I’m not a lawyer, but I can offer a general step-by-step guide on what might need to be done when managing the affairs of an elderly parent who has passed away in Texas. Keep in mind that specific situations can vary, and it’s recommended to consult with legal and financial professionals to ensure you’re following the correct procedures. Here’s a general outline of 17 Steps you might need to take:
- Notify Authorities: If the death occurred at home, you will need to call the local authorities or 911 to report the death. In cases where hospice care was involved, they might guide you through this process.
- Obtain a Pronouncement of Death: When your parent passes away, you should call a doctor or hospice nurse to officially pronounce the death. If the death happens at a medical facility, the staff will handle this.
- Arrange for Funeral or Cremation: Contact a funeral home to make arrangements for the disposition of your parent’s remains. Discuss burial, cremation, and any memorial services. You’ll need to provide personal information and make financial arrangements for the services. *Be aware that “internment” for a burial and other fees may not be included in what you are quoted – ask for a very specific print out of any and all costs.
- Gather Important Documents: Collect important documents like the will, trust documents, insurance policies, bank account information, real estate deeds, and any relevant legal documents. *This is a great thing to have organized ahead of time and I strongly encourage all adults – especially those with partners/spouse or children to do this early on. **If you have aging parents who have not done this, help them gather the information and put it in a fireproof lockbox in their home or a safety deposit box at the bank. It needs to be accesible when needed.
- Notify Family and Friends: Inform friends, family, and acquaintances about your parent’s passing. You might also consider publishing an obituary. *While your parents are alive, getting a list of all their friends and contact information is a smart thing to do – you’ll likely be surprised to learn of new friends or old ones you weren’t aware of.
- Secure Property: Ensure your parent’s property is secure. Change the locks on their home and lock up their home and belongings to prevent theft or damage. Many older adults can’t remember all the people they have given a key over the years and most haven’t changed their locks in decades. *Internet access is important, too. If you have their passwords for online bill payments and so on, go in through their email and reset their passwords to something secure and that you will remember. Often times elderly people leave their passwords left out or share them will friends, maids, etc.
- Notify Relevant Institutions: Contact your parent’s attorney, financial advisor, and any relevant institutions such as banks, insurance companies, and investment firms to notify them of the death. (you will need a Certificate of Death, as formal proof)
- Start Probate Process: If your parent had a will, consult an attorney to initiate the probate process if necessary. The probate process involves validating the will and distributing assets according to its terms. *This can be difficult as well as costly and you may need help navigating this. **Many people look at other ways to bequeath property ahead of time such as setting property up in a trust to avoid the time and headache of the probate process. Talk to your attorney and financial advisor.
- Manage Bank Accounts and Assets: Open a separate bank account for the estate. Use this account to manage all financial transactions related to your parent’s affairs. Close or transfer their existing bank accounts and other assets as necessary.
- Cancel Utilities and Services: Contact utility companies, phone, internet, and other service providers to cancel or transfer services. Make sure the property is secure and utilities are turned off to prevent unnecessary expenses. (ex: you might turn off the water but leave electricity on for a couple months as you clean out the property and prepare it for sale, etc)
- Notify Social Security Administration: If your parent was receiving Social Security benefits, notify the Social Security Administration of their passing to stop benefit payments. (this is important as you do not want to deal with the payback after the fact and also helps to prevent possible identity theft).
- Deal with Real Estate: If your parent owned real estate, consult with an attorney to understand the best course of action. This might involve selling the property, transferring ownership, or dealing with rental properties.
- Pay Debts and Expenses: Use funds from the estate to settle outstanding debts (talk to your lawyer about this first!), funeral expenses, and other related costs.
- File Taxes: File the final income tax return for your parent. You might also need to file an estate tax return depending on the value of the estate. (If you are not savvy with accounting, use an accountant).
- Distribute Assets: Only after probate is complete and all debts are settled, do you distribute assets according to the terms of the will or applicable laws if there’s no will. (*if you distribute assests early and are faced with unexpected costs related to the estate or funeral or other, you may have a very difficult time getting maney back to pay for it and will end up burdened with the costs yourself)
- Keep Detailed Records: Keep thorough records of all actions you take, transactions you make, and communications you have. This will be important for legal and financial purposes.
- Finalize Legal Proceedings: Once all the necessary steps are taken, finalize any legal proceedings related to the estate.
It’s important to note that estate management can be complex and may require legal expertise. Consulting with an attorney experienced in probate and estate law is highly recommended to ensure that you follow all legal requirements and navigate the process smoothly.
It may also be helpful to meet with a seasoned and professional grief counselor in the coming weeks as the strain of managing the logistics often doesn’t leave much time for the loss to be processed and it may bring you some added peace of mind.