What to Do When a Loved One Passes

The time immediately following a loved one’s passing is never easy and can often be overwhelming. In addition to sorting through a variety of emotions, you may find yourself with an extensive list of confusing and draining responsibilities, so it’s important to stay in touch with family and friends for support and encouragement. If your loved one passes in the midst of shelter-in-place orders, connecting with family and friends virtually can help you through this difficult process.

Make sure to discern and honor the final wishes of your loved one. Final wishes may be included in an estate plan, but often are recorded separately. These include whether the deceased is an organ donor, whether they want to be cremated or buried, and other instructions for the funeral. Be sure to contact immediate family to clarify final wishes.

Arranging the Funeral

Once the family has been contacted, you can begin funeral preparations. Where possible, divide responsibilities among family members. If the deceased left no instructions, seek the advice of family members as you plan for the funeral. While keeping in mind the wishes of the deceased and family, follow these general guidelines:

  1. Set a clear budget. Costs can add up, with the average funeral coming in between $7,000-$15,000.
  2. Research funeral home options that align with your budget. Consult family or friends who have experience making funeral arrangements.
  3. Choose a funeral home.
  4. Meet with the funeral director and clearly communicate the plan for the funeral: embalming or cremation, open or closed casket, burial site, religious traditions, and any other details you’ve gathered from final wishes or family.
  5. Arrange for the headstone. You can do this through the cemetery or an outside vendor.
  6. Prepare an obituary. You can do this through the funeral home, write one yourself, or ask a family member.
  7. Spread the word. When a date and time are set for the service, prepare a list of well-wishers to invite. Note that during the current COVID-19 crisis funerals and memorial services are often being streamed online. Include an address to send flowers and donations in the invitation.

Tasks to Complete and Documents to Gather

After the funeral, you and your family will have further tasks to complete. These tasks may include:

  • Securing Real Estate: Make sure to secure any real estate owned by your loved one. This may include changing locks, forwarding mail, updating utility services, and updating homeowner’s and automobile insurance. You may need to make arrangements for lawn care and/or snow removal.
  • Contacting Family and Friends: Keep friends and family informed of funeral and memorial details.
  • Contacting Your Loved One’s Professionals: Locate information for your loved one’s attorney, accountant, and financial advisor.

Most of these tasks require some kind of documentation. Here are some of the documents to gather:

  • Death certificate: You may need up to a dozen copies for various tasks. You can work with the funeral director to do this, or contact the Minnesota Office of Vital Records.
  • Personal Documents: Birth certificate, marriage or divorce certificates, military discharge papers.
  • Financial Documents: Financial or retirement account records, IRS returns, property deeds, vehicle titles.
  • Insurance: Locate life insurance policy and contact company, stop health insurance and update other insurance policies as needed.
  • Will/Living Trust: Locate the will or living trust of the deceased.

The Probate Process

If your loved one created their will or living trust with a lawyer, locate the original documents. It is usually beneficial to speak with an estate planning attorney. Be sure to find a law firm with experience in estate planning and administration, and a reputation for compassion and empathy.

It may be difficult to begin a legal process shortly after a loved one’s death. However, if your loved one had a will, you may need to go through probate to carry out their wishes and distribute their assets. If they had a living trust, you likely won’t need to go through probate, but you can still get guidance from estate planning lawyers.

So, what is probate? Probate is the legal process of settling an estate after a loved one dies. The property of the deceased is gathered and inventoried, their debts are paid, and everything left is either distributed in accordance with the will or divided among their heirs.

It’s a common misconception that if the deceased has a will, their estate doesn’t have to go through probate. Though a will can name a personal representative to allow the probate process to go more smoothly, the estate will still have to go through probate. If the deceased doesn’t have a will, the probate court will appoint a personal representative.

Since each estate is unique, the probate process is slightly different in every situation. However, the process generally follows these steps:

  1. Gather information and documents, including will, death certificate, and asset information.
  2. Meet with a probate attorney to prepare probate application or petition.
  3. File the probate application or petition with the proper probate court to appoint a Personal Representative (sometimes referred to as Executor or Administrator) for the estate.
  4. Publish notice of the probate in the appropriate newspaper.
  5. Give notice to heirs and beneficiaries under the will or to statutory heirs (if no will exists).
  6. Inventory and appraisal of estate assets by the Personal Representative.
  7. Payment of estate debt to rightful creditors.
  8. Sale of estate assets.
  9. Payment of estate taxes, if applicable.
  10. Final distribution of assets to beneficiaries or heirs.

Probate typically takes between nine and twelve months, and can drag on much longer if someone contests the will, if there are disputes between the personal representative and alleged creditors, or if the estate is complex and enters formal probate proceedings.

How Does Probate Work During the COVID-19 Crisis?

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has impacted many legal processes, including probate. Currently, many hearings are being conducted by remote technology and certain fees and fines are delayed by 60 days. Since the coronavirus pandemic is a rapidly developing situation, it’s important to keep track of how the virus could impact your probate process by contacting your lawyer and checking the Minnesota Judicial Branch website.

How Mullen & Guttman’s Probate Attorneys Can Help You

The experienced Minnesota probate attorneys at Mullen & Guttman can assist you with your loved one’s living trust or will, and guide you through both the informal and formal probate processes. During the COVID-19 crisis, we are fully equipped to communicate with you by phone, Zoom, email, and mail, as well as conduct limited in-person meetings that observe social distancing and other appropriate safety precautions.

Even when the estate being administered appears to be straightforward, unexpected roadblocks can slow down the process. The experienced and compassionate Minnesota probate attorneys at Mullen & Guttman have helped many families through the probate process. We can assist you through each step of probate, from filing an application to distributing assets, as well as assist with the administration of a living trust and updating the estate plan for a surviving spouse or beneficiary.

Contact the probate lawyers at Mullen & Guttman to start your probate process today.