The death of a loved one is never easy. The need to manage practical and legal matters in the wake of a loved one’s death is made more difficult by grief. It’s helpful to have an understanding about what needs to happen following the death of a loved one. If you have a Colorado probate attorney, he or she can offer you additional guidance and answer any questions you may have.
At the Time of Death
If death took place in a hospital, a hospital social worker or other staff will be available to assist you in contacting a mortuary or crematory. In a hospital, a qualified medical professional will have made the official pronouncement of death as required by Colorado law.
If your loved one died at home, you should call the Coroner’s Office for the Colorado county in which the death took place. An alternative is to call 911. If you do so, emergency medical professionals will come to the home; be aware that they will try to resuscitate your loved one. If your loved one was receiving hospice services, the hospice professionals and volunteers will support and guide you in making the necessary calls.
One of the most difficult things to to is to make the first phone call to notify other family and friends of the death. If possible, enlist someone you trust to help you in making phone calls and getting the information to those who need to know. Don’t forget to notify the deceased’s clergyperson.
You Should Know:
- If you request it, mortuaries are required by law to give you price information over the phone.
- If the deceased was in the military, or a relative who must be notified is in the military, the Red Cross will help with notifications.
Within Three Days After Death
In this time frame your primary concern is probably making funeral arrangements. The first thing to do is look through the deceased’s records to see if he or she had written instructions regarding funeral arrangements or a prepaid burial plan. Many people keep this information in a safe deposit box.
You will probably need to visit the mortuary to make funeral arrangements. It’s wise to have a close friend who is not as directly affected by the loss go with you. A friend provides needed emotional support, and can help you avoid unnecessary purchases of funeral goods or services based on emotion.
In the immediate wake of loss, many people may ask how they can help. Consider enlisting their services to deal with essential tasks such as answering the phone and picking up mail, or providing refreshments for mourners after the funeral.
You Should Know:
- If the deceased was on public assistance, limited financial burial assistance may be available through the County Department of Social Services. Contact them before making arrangements.
- If the deceased was in the military, or was the spouse or dependent child of a person in the military, the Veterans Administration may offer burial benefits. Notify your funeral director, who can inquire on your behalf.
- Some thieves read obituaries and target homes for burglary when they believe the family will be at a funeral. Consider having someone stay in your house while you are out.
Within Ten Days After Death
In order to begin the task of managing the deceased’s affairs, you will need to obtain death certificates. This is most conveniently done through the funeral director. The number needed will vary with the number of institutions that will require an official death certificate. It’s usually best to err on the side of caution: ten to fifteen certificates is usually a safe number. In the event you need more later, you can get them through the Vital Statistics Department in the county where the deceased died, or from the Colorado State Department of Public Health and Environment, Vital Records Office.
You will want to begin notifying various professionals and agencies of the death. These include the deceased’s attorney, accountant, bank, insurance agent, Social Security, Social Services, and Veterans Administration. If appropriate, have the deceased’s mail forwarded and utilities shut off.
During this time you will also want to search for the deceased’s will. If you can’t locate it in the home, and you know a will exists, consider asking the deceased’s bank to look for it in a safe deposit box, check with the deceased’s attorney, or see if it has been lodged with the probate court in the county where the deceased lived. When you find the will, lodge it within 10 days with that probate court. A copy of the will may suffice, but the original is preferred.
The will will nominate a personal representative (PR). If you are the nominated PR, you have the authority to protect and safeguard the assets of the deceased, but NOT to distribute them or dispose of them. You also have the right to search for any other important documents, including life insurance policies, trust agreements, deeds, motor vehicle titles, pension and retirement benefit statements, other financial records, and unpaid bills.
You Should Know:
- An heir or beneficiary of a will can ask the bank to search for the will in the deceased’s safe deposit box. A representative of the bank will open the box in the heir’s presence, remove any will, and deliver it to the court by certified mail. The bank should make a copy for the heir if requested to do so.
- The will must be lodged with the probate court within ten days of the deceased’s death. If this is not done and an heir or beneficiary can prove the delay was intentional, the person responsible for the delay may be liable for damages or held in contempt of court.
At Davis Schilken, PC, we know the days and weeks following the death of a loved one can be overwhelming. We are available to help you navigate this challenging time. Contact us at 303-670-9855 to arrange a consultation at one of our two locations in Denver and Golden, Colorado.