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The colossal to-do list after a death

When a loved one dies, most people think about the grieving process and the funeral planning details. Should there be a viewing? How do you contact all the family, friends, coworkers, worship groups, weekend run crew, bowling league, etc.?  Do you have a formal memorial service or a celebration of life? Should the ashes be spread in the ocean or is there a plot already reserved near family at a cemetery? What do you write in the obituary and where do you publish it? The funeral details can seem endless, but that’s barely scratching the surface of what’s required.

People rarely talk about the administrative side of death.  Do we all just dread the thought of death that we avoid the topic all together? Avoiding talking about death will prolong the dread, but it won’t prevent death from happening. It can be overwhelming to figure out the legal process and understand the technical terminology for each step.

It’s time to take ownership of preparing for our own death or the death of our family members or friends – anyone that you would be responsible for picking up the pieces.  Here are the main administrative things to think about.

Death Certificate

This important document can create a bottleneck for many of the items listed below, so make this the top priority.  If you are going through a funeral home, they will make the arrangements to file and complete this item.

If you are not going through a funeral home, keep in mind that this process must be completed within 3 to 10 days, depending on the state, so make sure you have the Declaration of Death and any other items required by the state to file the Death Certificate.

Ask For Help

Start with the named executor of the will who will make the decisions about additional experts to get help from (probate attorneys, accountants, etc.).  If there is no named executor, the probate court will assign someone as the main contact.  The probate rules are different in each state, so it’s imperative to find a professional with experience in the state of the deceased’s estate.

Reach out to any known financial advisors, accountants, and attorneys that your loved one might have used.  Don’t forget about enlisting the help of friends and family to take things off your plate so that you can deal with the mountain of paperwork.

Find The Assets

This can become a treasure hunt that no one ever wanted.  Secret safety deposit boxes? Old 401Ks that were never moved when someone switched jobs? Savings accounts or other retirement accounts at banking institutions that no one knows about? Special hiding place for valuable jewelry?

Tax returns are often a place people rely on for this information. While tax returns can identify a lot of assets, there are quite a few that don’t generate annual income and thus they would not be listed on the tax returns.  You won’t make very much progress closing an estate through probate court without completing this crucial step of finding all of your loved one’s assets.

Close vs. Maintain

Once you find the assets you will need to make a close or maintain decision for each item (except for tangible assets like jewelry).  There are:

  • Financial assets (investment, retirement, bank accounts, credit cards)
  • Real estate assets (mortgage, taxes, insurance, utilities)
  • Telecommunications assets (cellphone, cable/internet/streaming services)
  • Digital assets (iCloud/Dropbox/Google Drive, social media and email accounts)

Each of these will need to be closed or maintained, such as keeping the primary property running since the deceased’s family will continue to live there.

Prevent Identity Theft

With the significant increase in cyber criminals and ransomware, preventing identity theft is a very high priority to consider.  At a minimum you should have:

  • Forward all mail to your address
  • Cancel the deceased’s driver’s license
  • Notify the three major credit agencies

Completing these three items and diligently closing the assets as determined above will limit the identity theft risk considerably.

Prepare for the Unexpected

Completing this administrative list is not a small task and can take an average of one month for most estates and many years for more complicated estates.  You can prepare for the unexpected by utilizing Addio to create your digital filing cabinet and easily fulfill the requirement to Find The Assets.

With Addio, there is no need to spend time searching for details since a clear succession plan can be put into place with an inventory of assets, contact information, and any other data points that you want to make sure your family or friends know if the unexpected happens.

Finding a loved one’s assets can often be one of the most time-consuming components of closing an estate.  Addio will allow you to spend more time grieving and less time on an administrative treasure hunt.

Should you create an online will or use an attorney?

If you're weighing the pros and cons of doing it online versus going through an attorney, let us break it down.
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Gabe Caldwell
Gabe Caldwell

Gabe Caldwell is an entrepreneur, investor, biohacker and co-founder at Addio. He leads Addio’s partnership efforts and makes sure that families have access to the top experts in Addio’s Expert Network. In his free time, you can find him riding bikes, lifting weights, or playing beach volleyball.

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Should you create an online will or use an attorney?

If you're weighing the pros and cons of doing it online versus going through an attorney, let us break it down.

Take the quiz