My Relative Died…Now What?

In your lifetime, you will deal with the loss of a loved one. It is probable that, at some point in your life, you will be responsible for the funeral arrangements and estate management for a deceased loved one. Most commonly, that person is your mother, father, or grandparent, but it could be your brother or sister, an aunt or uncle, or your adult son or daughter. In any of these cases, dealing with the legal hoops surrounding the death of a loved one can be stressful, confusing, and a hindrance to the grieving process. If you find yourself managing affairs for a deceased loved one, what should you do?

This scenario is affected by a variety of considerations, but can easily be summed up with one piece of advice: within one to two months, consult an attorney that has experience in estate planning, trust, and probate law. Lucky for you, you’ve stumbled upon this article, written by a State Bar of California Certified Specialist in Estate Planning, Trust and Probate Law. Now, let’s break this piece of advice into bite-sized pieces:

1)      One to two months? I want to get this done ASAP!

If money is not a huge issue as far as covering funeral expenses, this one to two month waiting period accomplishes two things. First of all, it will give you and your family time to grieve. Secondly, it gives you a chance to gather the information necessary to make your appointment with an attorney worthwhile. During this time, their death certificate should arrive and you will get a full snapshot of their bills, income, and assets.

A few things should happen during this waiting period. You should contact Social Security and inform them of the death. If they are receiving a pension (not any other form of retirement funds) you should call and inform them of the death. Do not contact banks, creditors, investment or retirement accounts. This will avoid unnecessary account freezes that stop automated payments and direct deposits. Preemptive contact with banks, creditors, investment or retirement accounts can lead to misinformation that creates confusion and bigger problems down the road.

Timing is crucial for these matters. We are not suggesting that you wait at least one or two months. Delaying your appointment with an attorney for longer than two months can result in bills piling up, delays in administering their estate, fees or fines from certain institutions, and missed opportunities for bill avoidance.

2)      Consult an attorney? That sounds scary and expensive…

Many of my clients in these situations have never dealt with an attorney before, so the very thought of calling a lawyer jitters their nerves. Knowing this, and specializing only in matters of estate planning, trust, and probate law, our office is equipped to handle your situation with care. It is our goal to make this process as easy on you as possible, helping you avoid unnecessary fines, fees, and delays so that you can effectively manage the estate of your deceased loved one. This translates into more money in your pocket and more time on your hands. You can’t put a price on the peace of mind a qualified attorney will bring during this situation. If you want it done as quickly as legally possible, with the lowest possible cost, an attorney is your best bet.

3)      How do I pick the right attorney for me?

Matters of estate planning, trust, and probate law are a very specialized section of the law. Finding an attorney who has experience in this arena will ensure that your legal strategy is both cost- and time-efficient. The California Board of Legal Specialization has a list of attorneys who are Certified Specialists in Estate Planning, Trust and Probate Law. Here at the Law Offices of Matthew Hart, Estate Planning, Trust and Probate law is the only area of law that we practice, so you can rest assured that we have the education, training, and experience to make this process as smooth as possible.

4)      Do I really need an attorney? Can’t I do this myself?

Technically, yes, you could do this yourself. I have countless clients who started a DIY probate or trust administration, got frustrated with the process, and came to my office later in the process. By delaying contact with an attorney, they incurred fines, fees, and legal delays that could have been completely avoided if they had an experienced attorney on their side to help them develop an appropriate legal strategy for their specific situation. When everything is said and done, each one of them has admitted they wished they had contacted me sooner.

5)      Fine, you convinced me…what can I expect from my attorney?

When you reach the one- to two-month milestone, you should call your attorney. Each attorney handles these situations a little different. As for the Law Offices of Matthew Hart, you can expect an initial phone conversation to discuss your specific situation, gather required information, and set a date for you to meet with us. At our first meeting, we will develop a plan to deal with assets, bills, beneficiaries, state agencies, federal agencies, and any other outstanding matters. This appointment will give you the knowledge and legal advice to handle your situation correctly and efficiently.

Although dealing with the loss of a loved one is never a pleasant experience, our law office strives to ease the stress associated with matters of estate planning, trust and probate law. We’re certain that if you follow the advice in this article, you’re sure to find the peace of mind we promise. Matthew Hart is a California Licensed Attorney who is an Estate Planning, Trust & Probate Law Specialist certified by the State Bar of California.  His office is in Antioch and he can be reached at 925-754-2000 or