5 Steps To Take After A Death In The Family

Nov 2, 2022

Emotionally and mentally processing a death in the family requires patience and fortitude. Grief is a complicated process. Some days are better than others, and some days you simply don’t have the energy to deal with the tasks of daily life. In the most recent days after your loved one’s passing, the legalities and paperwork that must be attended to can be frustrating and overwhelming, but there are steps you and your family simply have to take before you can begin moving forward.

Our Texas probate law firm has helped many grieving families ease the burden and protect their loved one’s estate after their death. We can ensure that the probate process (a Texas court process that may need to occur in order to legally transfer their assets to you and their other beneficiaries) won’t be delayed or incur additional fees due to missing documents or delayed filing. We will take care of everything for you so you can just mourn in peace. If you don’t know where to turn after a death in the family, trust the Law Office of Michelle E. Murphy. 

You may be still in shock and have no idea where to even begin when it comes to resolving their affairs. Here are five steps that we frequently help other Texans take after they have lost a loved one. 

Obtain A Legal Pronouncement Of Death 

Decedents who pass away in nursing homes or hospitals will have staff members obtain a pronouncement of death. A hospice nurse can declare your loved one dead if they died while at home under hospice care. If your loved one passed away at home, contact an ambulance or funeral home and have them transported to a local hospital where a medical professional can give you a pronouncement of death. This official declaration of the decedent’s death is necessary to obtain a death certificate. Throughout the entire period after your loved one’s death, the death certificate will be an important document. 

Seek Out The Will And The Executor

Many individuals keep their last will and testament in a safe deposit box or other secure location. As soon as possible following your family member’s death, you need to determine the location of their will, and you need to know if they named an executor of the estate in their will – they will need to be notified, because they are a critical part of the probate administration process that will soon follow. If your loved one did not have a will, the laws of intestate succession will determine the distribution of their assets, and a probate court judge will designate an administrator in lieu of an executor. 

Submit The Will To The Probate Court

If your loved one had a valid will at the time of their death, you should take the will to probate court as soon as possible. Probate is the formal court process that involves the payment of the decedent’s debts and the distribution of the decedent’s assets to heirs or named beneficiaries according to the terms of their will.

In Texas, you technically have 4 years to file the will with the court, but it’s not advisable to wait that long. For one thing, until probate is closed, your loved one’s possessions can’t be taken by you or your other family members. You may not be able to sell their house or even renovate it, for example, until the process is complete. For another thing, the longer probate is prolonged, the more time creditors and other parties have to make claims on the estate and attempt to take some of your inheritance. Those claims must be dealt with before probate can be closed, and may require lawsuits or other burdensome legal proceedings to resolve. If a valid will is not submitted within the four year time period after the decedent passes away, how their estate is distributed will be determined by state laws, which may not take into account your loved one’s wishes. 

If your loved one had a trust instrument as part of their estate plan, the trust might render probate administration unnecessary, but you will still need to submit the will to the court.

Collect The Decedent’s Assets 

Inventorying your deceased family member’s assets is a major undertaking that can be highly emotional, but doing so is essential to the proper administration of their estate; if you are named as the estate executor, you are legally required to do this. You need to review the decedent’s titles, deeds, bank accounts, brokerage accounts, email records, mailing records, and tax returns. Do not ignore locked filing cabinets or safe-deposit boxes. These should be opened, and their contents need to be reviewed.  You will need to make a list of all of their assets and possessions and submit it to the probate court. You will also need to update the list if any new information becomes available from other reliable sources during the probate process. The decedent may have forgotten to inform you about a particular savings account or an important life insurance policy, and these details need to be included. 

It can seem overwhelming, but there are many software applications and databases that can help you organize this information, or an experienced local probate attorney can take care of this task for you. 

Close Credit Card Accounts 

Reach out to customer service departments and inform the representatives of credit card companies that you are closing the credit card account because the account holder is deceased. It is necessary to have a copy of the decedent’s death certificate to close the accounts. Also, collect records of the credit card accounts and inform the executor of the outstanding balances on the credit cards. Credit bureaus are obligated to send card issues an alert that the decedent has passed away. Do not leave your loved one’s credit cards intact. Cut them up to prevent identity theft and other forms of fraud.

Contact The Law Office Of Michelle E. Murphy Today For A Free Consultation

Michelle E. Murphy has over 20 years of legal experience. She focuses on cases related to probate, as well as helping grieving families with Medicaid planning, elder law, and estate planning so that their estate doesn’t have to go through probate in the future. Attorney Michelle E. Murphy understands how difficult death can be and how confusing probate can be; that’s why she gives her clients all the support and guidance they need to navigate the process and arrive at the quickest, most efficient resolution possible. She can save your family time, money, and stress, but she can also give you and your family something priceless: peace of mind. You can relax and stop worrying about the details, knowing that you and your loved one’s legacy are in great hands! Her law firm has the ability to provide virtual service for your convenience. Call today to schedule a free consultation and learn more about your next steps.