While it is not exactly a popular topic of discussion, or a pleasant one, knowing what happens after you die from a legal perspective is important. In fact, many people who do not believe they need an estate plan are often persuaded to change their minds simply by learning about the legal process that follows a death. Today, as a part of our blog series on basic questions about estate planning, we take a look at, legally speaking, what happens after you die.
What Happens After You Die: Funerals
The first thing that takes place after a person dies is that someone will have to arrange for a funeral or disposition of the bodily remains. If the deceased person, often referred to as a decedent, left behind an estate plan, that plan will typically indicate who has the responsibility to take charge of the body and make funeral arrangements. If there is no plan, or no clear instructions, the responsibility for the body typically falls to the family members of the decedent.
Unfortunately, the disposition of the body is one of the issues that can easily lead to family conflicts in the absence of clear directions. This is especially true where family acrimony already exists.
What Happens After You Die: Opening Probate
Someone with an estate plan will also typically name an executor who will be responsible for beginning and managing the probate process. This process typically begins after the funeral when the executor asks a court to open a new probate case. The executor will have to file the new case at the appropriate courthouse, and submit specific documents, such as the death certificate and probate petition.
If there isn’t anyone designated as executor by the decedent’s estate plan, someone, typically a family member, will have to go to court to begin the process.
What Happens After You Die: Estate Settlement
Once a new probate case has been opened, the process of settling the estate begins. This process if governed by a number of specific rules and requirements that the estate executor, also called a personal representative or administrator, has to follow.
The settlement process, for example, requires the executor to determine what the decedent left behind, identify any potential heirs or inheritors, take into account any estate planning documents, and make arrangements for managing estate property responsibly until such time as the rightful new owners can be identified. We’ll take a closer look at the individual steps involved in the estate settlement process in our next blog about what happens after you die.