A Checklist for What to do When a Loved One Passes Away in New Jersey
Losing a loved one is never easy and the last thing you want to think of is what happens next. Flynn Martin Law Firm, LLC is here to help make the process as stress-free as possible so that you can concentrate on what really matters. We have put together this checklist for you to review so that when the time comes, you will be prepared.
One thing to note is that New Jersey law is a bit different than most states because they give you up to 10 days following the date of the death to handle financial affairs, and probate of the estate has no time limit. However, it is much easier on the family (many who might also be from out of town) to settle everything as soon as possible.
NOTE: The following checklist attempts to cover both loved ones who had their affairs in order, and unfortunately, those who did not.
Determine Where the Deceased Pass Away
If your loved one passes away in either a hospital or while under hospice care, the on-site personnel will be trained in what to do and can help guide you through what will come next. If they pass at home and are discovered by a friend or family member, simply dial 911 and explain what occurred to the 911 operator. They will then dispatch either paramedics, police, or EMTs based on what their procedures.
Meet with a Funeral Director
If your loved one has put their affairs in order before they passed, most of the planning of the funeral arrangements will be written down and honored by the family. Setup a time to meet with the pre-selected funeral home and go over in detail the wishes of the deceased, and be sure to ask any questions that you have on how the body and the service will be handled.
Unfortunately, not everyone plans ahead because it makes him or her feel mortal or they think it will "jinx" them into dying. Come together as a family and determine what you feel your loved one would have wanted. Would they want a viewing? Cremated or buried? Religious service or not? Keep in mind that there is no rush (even if the funeral director may make it seem that way) because the body will be embalmed. Give yourself time to notify friends and family, place an obituary in a timely manner, and make the best arrangements possible. Nothing is more frustrating to those who loved the deceased than finding out after the fact that the memorial service has already passed and they are now unable to offer their condolences and pay their respect.
Immediately Notify Family & Close Friends
In this day and age of social media, notifying friends and family has changed tremendously to how it use to be. However, no one wants to find out his or her family member died by simply logging onto Facebook. For close friends and family have phone numbers and/or email addresses to personally notify people. In some cases, it might be helpful to "appoint" one or two people to assist with this. Not only will it help get the word out so people can make travel arrangements, book hotels, or get time off work for the service but this is a great way to make people feel involved and helpful. Place the obituary as quickly as possible. The funeral director should be able to assist you with this. Also, remember, don't turn down offers to take care of pets, answer the phone/emails, handle flowers and food donations, or help locate important documents. This is going to be a tough process and you can use all the help you can get.
Obtain the Death Certificate
A death certificate is signed and issued by either the attending physician, a county coroner, a medical examiner or a hospice nurse. They will then file it with the local registrar at the Registrar of Vital Statistics, and then it will be entered into the vital records registration system so that it can be recorded in New Jersey's official records. In most towns in New Jersey, the registrar of vital statistics is the municipal clerk of the city or township. The funeral director is the one who will provide you with original copies of the death certificate. Ask for multiple copies as some insurance companies, banks, and government agencies might request originals and not duplicates. Most will take the copy and send out a claim form. If they want an original at that time, they will ask for it in order to complete the transaction.
Locate all Important Documents
Hopefully, the deceased had all their affairs in order and all document, keys, etc. in one central location known to the family. You should find their Last Will and Testament, funeral and burial instructions, address and copies of keys to safe deposit boxes, trust agreements, and any nuptial and/or marriage agreement. It is often a hard topic to bring up as your loved ones age but having this all organized saves a lot of stress in a time that is already stressful enough. Before their passing, gently bring it up and make sure that several family members know where all of these items are located.
Keep the Home Safe
It is sad to have to even mention this but it is not uncommon for thieves to break into homes after they read the obits. Some are so heartless as to wait until the service begins to ransack the home. Notify your local police department of the time of the service and request a "drive-by" or an assigned officer to keep an eye on the home. Ask neighbors to do so as well. Be smart and make sure to secure all locks on doors and windows. Make sure that all mail is forwarded to you as soon as possible and stop any newspapers and/or magazine subscriptions. Nothing says, "no one's home, help yourself" than a large stack of mail or publications at the door.
Find Out About A Safe Deposit Box
Hopefully, your loved one had plans for their passing and have made sure that there is a key available to any safe deposit box they own. Even better, you will be able to locate a copy of their Will and Testament. Simply taking in an original death certificate and your ID will allow the bank officer to allow you access to the box with the key. Unfortunately, if there is no key, you are looking at several days of waiting for clearance, and a charge of a few hundred dollars to get a locksmith to drill out the lock. Take the time before anything happens to know where the key is and also what bank it is located in.
Let Any Employer or Other Income Sources Know Immediately
Not only is it good form to let the loved one's boss and co-workers know of their passing so that they can mourn with you, it is also prudent due to the fact that any pay or benefits issued after the month of passing will have to be returned back to the employer. The government does issue a one-time death benefit of $255 but pensions, IRAs, etc. have very different procedures. Don't hesitate to call their employers to get contact information for any life insurance, IRAs, or annuities that might be connected to their employment.
Handling the Last Will and Testament
Hopefully, there is a Will and Testament that will need to be probated with the county's Surrogate where the loved one lived. In New Jersey, there are certain conditions where you may not have to probate the Will but that is best left up to experienced attorneys. Once the Will is probated, a lawyer can apply to the Surrogate to have someone appointed as the estate's "Executor". If they pass with no valid Will in place, the family will then have to have someone appointed as "Administrator" of the estate. Once expenses from any illness and the funeral have been paid for from the estate, then any additional disbursements will be handled via the probate process.
Also, keep in mind that if there is no Will, the Surrogate will require that a bond be posted based on the current value of the deceased property before probate can begin.
If you know there is a valid Will but can't locate it, it is going to be a bit trickier. The Will can be probated but it is strongly urged that you retain a lawyer to help you through this complex process.
There are several other companies, people, and government agencies that will need to be notified.
Tax refunds and taxes owed will all need to be addressed in the upcoming filing year. Consider letting a tax professional handle this so that you can protect the estate as much as possible.
Social Security needs to know about the passing so that benefits can stop. Often, your funeral director will handle this for you but be sure to ask.
All local utilities should be kept up-to-date. If you are planning on someone taking over the property, the accounts should be switched to the current residents. Keep in mind if you are going to take your time in deciding what to do or are planning on putting the home up for sale that all bills should continue to be paid out of the estate funds.
For a full list of notifications, please contact us.
Don't Pay Creditors
This may sound odd but lines of credit for the deceased need to be handled by the estate and not family members. When the death certificate is available, one should be sent to each creditor. Unfortunately, not all creditors are considerate of your grief and will often "push back" and attempt to get a family member to pay the bills. This is not your responsibility. Don't promise to pay the balance or "keep up" the payments until the estate is settled. Often it will come down to having a lawyer handle it so that, for example, if there is no money left in the estate, they can claim the estate "insolvent". This often requires a court proceeding that is better left to the professionals.
We here at Flynn Martin Law Firm, LLC have years of experience handling estates, wills, trusts, and elder law. Call us or come in for a consultation to see how we can bring our knowledge and expertise to help you through this difficult time.