Losing a loved one can be an incredibly difficult time. On top of the understandable grief and devastation at losing someone dear — whether a parent, sibling, spouse, or grandparent — this moment can also bring confusion and uncertainty. There are many logistical steps and important decisions that must be taken after someone dies in Michigan, and many people don’t know how or when to begin moving forward.
Knowing what steps to take after a loved one passes away can make life a little easier during this unusual and challenging time.
It’s important to understand that every situation is unique, and there is no single blueprint to follow when someone passes away. However, there are some important things that one must consider and actions that must be taken — both in the short window after someone passes, and over the course of the next several days and weeks.
One important first step is to contact your loved one’s estate planning attorney (if they had one), or get in touch with an experienced probate lawyer in your area. A legal professional can help you understand the process your loved one’s estate will succumb to in court, as well as the basic steps you and your family can take based on your loved one’s unique circumstances.
What action steps should you be prepared to take after a loved one dies in Michigan? Here is a quick, informal overview of what you can expect:
Immediately After Death
After a legal pronouncement of death from a paramedic, nurse, or doctor, the next step will be to arrange for proper transportation and handling of the body by the coroner’s office or a local mortuary or crematorium.
In the immediate aftermath of a death, communication will also be essential. At this time, it’s important to begin notifying family and friends close to you and the deceased. Shortly after, it will be important to begin informing other relevant parties, such as the decedent’s employer or landlord, or the school where their children are enrolled. To help make things easier, many people will activate a family phone tree, so it doesn’t fall entirely on one person to spread the news.
Immediately after a loved one passes, it will also be important to make temporary arrangements to make sure their dependents and pets are cared for.
Within a Few Days
Moving forward, there will be some important steps for the family of the decedent to take promptly, including:
Making funeral preparations
It’s important to determine if your loved one left behind funeral arrangements or requests, including where the ceremony will be held, how they want their body to be prepared, and where they will be interred. Many people make pre-arrangements with a funeral home, to make things easier on their loved ones financially and logistically.
The deceased may have designated a funeral representative as part of their will or in another document; this is the individual who will have the right and power to make decisions about funeral arrangements and the handling, disposition, or disinterment of the decedent’s body. If the decedent did not choose a funeral representative, then this responsibility may also fall to the deceased’s spouse or children. A special personal representative may also be appointed to step in and handle estate issues, including making funeral arrangements, before the appointment of the regular personal representative.
Securing the person’s property
You may wish to take steps to protect your loved one’s property from vandalism and theft. This might include locking up their house and vehicles, and bringing in help to clean out perishable food from the fridge, water plants, and collect mail.
Getting certified copies of a death certificate
Obtain multiple certified copies of a death certificate through the local office of vital statistics. This paperwork will be necessary to take several important steps, including receiving distribution from insurance policies, retitling financial accounts and investments, and transferring personal property or real estate.
Collecting important documents and records
Dealing with the legal aftermath of a loved one’s passing will involve handling many different personal documents, including estate planning documents and identifying information. The State Bar of Michigan recommends locating the following items, and giving them to the person responsible for completing the deceased’s final affairs:
- Directives regarding funeral arrangements
- Prepaid funeral or burial contracts & related documents
- Last will & testament
- Trust agreements
- Marriage certificates (and premarital agreements, if applicable)
- Bank statements, account information, and safety deposit box keys
- Retirement and brokerage account statements
- Birth certificate
- Social Security card
- Military discharge documents, if applicable
- Stock certificates and savings bonds
- Recent bills
- Tax returns and documents
- Deeds, tax information, and other documents pertaining to real estate
Contacting legal and financial professionals who can help you move forward
Remember that you don’t need to go through this process alone. Your loved one may have been working with professionals who can help you make decisions and move forward on their behalf, including a financial advisor and an estate planning attorney.
A financial advisor or planner can help you determine what investments your loved one owned and put a value on their assets. They may also be able to assist with transferring or retitling financial assets to a designated beneficiary.
An estates and probate attorney can answer any legal questions and address concerns you may have, provide copies of your loved one’s estate planning documents, and help coordinate and begin the probate process — including determining whether a probate proceeding is necessary for the decedent’s estate properties, helping to determine who will be acting as personal representative, and filing the decedent’s will in the probate court for their county of residence.
Within 10-14 Days
In the weeks following a loved one’s passing, it will be important to tie up loose ends and begin the work of estate and trust administration. Here are a few key guideposts and considerations to keep in mind:
Notify the Social Security Administration, credit card companies, and others
If your loved one was receiving Social Security benefits, be sure to notify the SSA to receive information about survivor’s benefit, or determine if any payments must be returned.
