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Checklist Following the Death of a Loved One

Checklist and Grief

A guide to the legal procedures following the death of a loved one.
After the death of a loved one, one can feel overwhelmed with all the details that need to be arranged. This is a stressful and exhausting time, we encourage you to seek out help from family or friends. We can help where needed.
Below is an outlined "Checklist" of procedures that will need to be managed following the death of a loved one.

Funeral Arrangements

Contact a funeral home to make detailed arrangements for burial, service and more. Visit www.funeralwise.com if you need help finding a local funeral home. It is helpful to bring the following information with you when you visit the funeral home:

  1. Name of the deceased
  2. Date and place of birth
  3. Social security number
  4. Father's full name and place of birth
  5. Mother's full name and place of birth

Other people involved in making funeral arrangements as needed

  1. Funeral director of funeral home
  2. Place of worship for service
  3. Cemetery or memorial park
  4. Music provider for service

Plan a reception

Following a funeral or burial service people often find comfort in gathering to celebrate the life of the deceased. You can host this at someone's house, church, reception space etc. You can call a local caterer who can put something appropriate together in a short time, we recommend asking a responsible friend to take charge of this task.

  • Contact close friends and family, ask them to spread the word for you.
  • Write an obituary

The funeral director or a close friend may help you or perhaps even write it for you. Obituaries are commonly posted in the local newspaper and announce the time and place of a funeral service, be sure to post an obituary in each place the person lived.
Visit www.obituaryguide.com if you need help writing an obituary.

Obtain Death Certificate & Certified Copies

This is important; you will need county issued copies of the death certificate as you notify banks, insurance companies, credit card companies and more. You will need 10-20 certified copies depending on how many people or companies will need to receive one. Many financial institutions will not issue any change or release of funds until they have received a certified copy.

3 Ways to obtain certified copies:

  1. Funeral Home- ask the funeral home if they can assist you, it will generally take them 1-3 weeks to process original death certificate and produce certified copies.
  2. Via mail: Visit www.cdph.ca.gov to acquire an application for a copy online and follow instructions for mailing your request and copy fees. Important to look at the processing times for your request- perhaps it may be better to go in person.
  3. In person: Visit www.cdph.ca.gov to locate your local California County Recorder Office address and business hours. You can go in person, submit an application and sometimes only wait 2 hours to receive a certified copy within the same day. This may be the best method for fast processing- call the county office to inquire if the death certificate is available and their method for processing.

Sacramento County Recorder Locations:

  • Sacramento County Health Department & Local Registrar
    7001 East Parkway, Suite 650
    Sacramento, CA 95823
    Office (916) 875-2066
  • Sacramento County Recorder
    600 Eighth Street
    Sacramento, CA 95814
    Office (916) 874-6334
    www.ccr.saccounty.net

Notify employers, probate court, financial institutions and more

  • Employer
  • Residential landlord and utility companies
  • Probate Court

Many states require that a will be disclosed in sometimes as little as 10 days following death. In California all wills must be filed within 30 days after a person dies. Probate procedures may be complex depending on size of estate and claims against it. In order to avoid any probate mistakes or filing that could hurt the Decedent's Estate it is best to seek out a lawyer experienced in navigating the probate court. Hackard Law is very experienced in this area of law.

For general information about Wills, Estates & Probate: http://www.courts.ca.gov/8865.htm
For specific information to guide you in action: http://www.saccourt.ca.gov/probate/decedent-estate.aspx

If you need legal assistance, consult Michael Hackard from Hackard Law at 916-313-3031.


Banks or credit unions

Joint accounts- notification from the joint account holder will close the account. You should immediately establish a new account to handle funds received after the death to show accurate accounting for will distribution and so forth.
If the deceased had a safe deposit box that was only rented in their name, you will need a court order to open it.

Insurance companies (health, life, auto, home etc.)

If the funds are not already committed to a financial plan, request payment for only the amount you will need over the next two months. Leave decisions about investments for a later time, once things have calmed down. Call the companies for forms.

Credit card companies and creditors

Cancel credit cards that are only in the name of the deceased. Notify all creditors right away to avoid bill continuing to run and let them know the contact info for your attorney or inform them whether the estate is in probate, ready to be probated, or won't require probate. Take detailed notes as you call.

Social Security, veteran's benefits, pension/association programs

Social Security offers death benefits to a surviving spouse, eligible child or family member. The death benefit is a one-time sum of $255 or if you're eligible, a monthly survivor benefits plan.
Visit www.ssa.gov/survivorplan
To prevent identity theft or fraud, it is important for the Social Security to be notified of the death for their records.

Major Medical Insurance

Spouses of the deceased must either convert to an individual income insurance plan or purchase their own policy.

Post Office

If applicable, file a change of address if mail is to be rerouted to executor of the estate.

Other :

  • Cancel or Transfer memberships, subscriptions etc.
  • Automotive groups
    Transfer titles of any cars that were in the name of the deceased.

Compile Important Documents

When settling the affairs of a loved one it is helpful to keep accurate records and collect important documents.

  • Social Security card
  • Birth, Marriage, Death Certificates
  • Citizenship documents
  • Will or living trust
  • Insurance policies
  • Deeds to properties
  • Titles to autos, boats, RVs etc.
  • Bank account information
  • Stock, bond or mutual fund statements
  • IRA, 401(k) or pension plan information
  • Income tax returns
  • Disability claims
  • Last credit card statements
  • Last mortgage statement
  • An updated credit report of the deceased

Other Practical Tasks

Income Tax

Still needs to be filed for the deceased for that year. Taxes are due on the normal filing date, request an extension if necessary. If the deceased was your spouse, you can still file jointly. If you have dependent children, you can file a joint return for two more years.

Federal estate tax return (FORM 706 or Form 1041)

Contact a CPA or attorney to see if you will need to file a federal estate tax return. Hackard Law is very experienced in this area of law.

Consult an Attorney

Whether you decide to hire an attorney or not, it is highly recommended you consult with one right away following a loved one's death. Many heirs worry about the cost of the legal help, but hiring an attorney can often times save an estate upwards of thousands of dollars. Often times people do not understand the complexities of a Decedent's Estate and incur liabilities and extra charges, hiring legal help can help you avoid these consequences. An attorney can make the process of settling an estate much easier for the family members during the difficult time. Seeking professional support is a good idea, even if only for a free consultation to simply take the time to make sure you are on the right path and are not missing any crucial steps.

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