The first experience some have with estate planning issues occurs immediately after a loved one has passed away. This is unfortunate. Without any prior planning, a death comes with a range of complicated paperwork tasks–grieving relatives are often forced to handle complex affairs in the midst of great emotional turmoil. This is one reason why family feuds and in-fighting are quite common after the death of a loved one.
There remains a huge difference between no end-of-life planning and some planning.
A story on end-of-life planning in the upcoming issue of Consumer Reports offers some helpful guidance on the critical difference between dealing with the consequences of a death ahead of time and waiting until afterwards to figure it all out. Some matters have to be handled by family members and others can be dealt with by professionals.
The differences between planning and no planning begin to show immediately after a passing. For example, if a senior dies at home, a call to 911 is usually the first step. If a “Do Not Resuscitate”
document is in hand, the arriving paramedics will likely be able to pronounce death at that time. However, if the legal document does not exist, then the responders will likely be forced to begin emergency support (no matter how unnecessary) and take the body to the emergency room. It is only there that a doctor will be able to make an official declaration of death.
What happens next?
First off, certain individuals must be informed of the passing–this includes family, friends, and the coroner. Any dependents of the deceased–children or pets–must be taken care of. If plans were already laid out, then alternate caregivers would already be in place to help.
Funeral and burial arrangements must then be settled. This can sometimes result in added stress if survivors have little guidance on the individual’s wishes regarding services (religious or otherwise) and burial or cremation plans. Some individuals who plan a little may have a pre-paid burial arrangement,
which allows survivors to entirely avoid any complications regarding payment for the services.
Afterwards, many different financial and estate issues must be finalized. If there is a will, it must be taken to the appropriate office to begin the probate process. The complexity of the subsequent probate process depends on how much work was done ahead of time. A trust and estate planning attorney is crucial at these times. For example, some asset transfers to others may be automatic, while others have to wait to go through the probate process. Estate tax issues or final income tax issues must be handled. Bank accounts and potential life insurance issues must be taken care of. Social Security and Veteran’s Affairs offices must often be consulted.
Of course, help is available with all of these matters. In our community, the Law Office of Scott C.
Soady, A.P.C. can work with residents to ensure there is a clear roadmap to address all of these issues well ahead of time and to provide professional support after a passing. Eliminating the stress, confusion,
and potential feuding following a death should be a priority for all local community members.