What Not To Do When a Loved One Dies
By Susan F. Harville-Stein, LCSW and Dean D. Stein, CMA
When a loved one dies, we may find ourselves faced with the immediate question of “what should we do now?” This can be a confusing and difficult time, with many well intentioned people, including children, friends, family, business associates and others, offering advice and telling you “what you should do”. The more important question may be to ask yourself “what shouldn't I do now?” After all, you are moving through a “grieving process”. The time it takes to pass through the various stages of grief is different for everyone.
Some things should just wait until you are better able to take them on. If you can, you should postpone selling your home, lending money to anyone, making major purchases new investments or changes in investments, buying life insurance, giving away money, going on a spending spree or relying on strangers. All these should remain your decision, and should not be the decisions of friends, children or acquaintances.
Even the probate process itself may be able to wait a reasonable amount of time. Probate is the legal process by which assets held in one person's name are transferred to that person's heirs. When a probate estate is opened, a person is appointed to manage the estate. If a person dies with a Will, known as “testate”, then Alabama law provides that any person having custody of a Will shall deliver it “with reasonable promptness” to a person able to secure its probate. Because over time certain important rights can be lost, the Will should be offered for probate “with reasonable promptness”. This does not mean you must rush to probate a Will in one day, one week or even one month. You have some time to gather yourself after the death of your love one. However, there may be other pressing reasons to move forward with the probate process, such as freeing up needed funds that were not held in a joint account with right of survivorship, or payable on death, to you.If a person dies without a Will, or “intestate”, a probate estate must be opened within 40 days after the death, to preserve your right to be a person entitled to appointment to manage the estate.
Recovery from the death of a loved one is an intensely personal experience that you must move through at your own pace. An experienced and trusted attorney can offer sound advice to assist you in making the decisions that you may feel pressed to make now.
This article is generally based on Alabama law, the law of your state can vary widely. This is not intended to constitute, nor should be taken by you as legal advice and is not intended and does not create an attorney/client relationship.
Susan F. Harville-Stein, LCSW, is an attorney at law. Ms. Harville-Stein is also a Licensed Certified Social Worker, with a Masters degree in Social Work.
Dean Stein, CMA, is an attorney who has a Masters degree in business and is a Certified Management Accountant (CMA).