When someone close to you dies, it is normal, and important, to give yourself time to grieve this loss. As a licensed counselor who has had a good deal of training in grief counseling, I cannot emphasize the importance of giving yourself permission to grieve. There are many fine books and online information dedicated to helping those who have lost a loved one. In addition, I highly recommend joining a grief support group. One of the most important things you can do is to take care of yourself. Eat and rest to the best of your ability. Surround yourself with friends and family who are supportive. (Have someone else banish those who are not supportive and who are exhausting.) Choose the most meaningful tasks for you and delegate the rest.

Here, my goal is to provide you with some general information and steps to take in order to assist you in handling the seemingly unending list of “clerical” tasks that must be done at times like these. It is important to note that this is not an all-inclusive list, but rather an overview of steps to take.

  • Make funeral or memorial arrangements.

  • Make arrangements for the care of children and pets.

  • Make arrangements for a friend or relative to be at the person’s home during services to safeguard the property.

  • Obtain several copies of death certificates. Generally, this is done through the funeral home who is handling the services. 

  • Gather important documents such as the original Will, Trust documents, financial account information, insurance policies, etc.  Sometimes these documents may be held in a safety deposit box.  If no one other than the deceased individual had access to the box, an attorney may need to make legal arrangements for you to obtain access to the box.
  • Contact the executor of the individual’s Will.  You, and / or the executor should make an appointment with an attorney whose practice focuses on probate and estate planning. It is not required that the attorney who drafted the Will also be the one to probate it. When making the appointment, be sure to ask what documents you need to bring to the meeting.
  • Other than funeral expenses, it is better not to pay any of the individual’s debts until you talk with the attorney.  He or she will direct you as to what bills need to continue to be paid through the probate process. If you receive phone calls from creditors simply notify them of the death and nothing more. The Texas Estates Code outlines the order in which debts of the estate are to be paid. It is important to understand that you are not personally liable for debts that were solely in your loved one’s name.  Only the deceased person’s estate may be liable for the debts.
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