It can be overwhelming when a loved one dies. During an already difficult time, there is often much pressure to figure out the legal aspects of the estate. Taking time to grieve is of paramount importance. Doing an inventory of assets and debts and meeting with a probate or estate attorney should happen soon, but it does not necessarily have to happen right away.
That being said, there are some logistical things that are important to take care of in the short term after a family member passes away. These 7 things are key to protecting and preserving the affairs and assets that will eventually be dealt with.
1. Obtain Certified Copies of the Death Certificate
The funeral home will likely assist you in getting these, though the process to obtain them separately is not overly cumbersome. In Ohio, it can be done at a local office of the Board of Vital Statistics, or it can be done online at the Ohio Department of Health.
While certain agencies and financial institutions may accept copies that aren’t certified, it is best to still obtain certified copies in case they are needed. It is recommended you get at least 10 copies. They’ll be needed to, among other things, close bank and investment accounts, file life insurance claims, probate an estate, and deal with different agencies.
2. Secure the Property
A deceased family member’s property is at risk of damage or theft, especially as people discover that a home may now be empty. There are ample stories of properties being broken into where copper pipes are removed or cash or other valuables are stolen. It is essential that the home (and other real estate, if they have it) be locked up. The same is true with vehicles. In addition, it is a good idea to water the plants and mow the lawn. The goal should be to not let the rest of the world know that your loved one’s home is now vacant. Lastly, scour the house for cash, gold, or other valuable items and put those under lock and key as well.
3. Verify (or Obtain) Insurance Coverage on the Home and Vehicles
It is common for insurance companies to give a 30-day grace period for coverage after someone passes away. However, this is not necessarily the case — some coverage may last longer, or you may discover your loved one actually had no coverage. Contact the decedent’s casualty insurance agent immediately to find out what coverage is in place in the event of death and what the options are going forward.
But it is essential to keep all appropriate coverage in place. This kind of “gap” coverage can protect against casualty, theft, or injury to another– all threats that could affect your loved one’s estate.
4. Cancel Unneeded Services
Almost everything these days is auto-pay. Cell phone, Netflix, cable, internet, etc. And once a month, those charges hit a bank account or credit card. We can all relate. It is important to determine what services are no longer needed — and those that are (e.g. water, electric, or gas for maintenance of the home) — and to cancel those services so as not to waste money that would otherwise be for the benefit of the family.
5. Close Credit Accounts and Contact One of the Credit Reporting Bureaus
This step is important to prevent the possibility of identity theft. According to idwatchdog.com, identity thieves can obtain the personal information of a deceased individual by reading obituaries, obtaining death certificates, or searching genealogy or social media websites. And this process can go on for months before any crime is detected, unless someone is paying attention and taking appropriate steps.
When contacting individual credit account providers, you will likely need to provide a copy of the death certificate. You should also document those accounts that you close.
In addition to notifying existing credit account providers, you should also notify one of the credit reporting bureaus to prevent the opening of any new credit accounts in the name of your deceased relative. While the estate (and beneficiaries) are not generally held liable for these debts, it can create a mess that can be time-consuming and costly to clean up. You should only have to notify one bureau (Equifax, Experian, TransUnion). Per Equifax, “[w]hen one bureau adds a deceased notice to the person’s credit file, it will notify the other two, eliminating the need for you to contact all three credit bureaus.”
6. Cancel the Driver’s License
This is another step to help avoid identity theft. Canceling your relative’s driver’s license will remove the name from the BMV records department. To cancel an Ohio driver’s license, you can mail a copy of the death certificate to the Ohio BMV, Attn: Record Clearing Unit, P.O. Box 16784, Columbus, OH 43216-6784. Or you can fax it to (614) 752-7987.
7. Get the Mail
Mail piling up can be another clear signal that someone has passed away and a house is vacant, making it an attractive target for theft or vandalism. While the appointed executor or administrator can go to the post office and put in a forwarding order, that necessarily involves the probate court, which may take some time. You can, however, visit the Data and Marketing Association website to remove your relative’s name from the advertising mail list.
Regularly getting the mail will also allow you to discover bills and accounts that need to be paid, closed, or otherwise dealt with.
Of course, this list is not exhaustive, and there is plenty more work to do when a loved one passes away. But if you are able to accomplish these 7 things, you’ll have done a service to your deceased relative as well as the rest of the family who will be involved in the probate or estate settlement process.
If you’d like to talk to one of our attorneys about probate or estate questions, don’t hesitate to contact us. Let’s Talk.