral arrangements etc. 

    3. Determine memorial type - Formal or unconventional, huge gathering or intimate setting, the memorial type should mostly depend on the deceased’s wishes, if possible.

    4. The Repass - You want to decide things like if you’ll have food and refreshments, where you’ll have the gathering and how large the service will be, among other things.

  11. Settle the Estate - Settling an estate is often a long process. But focusing on one thing at a time can help you get through it. While there are several other steps to getting an estate settled, the main ones are:

    1. As Executor, reach out to beneficiaries, Trustees, etc. - Keep all interested parties informed and up to date with what’s going on, especially if there are any delays. Keep detailed and accurate financial records as you move through the steps to settle the estate.

    2. Determine the need for probate - If there is no Estate Plan at all, or if there is just a Will (but no Trust), the estate will go through probate. Probate is simply the process of a court validating a Will and then distributing assets. If there is a Trust, probate can be skipped entirely.

    3. Pay bills/close accounts - You will need to set up a bank account in the estate’s name to handle any financial dealings throughout these final stages. If you involve a probate attorney, they will set up the account. This will help counter those who may be tempted to steal from the estate before it is settled. Be sure to have an accurate inventory of all assets, accounts and anything else you’ll need to take care of to close the estate.

    4. Distribute assets - After all the debts and any taxes the estate owes have been settled, you’ll finally be able to make sure all remaining assets go to the appropriate beneficiaries as dictated by the Will or Trust.

    5. Executor Compensation - executors are usually entitled to compensation for their work, which is often paid from the estate of the deceased. Some states set a flat fee, an hourly rate, or a percentage of the estate or transactions. For example, in Florida, the compensation rate is 3% of the first $1 million, 2.5% of amounts over $1 million up to $5 million, and so on.


What if Someone Dies without a Will?

When someone passes away without a Will or any other Estate Plan (like a Trust), it’s said that they died intestate. When this happens, state intestacy laws and the courts will decide the fate of all the assets in an estate.

Grief is complicated and often painful process to navigate. That’s why Tax Star Mobile, LLC offers to simplify the Estate Planning process for you. can all your Estate Planning needs, whether that means creating or updating your Estate Plan, knowing what is the first thing to do when someone dies, or anything else. 

It’s better to be safe than sorry when it comes to protecting yourself and your loved ones, so get started taxstar.wearelegalshield today to learn how an Estate Plan can benefit you. 

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