What Should I Do First?

It’s difficult to put one foot in front of the other, sometimes, especially when your heart and mind is overwhelmed with sorrow and grief. 

You are the Executor/Administrator of the Estate, but believe it or not, you do not have to do everything at once.  Breathe deeply and just take things one day at a time. 

Nevertheless, having a list of things you can begin doing will help clarify the fog that hovers over your mind and heart at a time like this.

1.       Set Up a Filing System.  There will be many papers and documents to be dealt with.  You will need a way to organize them to help you avoid wasting time searching for what you need.  It will also make it easier for you to answer questions bound to come your way from beneficiaries, insurance companies, banks, etc.

2.       Order Copies of the Death Certificate.  You will need numerous copies, one for each time you claim benefits, such as VA, union, death benefits, insurance proceeds, SS benefits, etc.  The best place to get these copies is at the County vital records office. Prices vary.

3.       Find the Will (if there is one).   This is not always an easy task.  Make photocopies and then file the original will with the county probate court.  Even if you don’t believe you need to go through probate, most states require that the will be turned over to probate court within a certain number of days.  There may be a filing fee.

4.       Find Other Important Documents that may serve as will substitutes, i.e. trust documents, payable-on-death bank forms or deeds, retirement accounts, transfer-on-death titles to vehicles, RV’s etc.  Look for Joint Ownership documents and deeds, Prenuptial agreements and the like.

5.       Send Notifications of the Death.  Various people and institutions will need to be notified, i.e. Social Security Administration, state DMV, Credit Card issuers, Health Service Agencies, etc.  Check the deceased’s personal calendar and cancel upcoming appointments.

6.       Keep the Property Secure.  Personal property, real estate, vehicles all need to be kept safe until disbursed to beneficiaries or sold.  Check to make sure insurance is still in effect and adequate.

7.       Sort Through Belongings. Take still and video photos of personal property and make a list.  Don’t be too hasty sorting through the deceased’s belongings, however.  Many people, especially those who lived through the Great Depression, may have stored or hidden large sums of money in very unlikely places. 

This list is quite simplified, but may help get you started.  I you want or need more specific help, please feel free to contact your Certified Probate Real Estate Specialist, Shirley Bertholf, 360-840-1863 or lovinlife@shirleybertholf.com.