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What to Do When Someone Dies in Georgia from a Probate Point of View?

Losing a loved one is one of the most challenging situations we can face in our lives. No matter how strong and emotionally prepared we try to be, navigating through this difficult time is never easy. And while nothing will truly ease the pain or lessen the grief, knowing what to do when someone dies can help a little.

From things you have to handle in the first days after the death of a family member or a close friend to the most important tasks of the more practical situations, such as settling the deceased’s estate, this blog post is designed to help you navigate the challenging time after a loved one passes away.

What to Do When Someone Dies Checklist – During the First Days

Depending on the specific situation, there may be some differences between the steps you have to take to fulfill all the tasks after the loved one’s death, but the basic process is practically the same.

Get a legal pronouncement of death

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Photo by Alexander’s Images via Canva

When someone dies, getting the death certificate is one of the most important items, as this document is indispensable for arranging the funerals, securing the decedent’s financial accounts and properties, and handling his estate.

If your loved ones died in a healthcare or nursing facility, knowing what to do when someone dies in a hospital is extremely important. The staff of the medical institution will pronounce their death.

But what to do when someone dies at home? In this case, you will need a medical examiner, a qualified physician, a registered professional nurse, or a nurse practitioner authorized to make a pronouncement of death to declare them dead.

Inform family, friends, employer, and authorities

Of course, the next step is to inform all the necessary parties – from family members and friends to the employer and authorities. It can be difficult, but try to let the closest family members and friends know first (it might be the age of social media, but no one wants to find out online about a dear person who died). If possible, try to inform the following people:

  • All family members.
  • Friends.
  • Neighbors.
  • Coworkers and employer.
  • Frequent acquaintances.
  • Old friends whom they didn’t communicate with anymore.
  • Professional relationships.

After you get in touch the closest persons of the deceased, you have to make more formal calls. This includes telling anyone who needs to know about the death for both financial and business purposes.

When contacting the employer, try to find out if they offer death benefits and how any pension will be handled for the surviving spouse. Be sure the following agencies or companies are notified: 

  • Social Security Office.
  • Banks/mortgage companies.
  • Brokers/financial advisers.
  • Insurance companies.
  • Credit agencies.

Arrange funeral

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Photo by Kameleon007 via Canva

Ideally, you should have had the opportunity to talk to your loved one about their funeral or burial and have the chance to understand what their last wishes are and honor them.

If they agree to give their body for organ donation, science, or research, a doctor should know immediately about that.  

If you don’t know anything, or if the death happened suddenly, it can become a bit more complicated.

Typically, it would help if you looked for instructions in the late person’s papers or called for a family meeting to discuss what funeral home to choose and how the memorial service or funeral would look like.

You would include subjects like what the deceased might have wished, what the family wants, and what you could afford.

Regardless of how the final arrangements will look like, you should consider some of them or all of the following steps:

  • Transporting the body – a local funeral home might help you with that.
  • Ordering a casket – you can do it on your own or also with the help of the funeral company’
  • Ask a wordsmith to write the obituary – usually a close friend or a family member.
  • Coordinate the funeral arrangements –  will you plan a large or a small ceremony? Will it be a funeral or a burial? In this last situation, how many people will come to the grave?
  • Send out invites – and make sure the people know the service’s details. This can be accomplished by making phone calls, sending emails, and so on.
  • Determine the memorial type – formal or unconventional? Large ceremony or an intimate setting? Typically, this decision should consider the deceased’s wishes (and budget), if possible.
  • Hire a funeral director. If the deceased was a religious person, a priest, pastor, or another clergy member can help with this; if he or she was not religious, you can ask a friend or family member to conduct the service.

What to Do When Someone Dies from a Probate Perspective?

Opening the probate process to settle the deceased estate is the next step you should consider.

Provide care for children

If the late person had any dependents (minor children, adults who cannot care for themselves), you would need to find their will or estate plan as soon as possible to see if any provisions or guardianship were set up.

In the case that you didn’t find a trust or valid testament and the deceased left behind dependents, financial and care arrangements must be made as soon as possible to ensure their protection. If there is no estate plan and it wasn’t set with no guardianship, a probate court may make the final, long-term decisions.

