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Legal-Ease: Steps for When a Loved One Passes Away - Part One

Looking at photo of passed loved oneDear Jonathan: Can you provide a general summary of what needs to be done when a person’s spouse or loved one passes away?

Jonathan: When a spouse or loved one dies there are many things that need to be addressed by the decedent’s survivor(s), whether it is a surviving spouse or a family member. Dealing with those matters can be overwhelming; having to address those matters while grieving the loss of a loved one can be for some, emotionally crippling. Some things need to be addressed immediately prior to the decedent’s funeral whereas others, so long as the funeral isn’t delayed, can wait to be addressed until after the funeral. Part One of this article addresses things that need to be addressed prior to the decedent’s funeral:

Immediate Steps (Prior to the Funeral):

  • Determine if decedent left instructions regarding his or her funeral or memorial service, or burial or cremation arrangements.
  • Notify friends and family.
  • Determine if any portion of the funeral has been prepaid and/or if the decedent has purchased a burial plot.
  • Choose a funeral home and arrange for the funeral or memorial service.
  • If decedent was a veteran, contact the local VA office to apply for applicable VA benefits including burial allowance, government headstone, ceremonial American flag, and any other potential benefits.
  • Prepare decedent’s obituary.
  • Make arrangements, if necessary, for the caring of decedent’s pets.
  • Consider having someone stay at the decedent’s home during the funeral or memorial service to discourage potential burglars.
  • If no one is living in the decedent’s home:
    • Secure decedent’s vehicle and valuables, including cash, jewelry and collectible items.
    • Change the locks.
    • Contact the decedent’s homeowner’s insurance agent.
    • Contact the post office for the purpose of forwarding the decedent’s mail.
    • Dispose of perishable items.
  • Keep a list of all flowers, cards and donations that were made so that they can be properly acknowledged.

Most of the immediate steps listed above can be addressed by the surviving spouse or a family member without any type of formal legal authority. Many other matters, some of which have legal and financial implications, and which are typically addressed after the decedent’s funeral, will require that the person has legal authority to act. This is where a knowledgeable attorney can be a valuable resource and an indispensable aid to the person acting on behalf of the decedent. Consequently, I highly recommend that an attorney be retained as early in the process as possible to help the person acting navigate through everything that needs to be done.

In Parts 2 and 3, I address additional matters that need to be addressed after the decedent’s funeral.


Jonathan J. David is a shareholder with Foster Swift Collins & Smith, PC and has extensive experience preparing a wide variety of lifetime and estate planning documents such as wills, trusts, durable powers of attorney for both financial and health care matters and living wills. Jonathan practices in the firm's Grand Rapids office:

Office - 1700 East Beltline, N.E., Suite 200 Grand Rapids, MI 49525
Phone - 616.726.2243
Email - jdavid@fosterswift.com 

THE INFORMATION CONTAINED IN THIS ARTICLE IS NOT TO BE CONSTRUED AS LEGAL OR TAX ADVICE OR LEGAL OR TAX REPRESENTATION AND SHOULD NOT BE RELIED UPON AS SUCH. FURTHER, THE INFORMATION PROVIDED IS NOT STATE SPECIFIC AND CERTAIN LAWS AND CUSTOMARY PRACTICES WILL VARY FROM STATE TO STATE. IF LEGAL OR TAX ADVICE OR LEGAL OR TAX REPRESENTATION IS DESIRED, PLEASE CONSULT WITH AN ATTORNEY.

Categories: Did you Know?, Elder Law, Estate Planning, Powers of Attorney, VA Aid & Attendance


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