First Month After Death

Show Table of Contents Phases of the Moon Representing One Month

In addition to the tasks outlined in First Week, here are some of the key tasks you should be accomplishing in the first month.

Get Organized

Set up some file folders to keep things such as physical receipts, appraisals, bills of sale, death certificates, etc. It probably goes without saying, but license your copy of EstateExec from the estate's Overview tab.

Decide if You Want/Need a Lawyer

Having a lawyer's help can be invaluable. They deal with this process every day; you've probably never done it in your life. That being said, many people opt to save thousands of dollars and handle things themselves. See Do I Need a Lawyer?.

Provide the Court with a Copy of the Will

State requirements vary from as little as 10 days to as many as 45 (and in a few cases, even longer). If a will cannot be found, the person will be considered to have died intestate, and state law will determine who has responsibility for administering the estate.

Start to Inventory the Estate

Start to collect information about estate assets (real estate, stocks, collectibles, etc.) and estate debts (mortgages, loans, etc.). This will likely take months to fully complete, as you gradually uncover hidden treasures and bills, and you may have to wait for Notice of Death statutory durations. See Taking Inventory for extensive help with the overall inventory process.

Keep Things Running

Part of your duty as executor during this time is to keep things running (businesses, households, etc.). For example, make sure any home is being maintained, and that the utility bills are being paid, etc. In fact, utility companies are notoriously aggressive about this, and missing a bill by a few days may trigger them to cut off services (try to avoid this). Please be aware, however, that you are not personally responsible for any debts, so if the estate will likely not have the funds to reimburse you, you should decide carefully whether you want to pay any of these bills.

Protect Unoccupied Property

If the estate includes a home that is now vacant or unoccupied, you may want to take additional steps to protect it, since such properties are more vulnerable (to theft, vandalism, squatters, broken pipes that go unnoticed, etc.). You may want to periodically check in on the property, and to consider hiring an alarm company, as well as a gardener to keep it looking lived-in.

You may also want to post legally valid no-trespassing signs, which can be helpful if it becomes necessary to have law enforcement remove squatters, or if someone is injured on the property (as an added precaution, you may want to take photos of the signs in case you later need to prove that they were there). You can get a free universal no-trespassing sign from Mom's House, which specializes in fast and easy real estate sales.

Finally, be aware that insurance companies have special rules for vacant or unoccupied homes, and you may need to take action to ensure the home continues to be covered (see Consumer Reports and insurance considerations).

Cancel Unneeded Services

Cancel the decedent's cell phone service, Internet access, cable TV, etc. If the decedent was renting a residence, notify the landlord and determine how best to terminate any lease. But don't cut off things like electricity or water until the residence, whether rented or owned, has been handled! Similarly, don't terminate any insurance until that insurance is no longer needed.

Notify Social Security

The Social Security Administration (SSA) must be notified of the decedent's death, by calling 800-772-1213. You cannot do this online, but the funeral home may do this for you. See also SSA Reporting A Death.

Any social security checks for the month in which the decedent died (or later months) must be returned or repaid. If received by direct deposit, contact the bank and ask them to return any such funds. If paid by check, do not cash the checks, and return them to SSA. If the decedent had been receiving Medicaid benefits, be warned that the agency will likely seek reimbursement from the estate.

In some less common cases, the decedent may be owed a social security payment and/or a Medicare Premium refund (for example, if the post office shuts down the address due to the death and returns a check): you can claim such a payment using Form 1724.

Also see "Social Security Benefits for Surviving Family Members".

See also First 3 Months.

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