The first and most important thing to do when someone you love passes away is to take time. You do not need to call an attorney right away, you do not need to find the will within forty-eight hours, or anything else. You need to focus on getting through that first week.
If you're looking for support during that difficult period, please consider seeking help from any of these free resources.
After a few days or a week, it's probably time to call an attorney and set up a meeting for an estate administration. Before the meeting, I recommend getting a binder to keep yourself organized. You should also fill your binder with the following documents before you meet with an attorney. If you can, try to get the following:
1. A copy (or original) of the Death Certificate. If you can, try to get several.
2. A copy (or original) of the decedent's Will, Trust, or any other legacy planning document
3. A rough list of your loved one's assets. Include things like house(s), bank account(s), car(s), life insurance, etc.
Please don't over-exert yourself because this list is bound to change throughout the process. But it's a great place to start.
During your meeting with the attorney, you can likely expect the following:
1. You will be asked to provide a copy of any Will and/or Trust that you know about
2. You will be asked about what your role is in the estate (Are you named as the executor or administrator? Are you a surviving spouse?)
3. The attorney will review the estate's assets with you and then describe the probate process to you. This is because there are different ways to administer estates depending on how large they are, where the assets are located, and what kind of special features the estate has.
At that point, you have a few decisions to make. If you are indeed the Executor or Administrator, do you want to be? And if you do, do you want that attorney to represent you?
Different attorneys have different styles, and you should feel free to look around until you find an attorney you like to work with. A typical estate administration takes anywhere from 6-12 months, from the date that you walk in the door to the date that the last beneficiary cashes their last check. That means that you have to find an attorney you're willing to talk to for the better part of a year.
Your attorney will be able to give you more specific instructions depending on the assets your loved one left behind. Estates are just as individual and unique as their owners, so there isn't a good one-size-fits-all solution.
For your convenience, I've included a free printable To-Do List to begin an Estate Administration. You can click on the thumbnail below to print it or, if you need to send it to someone, you can use the link here.
I wish you the best of luck as you begin this journey. If you have any questions, or would like to contact me for a free consultation, please feel free to give me a call at 330-708-3590.