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Boca Raton Estate Planning Lawyer / Blog / Asset Protection / Step-by-Step General Guide on What to Do When a Loved One First Passes Away

Step-by-Step General Guide on What to Do When a Loved One First Passes Away


It is never easy to experience the loss of a loved one, and it is especially challenging while handling the urgent responsibilities that arise when someone passes. It is not uncommon to be unsure of what to do after a loved one passes away. While it may seem daunting to navigate a loved one’s legal and financial matters after their passing, it is important to take action immediately. This is an overwhelming process, so we have created a general checklist to guide you through this process.

  1. Gather Financial and Legal Documents: Your first priority is ensuring your loved one’s wishes, regarding their final disposition, are honored. If your loved one had estate planning documents, you can find their wishes regarding burial/cremation instructions, funeral arrangements, and/or other final wishes in their Last Will and Testament.
  2. Deposit the Original Will: If your loved one executed a Will prior to their passing, Florida law requires that the person holding the original Will deposit with the Clerk of Court in the county where the decedent resided, within ten (10) days after their death.
  3. Obtain the Death Certificate: A death certificate is needed for multiple legal purposes such as probating an estate, social security, life insurance claims, or retirement benefits. The funeral director, hospital, or Florida Department of Health can assist you in obtaining your loved one’s death certificate. It is advised that you have around eight (8) copies of the certificate. Florida has two types of death certificates: a short-form death certificate and a long-form death certificate. A short-term death certificate is 8 ½ by 11 inches, and is normally submitted for probate court and when recording a death certificate for a life-estate deed, ladybird deed, or jointly owned property. A short-form certificate does not disclose the cause of death. Alternatively, a long-form death certificate, which is 8 ½ by 14 inches, discloses the cause of death, and is sometimes required by life insurance companies and financial institutions to trigger the “payable on death” designation and payments.
  4. Identify and Locate Decedent’s Assets and Liabilities: It is important to gather a list of all assets belonging to your loved one’s estate, including all real and personal property, such as the decedent’s home, vehicles, cash in bank accounts, investment accounts, personal belongings, etc. This list of assets can also be used to assist the decedent’s personal representative if your loved one’s estate is required to go through the probate process. The probate process may be avoided if your loved one’s assets are held in a Revocable Living Trust.
  5. Contact a Florida Estate Planning and Probate Attorney: Probate is the court-supervised process required to make sure a Will is valid, and that the entire estate is administered in accordance with the decedent’s wishes. Meeting with an estate planning and probate attorney can assist with whether a probate proceeding is required, how to administer the estate, and how to distribute assets to the beneficiaries. The probate process may be avoided if your loved one’s assets are held in a Revocable Living Trust, are jointly owned, or are transferable on death (Transfer on Death (TOD) and/or Payable on Death (POD) designations). However, if your loved one only had a Last Will and Testament and assets solely in their name, you will need to contact a probate attorney to assist you in the probate proceeding.

Most importantly, take time to surround yourself with friends and family for emotional support. Losing a loved one is difficult, but SAMUELS WOOD PLLC hopes this step-by-step general guide can provide relief and guidance on how to navigate handling a loved one’s matters after they are laid to rest. Contact our firm at 561-864-3371 for assistance with your next steps.

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