#TipsonTuesday: What to do When Someone Dies – Wills and Probate

http://blog.everlastingfootprint.com/2015/01/09/coping-caregiver-burnout/When someone dies, knowing what to do in probate court is important.
Photo: “Knox County, Ohio Courthouse” by Mark Spearman

After someone dies, there are numerous funeral arrangements to be made and details to be handled. Dealing with death often means mediating between family members who are all experiencing different emotions. While a will can help distribute the person’s possessions, understanding probate and knowing what to do when someone dies are important steps to take also.

Wills, Estate Planning, and Probate

When someone dies, one of the first things that an immediate family member, such as a spouse, child, or sibling, should find out is whether or not the person had a Final Will and Testament. If a person has a will, then the person’s written and legal wishes for distribution of their belongings take precedence over any family member’s feelings.

It is important that wills are detailed and state a person to be the Executor (a person who will see that the wishes in the will are completed.) The will should also state that in the event of a dispute, the Executor’s decisions should prevail. It is also important that an Alternative Executor be appointed, in case the first one cannot fulfill their duties.

The larger a person’s estate, the more important it is that a lawyer be involved in creating the will and helping the person’s family with estate planning and management. Lawyers know what to do when someone dies, and can advise with estate taxes, titles of vehicles, bank accounts, property deeds, and other assets to be named in the will.

Making a will does not have to be expensive, but it is not something you can do once and forget about. Wills should be reviewed and updated occasionally, as possessions change in scope and value. What made sense 20 years ago may not be valid any longer, and as a person’s belongings and lifestyle changes, so should his or her estate planning.

Probate courts are the legal arm responsible for overseeing the correct process of people’s wills and estate management. Probate courts will likely make sure that all the deceased’s creditors and other costs such as funeral expenses, taxes, lawyer’s fees and appraisal fees are paid first. Then, the remainder of the person’s estate can be divided among his or her spouse, children, and family.

What happens when someone dies without a will is that state laws govern the situation. Probate laws vary by state and write express directions regarding what to do when someone dies. In most cases, someone must be appointed as Executor of the person’s estate. The first option is usually a spouse or child. Most states require that a person must be 21 years old to be Executor of someone’s estate. Probate laws also consider criminal records, whether the appointee was in business with the deceased and where the person lives relative to the estate. Sometimes, citizenship may be an issue in probate situations.

To prepare your own estate planning and to learn more about what to do when someone dies, the After Death Planning Guide is a helpful resource. An estate planning and probate lawyer can also be an asset.

Understanding probate laws and the process when someone dies can help you feel more prepared. If you think you will be named Executor of someone’s will, find out what to do beforehand, and if you’re not the Executor, be reasonable in your expectations for what they will get done and how quickly. Being flexible and understanding when complications arise is an important part of what to do when someone dies to help keep tension between grieving relatives minimized. Preparing your own estate planning and Last Will can help your family members when they are coping with your death down the road.

Collaborate with loved ones on Everlasting Footprint to remember, honor, and celebrate life. Keep journals, albums, and records for your final wishes, to share with those who will need to know.


About Cindy Readnower

Cindy Readnower, MBA, specializes in sales, marketing, and entrepreneurship. An award-winning certified Life Coach, business consultant, and publisher at Skinny Leopard Media, she helps writers produce and promote their books. She is a newspaper columnist, author of "Inherited Secrets," and a blogger.


  1. Pingback: #TipsonTuesday: How to Become an Organ DonorEverlasting Footprint Official Blog

  2. Pingback: The Future of Green Burials: Cremation and the Bios Urn

Leave a Reply