Dos and Don’ts after a Loved One Passes Away

When a loved one passes away, most of us are not sure what to do next. It’s a highly emotional time and we don’t want to do the incorrect thing. Below are some Dos and Don’ts upon losing a loved one.

Take care of the funeral arrangements; see if arrangements have already been made, and if not, see if there are any instructions or letters of guidance for you.

Mourn! Take time to be with family. Reflect on your loved one’s life and the good times you experienced. Share stories with family and friends. It is a time to celebrate your lost loved one.

Secure the home and secure all the important papers! Make sure someone is at the home or watching it during the funeral. If the house will be vacant afterwards, contact the insurance agent to convert the “homeowners” coverage to “fire insurance” coverage. Homeowners coverage is void after a certain number of days of vacancy.

While family members are present for the funeral, see about dividing the contents of the home making sure that you honor any memorandum for personal property or specific gifts in the Will or Trust. Most of us don’t look at the Will or Trust until sometime after the funeral, but you need to know if there are specific wishes for certain things that need to go to certain people. Dividing up the tangible personal property among family members and getting the rest of the things to charity or into the trash can be the most difficult part of handling things after a death.

Keep receipts for out of pocket funeral expenses. If family members must pay for the funeral, they may be able to be reimbursed by the estate of the deceased.

Identify what your loved one owned and how they owned it. Unfortunately, this is far more difficult than in years past, because few people receive paper statements anymore—it’s all on-line; if you don’t have access to the usernames and passwords, you are starting out blindfolded. There are many ways to title assets: sole owner, joint with rights of survivorship, pay on death, any many more. A good place to start is to locate the previous year’s tax return to find out investments, accounts, and more. Pay attention to the 1099’s and K-1’s that are filed with the tax return. Look at the bank deposits and the checks and electronic fund transfers from the account.

Identify debts your loved one owes. Be sure to check their mail and look over their checkbook and monthly account statements.

Contact the 3 credit bureaus to report the death and freeze the social security number so that no one can establish a new credit account. This is something scammers and criminals do. Cancel credit cards unless a spouse is also using the cards. Also stop electronic payments from the bank accounts unless it is a joint account with rights of survivorship and the payments will continue to be appropriate.

Recognize that you will be limited in some of things needed to be done until an Executor is appointed by the Clerk of Superior Court. Normally going to the Clerk’s office is done after the Death Certificate has arrived, which normally takes about 10 business days.

After receiving the Death Certificate, seek legal counsel. You may only need to meet once to find out how to proceed on your own or you might need assistance with opening and handling an estate.


Use the deceased’s money for food, clothes, or travel for family and friends.

Pay bills with the deceased’s money. Bills can be paid after the Executor is appointed and the deceased’s bank account in converted to an Estate account. This is important because certain creditors have priority over other creditors, and if the wrong bills are paid first, the Executor is personally liable to the priority creditors.

If you go directly to the Clerk’s office, often they will not take the time to review your situation and they usually tell you to open a full estate administration. Sometimes, opening an estate is not necessary. Estates can take a year or more to close so opening one unnecessarily will cause you to have to proceed through a process of inventories, notice to creditors, accountings, and possibly more that you could have avoided.

Pay expenses relating to real property owned by the deceased from their bank accounts. Most people think that the home expenses are legitimate expenses of the Estate—they are not in North Carolina. These expenses are not allowed to be paid and will need to be paid back.

If you have lost a loved one and are not sure where to start, call our office at 919-256-7000 and schedule an appointment with one of our experienced attorneys.