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What legal actions should be taken when someone dies?

When an individual dies, a lot of steps will need to be taken by the personal representative, executor or administrator of the deceased individual's estate. This article will list the steps that generally will need to be taken if you happen to be serving one of these roles on behalf of the estate.

First, it will be important to determine what the decedent's wishes were with regard to funeral and burial arrangements. Second, it will be important to obtain copies of the person's death certificate. Third, determine what estate-planning documents the decedent created -- whether they are trust documents, a will or other kinds of estate planning documents. It will be important to locate these documents.

Fourth, apply to receive a Taxpayer Identification Number on behalf of the estate by using Form SS-4. Fifth, determine what kind of real estate belonged to the decedent including his or her home. It may be necessary to probate different pieces of real estate in different jurisdictions depending where they are located.

Next, if the decedent did not have a surviving spouse, it is important to take care of a few things. Change the locks on his or her residence as soon as possible. Take possession of all the decedent's checkbooks and credit cards and notify the financial institutions of his or her passing. Similarly, notify any insurance companies of the decedent's passing, cancel pending contracts and find the decedent's safety deposit box.

Next, determine the value of the decedent's assets and determine who the decedent's heirs at law are (people who would inherit without a will) and who the decedent's beneficiaries are (people who would inherit according to the will). Decide whether or not it is necessary to initiate probate proceedings. In some California cases, probate is not required if the entire estate is governed by a trust. However, in other cases, probate will be unavoidable.

There are other steps that may need to be taken depending on the nature of your situation. It is also important to decide if you will require an accountant, attorney or other kinds of professional advisors in order to appropriately administer the estate. Do not be shy about seeking this kind of assistance, as it may end up saving you and the decedent's heirs a great deal of money and headache in the long run.

Source: Law Office of Barbara J. Dibble, "Estate & Trust Administration For Dummies," accessed Sep. 29, 2015

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