Legal Issues Related To A Death


Gathering important documents

Gathering the Important Documents

Are you as organized as you should be? Chances are the answer is “no.” In today’s busy life, most of us are just doing our best to hold things together day-to-day.

Then, the unthinkable happens. Someone you love dies, leaving you with more questions than you could ever answer. Like, “Where is our marriage certificate?” Or, “What did we do with the pink slip to the car?”

Now’s the time to do your best to locate as many of the following important documents as possible:

  • Wills
  • Birth Certificates
  • Marriage Certificates
  • Deeds
  • Bank Books
  • Stock Certificates
  • Military Discharge Papers
  • Social Security Card
  • Tax Forms
  • Vehicle and Boat Titles
  • Insurance Policies

While you’re going through the desk drawers and filing cabinets, you’ll run across documents that you think may be useful. Add them to the pile. In the coming weeks, you may need them.

If you have questions about anything related to the search for the important papers, call us. We’re here to help.


Thinking Ahead?

That’s great. Having a select place to store important documents, like bills and personal records, can come in handy in helping settle an estate after death without having to search and sift through mounds of paperwork.

Why not create a "When I'm Dead" file? You could name it anything you want, but that title fits nicely.  This is where you’ll organize your family’s documents, so those you leave behind can easily find what they need when the time comes.

So what important documents should you keep in your "When I'm Dead" file? Here are a few suggestions:

  • Final documents, which include wills, trusts, powers of attorney, and health care directives. Copies of these documents should also be given to a trusted individual for safekeeping.
  • Income information, including social security and child support and alimony documents.
  • Investment accounts, including retirement accounts, mutual funds, and college saving plans.
  • Credit cards account information
  • Bills and banking information, which involves clearly explaining how bills are paid and includes any necessary information and instructions for bills paid online.
  • Insurance policies, including life, health, auto, and disability or long-term care insurance papers.
  • Other important paperwork, including military records, old tax returns, and birth, marriage, and death certificates.
  • Digital asset account information, which includes email and social media accounts, online services, and financial accounts. You want to organize and store essential passwords, access keys, PINs, and other sensitive information in a safe place that can later be accessed by your family or another trusted individual upon your death.

will i need a lawyer?

Will I Need a Lawyer?

Despite the fact that people make jokes about lawyers all the time, they really are necessary in a community. They are, in effect, society's professional problem solvers.

While there is no requirement to use a lawyer, probate is a rather formal procedure. One minor omission, one failure to send a copy of the petition to a relative, or a missed deadline, can cause everything to come to a grinding halt.

Or, in the worst case scenario, such things can expose everyone to liability.

The death of a family member or friend sometimes tends to bring out the very worst in some people. Experience shows that even in close families there is a tendency to get overly emotional about relatively trivial matters at the time of a loved one's death, such as who gets the iron frying pan and who gets the kettle.

Such minor matters, or any delays or inconveniences can be upsetting, pose issues of fairness, and create unfounded suspicion among family members. Thus it generally is a very good idea to hire a lawyer to sort it all out for you – so you can grieve, and find your way in the world without the physical presence of your loved one.

If you’d like to speak with one of our funeral professionals about the issues you are currently facing, please call us. While we are not lawyers, we can make a worthy referral, should the situation warrant one.
 

death certificates

Death Certificates

Perhaps the single most important document you’ll need in the coming weeks, the death certificate is important for:

Legal Reasons: The death certificate is a permanent legal record of the fact of death. State agencies always stipulate that a death certificate is to be filed. It provides important information about:  the decedent, the cause of death, and final disposition.  

This information is used in the application for insurance benefits, settlement of pension claims, and transfer of title of real and personal property.  The certificate is prima facie evidence of the fact of death and, therefore, can be introduced in court as evidence when a question about the death arises.

Personal Reasons: The death certificate in many cases provides family members with closure, peace-of-mind, and documentation of the cause of death. It also provides peace-of-mind by facilitating efficient processing of needed benefits as those described above.

Vital Statistics Reasons: The death certificate is the source for state and national mortality statistics.  It is needed for a variety of medical and health-related research efforts. It is used to determine which medical conditions receive research and development funding, to set public health goals and policies, and to measure health status at local, state, national, and international levels. This data is valuable as a research tool and by influencing research funding.