Make arrangements for pet care

If the deceased had pets, you should ensure they receive the temporary care they need until there is a permanent plan for them.

You may send them to a friend or a family member who likes animals; the pets are grieving, too, so you should ensure they receive the comfort they need.

Find the will, key documents, and identify the executor

The deceased surviving family members and potential beneficiaries would need to know if there is any money, property, or belongings and who would inherit what.

Ideally, you or someone else close to the deceased talked with them before they died and knows where they kept the will and the estate planning documents (if there are any).

If you still need to, you may have to look for the document in the decedent’s home or safe deposit box at the bank. Provided that you are not the co-owner, you will typically need a death certificate and other documents to gain access to these places. We recommend speaking with a probate attorney to understand what options may be available to locate the will.

If there is a will, there is usually also a nominated executor. After being appointed executor by the probate court, he will be responsible for settling the deceased’s estate and distributing the remaining assets to the beneficiaries. If there isn’t a will, the probate judge will appoint an estate administrator to handle the late person’s bequest.

Inventory all the deceased’s assets and take the necessary steps to protect them

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Photo by Zimmytws from Getty Images via Cava

Typically, the probate process starts with an inventory of all probate and non-probate assets (bank accounts, houses, cars, brokerage accounts, personal property, furniture, jewelry, etc.).

The inventory of probate assets may need to be filed in probate court by the Executor or the Administrator.

Part of making that inventory of assets is finding them all and determining their real value.

Make a list of bills

Make a list of the most important expenses, such as the mortgage, funerals, medical bills, and taxes. Share it with the estate executor or administrator so they can be paid while settling the estate.  

Resolve bank and credit card accounts

If you own a joint account with the right of survivorship with the deceased, you’ll need to notify the bank that they’ve died. When this happens, you must provide the financial institutions with the decedent’s death certificate to remove the late person from the account.

If the deceased person was the sole bank account owner, the bank will release funds to the estate account. The personal representative will be responsible for getting the funds to pay creditors, bills, taxes, and other estate expenses and distributing the remaining funds according to the dead person’s will or the state intestacy laws.

Terminate insurance policies

The same situation applies to insurance policies. If they have designated beneficiaries, the policies are considered non-probate assets and will be passed directly to them.

Otherwise, they are considered probate assets and will be filed with the probate court.

In both situations, you’ll need to notify the life insurance companies of the death.

Plan to open the estate

Probate is the legal process of executing a will. You must do this at a county probate court.

The probate court ensures that the person’s debts and liabilities are paid and that the remaining assets are transferred to the beneficiaries.

Contact a probate lawyer

Typically, the best option would be to hire an experienced probate attorney to help navigate the process and distribute assets. As in Georgia, the probate lawyer can represent the estate’s executor, administrator, or any interested party and not the estate itself.

The Next Step

Grief is a tricky, painful, and complicated process to navigate. But we are here to provide steady guidance to protect you from wasting time, money, and energy, especially when you have to deal with the challenges determined by the death of a loved one while striving to ensure the process respects the deceased’s wishes.

If you still have unanswered questions and want to know more about what to do when someone dies, contact our office at (770) 796-4582 or use the form to set up a consultation with one of our team members.

 

More information

Disclaimer These websites have not been reviewed by Georgia Probate Law Group and are not endorsed or even recommended by Georgia Probate Law Group. These websites are additional resources that you can use to further your general education on this topic.

Disclaimer: The information above is provided for general information only and should not be considered legal advice. Our probate attorneys provide legal advice to our clients after talking about the specific circumstances of the client’s situation. Our law firm cannot give you legal advice unless we understand your situation by talking with you. Please contact our law office to receive specific information about your situation.

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About the author

Erik J. Broel
Founder & CEO

Erik founded the firm in 2009. He sees it as his personal mission to demystify the process of handling an estate or trust, and to help people by making the complex estate process simple and accessible. He believes there is always a better way to do things, and loves finding new and innovative ways to deliver better, more effective service that solves the client’s key problem or issue, and improves the client’s life.

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