After a death, there are many legal details to work out. While it is not necessary to work with a lawyer, it is strongly recommended. You can also sign up for our Everything After program, which helps walk you through everything that comes with losing a loved one, including updating financial documents, closing social media accounts, canceling driver’s licenses, and so on.
Here are some important legal details to know:
Our funeral home reports the death to Social Security on your behalf. Your funeral director will require your loved one’s Social Security number to complete the paperwork.
Please refer to this handout from the Social Security Administration for more information: How Social Security Can Help You When a Family Member Dies
A Certified Death Certificate is necessary before anything can be done. A death certificate can be obtained through your funeral director. It is a good idea to obtain multiple copies of a death certificate, as most agencies require a certified copy and not a photocopy.
Procedures for bank accounts following death vary regionally. In some areas, bank accounts are automatically frozen after a death. To avoid any complications, the bank should be notified immediately. The bank employees will guide you through the next steps from there. It’s recommended that a joint account stay open for at least six months to allow you to deposit any checks that are made out to the deceased. To take a name off a joint bank account, banks require a certified copy of a death certificate. If the deceased had a safety deposit box in a bank, the contents may be sealed after death and a certified copy of a death certificate will be required to gain access to the contents.
Once you have written a will, you can rest easy knowing your hard-earned money and property will be distributed according to your wishes. In addition, if you have children, you can provide instructions on who will be left in charge of them if you pass, leaving that decision out of the court’s hands. To make a will legal, it must:
- Expressly state that it is your will.
- Be computer generated or typewritten.
- Be signed and dated.
- Be signed by 2-3 witnesses. Witnesses must be people who don’t stand to inherit anything in the will.
While not required, it is recommended that you create a will with a lawyer, as it will avoid any legal headaches after your passing. Once your will is complete, keep it somewhere safe and secure outside of your home. If you prepare your will through a lawyer, most law firms will store it for you free of charge. Many people keep their wills in a safety deposit box at a bank, but this is not recommended, as the contents could be sealed at the time of death. The executor of your will should be aware of the location of it.
An executor is the personal representative of your estate. They are the person in charge of taking control of your assets, paying off any debts, and distributing assets to your beneficiaries, per the terms and conditions of your will. The person you choose to be executor should be outlined in your will, and you should have a backup executor in place just in case.
Probate is the legal process that transfers the ownership of property from the estate of the deceased to their beneficiaries. During the probate process, the executor of your will goes before the courts and identifies all the property you owned, appraises the property, pays all debts and taxes, proves that the will is valid and legal, and distributes the property according to the instructions of the will.