Before the business and legal issues of the estate can be pursued, it will be necessary to obtain certified copies of the death certificate. You can order them from:

  1. Your Funeral Director
  2. The Registrar of Vital Statistics in your area

It is always better to order a few more than what you think you will need. Most agencies will only accept certified death certificates, not photocopies.

In some cases, there may be a need to obtain a certified copy of the death certificate without a cause of death. These certificates are needed to transfer the title on a house, mobile home, and automobile or in some cases for court procedures. You should make this request when ordering the certified copies.

If you have questions about obtaining copies of a Death Certificate, please call us. We’re here to assist you.

notifying creditors and government agencies

Notifying Creditors and Government Agencies

There are so many social connections you will need to notify of the death of a loved one. Just think of it: credit card companies, banks, investment and insurance companies, health care providers…the list can feel endless. What should be your top priority?

That’s simple. While the order of notifications you make will depend on your personal situation, it's essential that you stick to the following notification process, and keeping good records of all notifications you make. That should be your #1 priority.
 

A 4-Step Notification Process

  1. Initially make the contact by telephone.
  2. Follow-up with written verification. 
  3. Mail all written verifications via registered mail, with signature confirmation required.
  4. Retain copies of all notices that you send, with the related postal tracking/signature information attached.

For many of the government agencies and financial entities, you will need a certified copy of the death certificate, your loved one’s social security number, and, if you are the executor of the estate, a copy of the appointment form from the probate court.  

All creditors should be notified promptly following a death. If there is to be a delay in meeting debts or installment payments, you may be able to file for extensions. Many creditors are sympathetic to these situations and are willing to grant your requests. If credit insurance or mortgage insurance policies were in force, purchases made on credit (vehicles, furniture, etc.) or the home mortgage may be paid off by the insurance. Ask your lending institution.

Also notify the major credit reporting agencies, including ExperianEquifax, and TransUnion. Instruct them to list all accounts as: “Closed.  Account Holder is Deceased.”  You may also request a credit report to obtain a list of all creditors and to review recent credit activities.

Social Security and other government agencies should be contacted. These agencies could also include the:

  • Veteran’s Administration, if your loved one served in the military.
  • Defense Finance and Accounting Service, if the deceased was a military service retiree receiving benefits.
  • Office of Personnel Management, if they were a retired or former federal civil service employee.  
  • U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service, if your loved one was not a U.S. citizen.
  • Department of Motor Vehicles, if decedent had a driver’s license or state I.D. card.

Clubs, associations, and social groups need to know. Did your loved one belong to any professional associations or unions? Even just your local video rental store should know, as should the public library. Here’s a check list for you:

  • Professional associations and unions
  • Health clubs and athletic clubs
  • Automobile clubs
  • Video rental stores
  • Public library
  • College Alumni clubs
  • Rotary, Kiwanis, Lions, Veterans’ organizations and clubs

All online accounts should be closed.  While there are companies, such as EntrustetLegacy Locker, and DataInherit, whose sole purpose is to help you keep track of all your digital “assets”, including your passwords and other log-in details, chances are your loved one didn’t subscribe to any of their services. However, if they did, you’re one step ahead of the game.

But if not, you might be faced with ferreting out your loved one’s many online accounts – and it could take some time. Here’s a brief overview of those digital realms you should monitor, and eventually close:

  • Email accounts
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • LinkedIn
  • You Tube
  • Blogging accounts
  • Online banking or investment portals


Dealing with the Flotsam and Jetsam Left Behind

No doubt you’ve heard the words flotsam and jetsam, usually used together. Flotsam is “part of the wreckage of a ship or its cargo as is found floating on the surface of the sea.”  And jetsam is “the throwing of goods overboard,” or "goods thrown overboard to lighten the load of a distressed ship."  Both terms used together usually refer to any floating waste material found in the sea, or they may simply mean “odds and ends.”

Without a doubt, when someone dies, they unintentionally leave behind “odds and ends” which need to be tended, retrieved, and managed by their loved ones. Unfortunately, very few of us are prepared for what is often a huge task. Our advice to you is simple. Take care of the important financial details first, and then work your way down to those that won’t truly impact your day-to-day welfare.

Should you need to speak with someone accustomed to helping out in these situations, pleasecall us. Our Aftercare specialists can advise you – or refer you to an attorney who can take over tending to the flotsam and jetsam left behind.

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