Estate Planning/Probate/Jan 29, 2020

Seven Steps to Navigate a Loved One’s Death

Losing a family member, friend, or loved one can be traumatic.  When a loved one dies, you may be faced with the huge responsibility of closing out that person’s life.  At Gielow Groom Terpstra & McEvoy (GGTM), our attorneys and staff understand the grief and pain that surrounds the death of a loved one, as well as the overwhelming responsibility of handling the post-death affairs.

At GGTM, our firm is committed to providing sound advice and peace of mind, as we help you navigate the steps to take after a loved one’s death.  With those goals in mind, GGTM has created a list of seven steps to help guide you through the post-death process.

  1. Take Care of Yourself. Following the death of a loved one, your first priority is to take special care of your own physical, emotional, and spiritual needs.  Surround yourself with family and friends who can support and help you during this time.  Take time to mourn and grieve the loss of a loved one and seek out professional grief counselors if you need extra support.  Almost all post-death procedures and tasks can wait until after a funeral or memorial service.  Your health and emotional wellbeing are a top priority.
  1. The Funeral. Our experience has been that our local Funeral Directors are extremely helpful and knowledgeable while assisting families through the funeral and memorial process.  We encourage you to let them do their job; the more you follow their direction, the less you will have to worry about stress and details during your time of grief.  Under Michigan law, absent a proper Funeral Designation Form prepared by the decedent, a Funeral Director will follow the instructions of the spouse first, then children, parents, siblings, and next of kin.  MCL 700.3206.  
  1. The Death Certificate. The death certificate is prepared by the Funeral Home based on the information you provide.  You should always ask to proofread the death certificate before it is sent to the County Clerk’s office to be registered.  You should obtain at least five (5) certified copies of the death certificate, as they are more costly to obtain later.  You will need the certified copy of the death certificate to obtain insurance benefits, transfer assets, transfer title to real property at the County Register of Deeds, or to cancel a credit card or service provider. 
  1. Change of Address and Home Security. It is wise to change and/or forward the decedent’s address with the post office so that you will begin receiving his/her mail.  This will make it easier to pay any final bills and expenses, as well as identify if the decedent had any creditors and bills at the time of his/her death.  This will also prevent mail from accumulating, which can draw attention to the fact that the decedent is now gone.  If the decedent was living alone, you should immediately change all locks to the home, as well as locate and secure the decedent’s car keys in a safe place. 
  1. Original Will. Under Michigan law, you must file the decedent’s original Will with the Probate Court in the county where the decedent lived.  There is no charge to file the original Will with the Probate Court.  Keep a copy of the Will for yourself and all named beneficiaries. 
  1. Who to Notify. The following organizations should be notified soon after a loved one’s death:
  • Social Security Administration (SSA). Typically, the Funeral Home will notify the Social Security Administration of the date of death.  However, it is wise to contact SSA because you (or a family member) may be entitled to certain survivor benefits.  Furthermore, you will want to prevent any overpayment of benefits to the decedent, as repayment to SSA can be complicated.  The SSA has local administrative offices to make an appointment to speak with a representative (1-800-772-1213), or you can visit their website for further information and details (https://www.ssa.gov/benefits/survivors/). 
  • Veterans Administration. If the decedent was a Veteran and/or receiving Veteran benefits, you will need to notify the Veterans Administration (VA) of the date of death.  While the Funeral Home may contact the VA for you, it is wise to contact the VA yourself to determine if survivor and/or burial benefits are available for you or a family member.  Sometimes referred to as “Veterans Death Benefits,” the VA may provide burial allowances to help cover burial, funeral, and transportation costs.   An appointment can be made with your local VA regional office by calling 1-800-827-1000, or you can visit their website to file a claim online (https://www.va.gov/burials-memorials/veterans-burial-allowance/). 
  • Pension Providers. A decedent’s pension benefits may continue for surviving spouses, and frequently death benefits are available from a decedent’s former employer. 
  • Insurance Companies. It is important to promptly file a claim for insurance benefits.  Contact your insurance agent to request a claim form, or you can contact the insurance company directly.  You will need to provide a copy of the certified death certificate to the insurance company, as well as policy number (if available). 
  • Credit Card Companies. We recommend canceling all credit cards immediately. Contact the credit card company directly to notify them of the date of death and to destroy all credit cards in the decedent’s name alone.  Always request a written confirmation from the credit card company that the card was properly cancelled. 
  • Former Employer. A decedent and/or surviving spouse may be entitled to certain death benefits or employment benefits available through a former employer.  
  • Service Providers. It is important to notify all service providers, such as cell phone companies, home security companies, and cable and internet companies, to cancel any future services and existing contracts. 
  1. Estate Plan. Most often a loved one will die with estate plan documents such as a Will or Trust, naming a Personal Representative or Trustee to handle their estate or business upon death.  Under Michigan law, these named individuals have certain duties and responsibilities to properly administer their loved one’s assets and debts.  If probate court proceedings are required, the post-death process can become more complicated with court deadlines to meet.  We recommend contacting our estate and probate attorneys at GGTM to provide guidance and support through the estate and trust administration process.

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