Legal Considerations

After a death, there are many legal details to hammer out. While not required, having a lawyer is strongly recommended. The time following a death of a loved one is extremely emotional, and even the closest family can have disagreements over trivial matters. It is a good idea to let a knowledgeable, impartial lawyer help figure thing out.

Before getting in touch with a lawyer there are several important documents that you need to gather.

Those include:

  • Wills
  • Deeds
  • Bank Statements
  • Insurance Policies
  • Vehicle and Boat titles
  • Tax Documents

Bank Accounts

What is to be done with bank accounts after a death varies regionally. In some regions, bank accounts are automatically frozen after a death. To avoid complications, notify the bank immediately to find out the procedures for releasing these funds, and how to set up a new account for funds received after the death. It’s recommended that a joint account stay open for at least six months to allow you to deposit any checks that are made out to the deceased. To take a name off a joint bank account, banks require a Certified Copy of a Death Certificate. If the deceased had a safety deposit box in a bank, the contents can be sealed after death and a Certified Copy of a Death Certificate will be required to gain access to the contents.

Death Certificates

A Certified Death Certificate is necessary before anything can be done. One can be obtained through your Funeral Director. Ask for multiple copies of the death certificate, since most agencies require a certified certificate and will not accept a photocopy.


Shockingly, nearly 70% of Americans do not have a will. Writing a will is easy and inexpensive, and once you are done you can rest easy knowing your hard earned money and property will be distributed according to your wishes. If you have children, you can leave instructions on who will be left in charge of them if you pass, leaving that decision out of the courts' hands. You just need to be at least 18 years of age and of sound mind when the will is written.

To make a will legal it must:

  • Expressly state that it is your will
  • Be computer generated or typewritten
  • Be signed and dated
  • Be signed by 2-3 witnesses, and these witnesses must be people who don’t stand to inherit anything in the will

Although you do not need a lawyer to complete a will, it is recommended to do one with a lawyer, as it can help avoid legal headaches after your passing. Once your will is complete, keep it somewhere safe and secure outside of your home. If you do your will through a lawyer, most law firms will store it for you free of charge.

Avoid keeping your will in a safety deposit box at a bank, as the contents could be sealed at the time of death. The executor of your will should be aware of the location of it.


Probate is the legal process that transfers the legal title of property from the estate of the deceased to their beneficiaries. During the probate process, the executor of your will goes before the courts and identifies and catalogs all the property you owned and appraises the property. They pay all debts and taxes, prove that the will is valid and legal, and then distribute the property according to the instructions of the will. Probate can be a long, drawn-out legal process, and there are some probate-avoidance plans available. Speak to your attorney to find out what you can do to avoid probate in your area.


An executor is the personal representative of your estate. They are the person in charge of taking control of your assets, paying off any debts, and distributing assets to your beneficiaries per the terms and conditions of your will. Choose someone who is both competent and trustworthy, and name them in your will. Whoever you appoint to be the executor of your will has the right to refuse, so you should have a backup executor in place just in case.

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