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Death, Grief and Probate

The loss of a loved one is life's most stressful event and can cause a major emotional crisis. After the death of someone you love, you experience bereavement, which literally means "to be deprived by death."

Following the death of a loved one, there is often a period of chaos. This, coupled with grieving, presents a unique opportunity for those bent on personal benefit. It is important for the family, even before the opening of an estate, to protect all assets that belonged to the decedent. No one, including family, should begin to take or distribute assets. An estate needs to be opened and a personal representative or executor needs to be appointed. It is very difficult to recover assets after they have been distributed or taken.

Many people believe they don’t need to open an estate because their loved one did not have a lot of money. The mistake with this belief is that the debts and taxes of the decedent often go unpaid while assets are distributed. The family is then surprised when a creditor or the IRS shows up looking to recover their claim. They have the right and power to open an estate and pursue those who received the property. It is far better to open an estate and administer it properly in the first place.

The family should begin, when appropriate, to search for an original will. If an original will is not able to be located, the next best option is a copy. The family should check with the decedent’s attorney or accountant to see if they have the original or a copy. The family should also check with the bank where the decedent maintained an account to see if one may be located in a safe deposit box. Remember, a will is not to be acted upon until the court admits that will to probate.

Following the funeral, the death certificate should become available. Most funeral homes assist families with obtaining these certificates. You should get several copies of the death certificate to ensure you have enough for all administration needs. If you run out of copies, the Department of Vital Records can be contacted for additional copies.

Remember, with support, patience and effort, you will survive grief. Some day the pain will lessen, leaving you with cherished memories of your loved one.

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