When a loved one dies, there are oftentimes many questions about what to do, or where to even start. In order to provide some guidance in this difficult and stressful situation, let's take a look at a checklist of what to do to properly handle a death in Illinois and the related estate.
1. Get a legal pronouncement of death.
It is important to get a legal pronouncement of death, particularly if the deceased person died without a doctor present. This legal pronouncement of death will then be officially recorded in a death certificate. The death certificate will become a valuable and necessary document to have in the handling of the deceased person’s estate.
2. Notify close family and friends of the death.
After the death, notify the close family and friends of the passing. The close family and friends can then make additional calls to more distant relatives and friends accordingly. This will alleviate the added stress of having to personally contact potentially dozens of interested parties to the death.
3. Locate the deceased person's important documents.
When someone dies, it is critical to locate and review the deceased person's important documents to determine the following:
The deceased person's important documents will shed light on the entire estate, and will guide the representative of the estate in how to handle various issues related to the death and the estate. Also, while some people die with very organized estate plans and related documentation, others leave behind a disorganized mess. When dealing with a messy estate, the role of the representative can become much more difficult, and can result in the representative having to play the detective in trying to discover the details of the estate.
Also, it is critical to determine the titling on all of the deceased person’s assets. If assets were held in the deceased person’s name alone, an Illinois probate estate may need to be opened in court to administer the assets. And if real estate was owned by the deceased person in his/her name alone in another state or country, an ancillary probate administration will likely be needed to administer the real estate in that other state or country.
Thus, when seeking to locate the deceased person’s important documents, make sure to obtain the necessary bank records, policy statements, titles, deeds, etc., to see if there are surviving beneficiaries on the assets, or if the assets were held by the deceased person alone.
4. Contact the deceased person’s employer, if he/she was working at the time of death.
After a loved one has passed away, make sure to contact the deceased person’s employer, if he/she was still working when he/she passed away. By contacting the employer, you can find out if the deceased person’s estate or family will receive any kind of benefit from the death. Also, the employer (depending on the deceased person’s position in the company and his/her relationships with co-workers/bosses) may be able to provide additional useful information concerning the deceased person to the representative of the deceased person’s estate.
5. File the deceased person's original will (if there is one) with the county court clerk.
Upon the death of a person in Illinois, his/her will immediately becomes public record. Once the will is located (if the deceased person left one), it must be filed with the local county court clerk within 30 days of its discovery. In fact, this filing requirement is so important under Illinois law that it is a Class 3 felony to destroy a will, or to willfully hide a will for more than 30 days after the death (755 ILCS 5/6-1).
6. Contact a funeral home or mortuary concerning burial/cremation arrangements.
Contacting a funeral home or mortuary upon the death of a loved one is typically an obvious step for most people. However, what may not be as obvious is just how helpful these companies can be. With services ranging from helping with the placement of obituaries in local newspapers to grief counseling, funeral homes and mortuaries offer a number of important services for the deceased person and his/her family.
7. Obtain multiple copies of the deceased person's death certificate.
When a person passes away, it is very helpful to obtain several certified copies (at least 10-15) of the deceased person's death certificate. Many organizations and companies will not even speak with interested parties to an estate until they see a certified copy of the death certificate. Among the places likely to want a certified copy would be financial institutions (banks), government agencies, and creditors, to name a few.
8. Secure the deceased person's residence, vehicles, and other property.
Upon the passing of a loved one, make sure all of his/her property is properly secured. For real estate, this might involve ensuring that the property is properly insured, winterized, and locked. For vehicles and other property, this might mean transporting the property to a safe place. Oftentimes, estate assets become vulnerable to theft and/or vandalism in the time period directly following the deceased person’s death. Thus, it is critical to act quickly to secure the deceased person’s assets after his/her death.
9. Make a list of all tangible personal property of the deceased person.
Once the deceased person’s primary residence has been secured, it can be very helpful to inventory all of the personal property in the estate by making an itemized list. Personal property can include furniture, jewelry, clothing, collections, photographs, etc. Making a list is especially useful if there are concerns about theft of the property by family members, friends, or neighbors, or if there are concerns regarding estate litigation in the future. Oftentimes, estates can be tied up in the probate court over seemingly trivial matters such as the whereabouts or distribution of the low-value tangible personal property of the deceased person. Thus, by inventorying these assets (and properly securing them, if possible) shortly after death, problems might be avoided later on related to estate beneficiaries fighting over the items.
10. Cancel the deceased person’s driver’s license, credit cards, and online accounts.
An additional step in securing the estate is to cancel the deceased person’s driver’s license, credit cards, and online accounts. If these items are not taken care of after a loved one dies, they can become sources for identity thieves to steal information and monetary funds. Thus, be sure to make the necessary cancellations after the death of your loved one.
11. Notify the Post Office to hold or forward the deceased person's mail.
When searching for clues regarding the assets and debts in an estate, a deceased person's mail is a treasure trove of information. Typically, a deceased person's mail will provide information regarding bank/financial accounts, subscriptions needing to be cancelled, and outstanding creditors of the estate. Thus, make sure to either have the Post Office hold the deceased person’s mail or forward it to the individual who is representing the estate’s interests.
Also, if in the process of collecting information regarding the outstanding debts it is discovered that the debts exceed the estate assets, an insolvent estate proceeding in the local probate court may be necessary to resolve the estate. In an insolvent estate proceeding in Illinois, the probate process effectively works to discharge all outstanding debts in an estate.
12. Contact a probate attorney to determine what needs to be done with the deceased person's estate.
An attorney experienced in probate matters can be an extremely helpful resource after the death of a loved one. Even if a Probate court proceeding is not necessary, the attorney can give you extensive guidance with regard to the various issues that you might face after the death, including advice and assistance regarding an Illinois Small Estate Affidavit if the estate is under $100,000.00 and has no real estate. Many times, families have no idea what to do when a family member passes away until they speak with an experienced estate attorney.
13. Contact the Social Security Administration and any other organizations that may be making payments to the deceased person.
In a typical estate, there are usually multiple organizations making payments to the deceased person. This is especially true the older the deceased person is at the time of death, as older individuals usually receive Social Security payments, monthly pension benefits, etc. In order to avoid the mess of having to calculate overpayments and reimbursing the organizations from estate funds at a later date, make sure to notify the organizations shortly after the death.
14. Contact a tax preparer.
It is also important to contact a tax preparer after a loved one passes away. Typically, a final 1040 will need to be filed on behalf of the deceased person, and many times an estate tax return will need to be filed as well after the administration of the estate. A competent tax preparer can also give the representative of the estate guidance on how to handle any issues related to taxes with the transfer of financial assets in the estate.
15. Take time to grieve.
While there are many things that need to be done following the death of a loved one, make sure that, first and foremost, you take the necessary time to properly grieve over the loss of your loved one. Oftentimes, individuals will become overly stressed out and sidetracked by the number of complicated details that seemingly need to be done as soon as possible. But in reality, most of the steps that need to be done after a loved one dies can wait until after a normal grieving period of time has passed.
If you have recently lost a loved one in the greater Chicago area and have questions regarding his/her estate, give our office a call at (630) 898-4789 to set up a free initial consultation with an experienced Illinois probate attorney.
You can also email us at firstname.lastname@example.org if you would prefer to communicate with the attorney via email.
We currently help families with probate matters in Kane, DuPage, Kendall, Will, and Cook County. We will consider probate cases in other Chicago area counties as well.
The Law Office of Kevin Williams, 2295 Bannister Lane, Aurora, IL 60504, (630) 898-4789