Probate Law | First Steps to Take After a Loved One’s Death

by Flanders Law Firm LLC on December 19, 2011

Many questions arise in the mind of a probate lawyer when a potential client first calls the attorney’s law office.  The efficient handling of a client’s concerns helps to minimize delays and errors when the estate is administered.

Often, lawyers are contacted by grieving family members a short time after a loved-one’s death. Common questions include: organ donation, funeral and burial expenses.  I advise all my clients to first review the loved-one’s (decendent’s) diver’s license, Health Care Directive(s) and all other relevant estate planning documents to determine the instructions for what the decedent wanted done after their death.

A Will also provides guidance on potential next steps.  My first discussion points often revolve around the decedent’s Will, Powers-of-Attorney, and other questions related to what the decedent put down on paper – otherwise known as their estate plan.  If I know that the decedent had an estate plan, I have a good place to start when advising grieving family members.  From there, I can advise the potential client of the next steps to take.

Family members often have questions about locating a decedent’s Will or other estate planning documents. Depending on how long it has been since the time of the decedent’s death, the next step should be to arrange for the appropriate family member to search in locations for the estate planning documents.  Locations to search can include:

  1. safe deposit boxes;
  2. the decedent’s important papers and possessions;
  3. other lawyers or law firm’s in which the decedent may have had a relationship;
  4. the county court.

Obviously, these locations are good starting points.  However, my hope is always that people have conversations with a loved one before their death about their estate and where their important documents are located.

Other matters of immediate attention for the potential clients, the probate lawyer, and the personal representative include: the care of pets, continuance or cancellation of utilities, cancellation of outstanding  purchases or orders of the decedent, personal guarantees of the decedent, leases or subleases of the decedent, purchase orders, and other financial issues.  A Minnesota probate lawyer and the personal representative will also want to look closely at things like casualty insurance on the decedent’s homestead, other real estate, vehicles and other personal property.

Basically, the first steps to think about after a loved one’s death are items that should be obvious and of immediate concern.  Again, talking about potential trouble areas before the decedent’s death is always a good idea.  It is my hope that the decedent and the chosen personal representative will have met with an estate planning lawyer about their estate prior to death.  This is not always the case, but it highly advisable for the speedy and error-free probate of the decedent’s estate.

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