Los Angeles Estate Planning and Probate Attorney | Law Office of Philip J. Hoskins

What to do when someone dies

For expert advice regarding probate, seek the assistance of Los Angeles estate planning lawyer Philip J. Hoskins. Call us today.

These are some of the immediate steps that need to be considered when someone dies for whom we are responsible.

When a loved one dies, the details that need to be taken care of by survivors may be particularly overwhelming during such an emotional time. This checklist is intended to help survivors handle the situations that need tending to, both at the time of death and afterward, as efficiently as possible.

Disposition of Remains: Regardless of the nature or size of the estate involved, there are always questions involving decedent's funeral and disposition of the body. These issues include the possibility of an inquest, decedent's possible donation of body parts, and effectuating funeral directions, if any. All of these matters must be addressed in close consultation with the decedent’s survivors, both from a psychological and legal perspective.

Autopsy or coroner's inquest

If granted the requisite authority (see below), a cemetery authority or licensed funeral director, or a licensed hospital or its authorized personnel, may permit or assist, and a physician may perform, an autopsy of decedent's remains. There is no implied authority to order an autopsy, regardless of the reason. Rather, an autopsy may be performed only as follows When authorized by decedent's will or by a written instrument executed by decedent before death; or when authorized by writing or telegram from, or recorded telephone conversation with (a) The surviving spouse; (b) A surviving child or parent; (c) A surviving brother or sister; (d) Any other kin or person who has acquired the right to control the disposition of the remains; (e) A public administrator; (f) A coroner or any other duly authorized public officer. In limited circumstances, the authority to perform an autopsy derives from other statutes:.

Anatomical gifts

Gifts of body parts are governed by the California Uniform Anatomical Gift Act. Decedents usually make these donations personally; but certain surviving relatives and fiduciaries may also make them. Sometimes the decedent has executed a Power of Attorney dealing with this authority.

The funeral

Prior to death, persons are entitled to give oral or written instructions as to the preferred disposition of their remains (i.e., manner of disposition, type of funeral, etc.). Subject to the coroner's statutory responsibilities, these instructions must be followed. Decedent's funeral directions control whether or not they are made in a will. And, if made by will, the instructions must be carried out immediately, without delay for probate and notwithstanding the will's validity in other respects. Access to decedent's safe deposit box for possible burial instructions and will Individuals in possession of the appropriate keys have a statutory right of limited access to a decedent's financial institution safe deposit box before letters issue. There must be no living co-owner of the box and the person seeking entry must provide reasonable proof of his or her identity and proof of the decedent's death (e.g., certified copy of decedent's death certificate). Entry may be made only under supervision of the institution's employees. And, although the person entering the box may remove burial instructions, wills and trusts, he or she must photocopy any removed wills or trusts and place the copies back in the box. Moreover, removed wills must be filed with the superior court and copies mailed or delivered to the named executor or beneficiary.

Funeral decisions where no instructions from decedent

If decedent has not provided for his or her interment by a will or other direction, the right to control disposition of the remains descends to the surviving relatives. The statutory schedule of priority is: first to the surviving spouse, then to the surviving children, parents, next of kin under laws of succession, or the public administrator.

Prepaid funeral contracts

You should ascertain whether decedent had executed a prepaid funeral contract so that you can make arrangements and inform any relatives accordingly.

Obtain certified copies of death certificate

Certified copies of the death certificate will be needed to effect certain transfers of decedent's assets (e.g., securities, joint tenancy property; and, if applicable, pursuant to a Sec. 13100 declaration or a Sec. 13200 declaration. They will also be needed to apply for payment of various death benefits. Usually, the funeral home will provide plenty of copies. But the trustee/executor should verify that the immediate relatives have received the copies and should caution them to preserve those copies.

For expert advice regarding probate, seek the assistance of Los Angeles estate planning lawyer Philip J. Hoskins. Call us today.
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