First Week After Death

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While many executor tasks can wait for a calmer and less stressful time, there are a few things you should do right away:

Notify Close Friends & Family

Inform close friends and relatives of the death. You can let other people know later, once things have settled down.

Notify Active Employer

If the decedent was actively employed, and the employer might reasonably be counting on that person to show up the next day, it's nice to notify the employer. On the other hand, if the decedent was retired, or performed occasional contracting work, notifying an employer can wait.

Secure the Assets

Part of your duty as executor is to protect the estate. Unfortunately, it's not uncommon for criminals to use these situations as an opportunity to help themselves, or even for well-meaning friends or relatives to want to take something as a "keepsake". Things you should consider:

  • Collect any easily portable items of significant value and put them someplace secure
  • Discontinue any newspaper subscription that would pile up outside an unlived-in home
  • Arrange to have the mail collected
  • Arrange for yard maintenance, if none exists
  • If applicable, arrange for pet care
  • Cancel other home-based services, such as housekeeping or meal delivery services

Arrange Funeral

The executor often arranges the deceased person's funeral (see Funerals), although this is not a legal responsibility. As part of this process, you and your delegates will notify additional friends and family of the death.

Notify Veterans Administration

If the decedent was a veteran, the executor should contact the VA as soon as possible, in order to potentially have them participate in and fund certain funeral activities and expenses (see Veterans). Your funeral director can coordinate this.

Order Death Certificates

You will need several official death certificates for various government agencies, banks, etc. By far the easiest way to get these certificates is to request them via the funeral home or crematory at the time they file the original. You will have to pay $10-20 per certificate, and you will likely need at least 10 copies. If you later need additional copies, it can be quite painful to get them, so better to order too many than not enough.

If you do find yourself needing additional copies later on, see Task: Order death certificates for your state's specific instructions. Alternately, you can find an appropriate state authority yourself via the CDC, and you may even get more personalized service from the local county in which the death occurred.

Locate the Will

Ideally, you already have a copy of the will, and know how to obtain the signed original. Get it, and keep it safe.

If you don't know where the will is, and the decedent had a personal lawyer, ask the lawyer if he or she has it. You may also be able to find the will in the decedent's personal files; see also Accessing Safe Deposit Boxes.

Many states have authorized a Court or a Register of Wills to allow people to file their wills to make them easy to find upon their deaths. However, not all jurisdictions provide this kind of advance registration even when authorized, and advance registration is not required in any case, so while it is worthwhile to check, this approach is by no means the only way to find a will. States that do support advance registration, at least in part, include:

Some of the above jurisdictions no longer accept new wills, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't check to see if a will was deposited in the past. If you don't find a will based on the latest residence, you may wish to check with the Court or Register of Wills associated with previous residences of the decedent, since it's common for people to file a will and just leave it untouched, even as their lives change.

Note that if you are using EstateExec to manage your estate, the Locate Will Task may have more specific information for locating the applicable will repository.

If there is no will, the deceased is considered to have died "intestate", and things will be a little more complicated. Each state has its own rules for determining who will inherit in such cases, and who should serve as executor. While you may want the help of a lawyer to get appointed as the executor, you may also want to use an Affidavit of Heirship to attest your relationship, and therefore your right to inherit ... and if the estate is small enough, bypass probate entirely.

See also First Month.

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