Similarly, unless you are named on the account and wish to retain the card, this is also the time to notify credit card companies about the death, as well as utility companies. If needed, cancel or redirect newspaper subscriptions and other home deliveries to the deceased’s property.
File claims with life insurance policies
If your loved one had insurance policies, it will be necessary to contact them to file a claim for life insurance benefits. Your estate planning attorney can also help transfer any annuities or benefits to heirs designated beneficiaries, as needed.
Work to transfer or distribute nonprobate assets
Some of your loved one’s assets are likely to be nontestamentary, meaning that they will likely not have to go through probate administration. Most commonly, this includes assets held in a revocable living trust, or those with a beneficiary or payable-on-death designation or a co-owner who is legally entitled to the property. A probate attorney can help notify financial institutions to transfer or pay your loved one’s accounts to the appropriate beneficiaries; retitle jointly held assets in the name of the surviving party; and assist a successor trustee in managing and administering relevant trust property.
Beginning the Probate Process
In Michigan, the legal process involved in administering a decedent’s estate is commonly known as probate. The probate process begins when the decedent’s will (if there is one) is filed with the court, and a personal representative is appointed.
The personal representative assumes the important role of settling and distributing the decedent’s estate expeditiously and efficiently, in line with the terms of the decedent’s will and all relevant state laws.
Most commonly, a personal representative is named in the decedent’s will. If the person died without a will, they are said to have died intestate. In this case, the probate court will take an active role in determining who will serve as personal representative. The laws for intestate succession will also take effect if the decedent passed away without a will, or left significant gaps in their estate plan. Broadly speaking, intestate succession means that the assets of the deceased will be distributed to their survivors following a strict order of priority, which is determined by Michigan law.
In broad strokes, the estate administration process involves a few key steps, which are overseen by the personal representative:
- Gathering the assets of the estate and determining their value
- Paying the decedent’s debts and final expenses from the estate
- Distributing remaining assets to the appropriate people or entities, in line with the decedent’s wishes and all relevant local laws
As they execute their duties, the personal representative will be held to a high standard of conduct. The personal representative is a fiduciary, meaning that they are expected to put the interests of the estate above their own.
Probate also involves resolving any complications, issues, or disputes that might arise during the administration of the estate — including trust and will contests, addressing a breach of fiduciary duty, or handling guardianship and conservatorship proceedings. Along the way, it may prove important to have an experienced legal professional on your side, who can address your questions and help you navigate through probate litigation, so that you can secure the best possible outcome for your situation.
At Every Step of the Way: Don’t Forget to Take Care of Yourself
In the days, weeks, and months following the loss of a loved one, remember to take care of yourself. This time can be emotionally charged and incredibly draining, particularly if you are closely involved in administering your loved one’s estate.
In the days after your loved one’s passing, be sure to contact your workplace, and look into their bereavement time policies if you need to step away.
Moving forward, do whatever you can to keep yourself feeling healthy and secure. Look into local support groups for grief and loss in your community, and keep in touch with friends and family. Get support from a counselor or therapist if you need it. Many people also look into talking with a faith leader at this time, or make it a point to get involved in volunteering and community organizations to stay active and engaged. Make time for exercise, keep up with doctor’s visits, and build in plenty of opportunities for self-care, in whatever form you need. If the workload involved with handling your loved one’s affairs starts to feel overwhelming, delegate to trusted friends and advisors.
You Don’t Have to Go Through This Difficult Time Alone
Coming to terms with a loved one’s passing is a hard and emotional process – and one that is only made more difficult when you need to deal with complex legal matters at the same time.
During this trying time, you owe it to yourself and to all involved to have a professional and experienced probate lawyer like our Attorney Dean Patrick at your side, guiding you through the probate courts of Michigan.
Mr. Patrick can provide the assistance and support that you need as an estate is guided through the Michigan probate courts. Mr. Patrick has worked with many different legal issues, so you can be sure that he is knowledgeable on all aspects of probate. Whether you are a personal representative, an heir, a creditor, a named beneficiary, an omitted child, or a widow or widower, Mr. Patrick will patiently bring you up to speed with the process while understanding and being supportive as you recover from the grief.
Whenever you’re ready to get started, Dean Patrick is here to listen and learn more about your circumstances. If you have any probate-related issue that has interrupted your life, we will work hard to accomplish your goals – with expertise, empathy, intellect, and professionalism at every step of the way.
Ready to keep the conversation going? The Law Office of Dean E. Patrick, PLLC. is conveniently located in Southfield, Michigan, close to both Wayne and Oakland Counties. You may click here to arrange your initial consultation, or give us call us at (833) 469-4897.
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