Losing a loved one is never easy. Death can happen suddenly and without warning, leaving family members and friends to deal with the aftermath of their loss. When someone you love dies in Arkansas, there are many steps that need to be taken as soon as possible after the death has occurred. This article will help guide you through those steps so that you can plan ahead for some of these difficult situations.
Check-in with immediate family and get support
It’s not always easy to make or receive a first phone call or text. Every family is unique, and there is no such thing as the “right” way to notify people about a death.
Emotions and reactions to the news may differ greatly. When possible, offer your support; but be careful not to allow yourself or your natural reaction to become influenced.
You may want to offer support in the form of a meal or just hanging out. There are no right answers, only actions that will help you get through this difficult time together.
Notify the Authorities
Depending on whether your loved one passed away in their own home, hospice, or in a hospital, different plans may need to be made in order to arrange proper care of the body.
If the death occurred outside of a medical facility, you will need to contact his or her physician or emergency medical personnel, so the cause of death can be identified and indicated in legal documents.
If no one was present at the time of death, you will need to contact the police before moving the deceased to another location.
Check any driver’s license, living will, or advance directive to verify whether she or he was an organ donor. If so, quickly call the nearest hospital as certain organs must be collected within a limited time-period in order to ensure a successful donation.
Call the Funeral Home
The funeral home will help you make all of the necessary arrangements for your loved one’s funeral. This may include picking up the body, embalming, and even choosing a casket or urn.
If you have any questions or concerns about what needs to be done, don’t hesitate to reach out to the funeral home director. The funeral home will guide you every step along the way.
File for a Death Certificate
A death certificate is a legal document that contains important information about the deceased, such as their cause of death and other vital statistics and is signed by the attending physician.
In case your loved one died due to an accident, a coroner or the county medical examiner may prepare the form. If you feel that you need assistance in filing for this legal document with the state, the funeral home can help you. Certified copies of the death certificate can also be purchased at the same time. You should purchase several. These certified copies are important when gaining access to bank accounts and safety deposit boxes, claiming for benefits due to the family (like the Veteran’s benefits or life insurance claims), and transferring or selling ownership of properties
Gather Information and Documents
Individuals frequently update their estate plan (Last Will & Testament or Trust) following significant financial or family-based life changes, so double-check the dates and title of any legal papers you discover to ensure that they reflect your loved one’s most recent desires. This will also let you know if they nominated someone to be in charge of their estate. It would be a personal representative or executor of the last will and testament or a trustee of a trust.
Definitions that might be helpful:
Decedent: Person who died.
Estate: What the deceased person owned at the time of their death. This generally does not include assets where the transfer of ownership happened automatically (TOD or POD).
Testate: When the decedent died with a Will.
Intestate: When the decedent dies without a Will.
Decedent’s Estate Administration: The process through the probate court of managing the decedent’s property and transferring ownership it either according to the Last Will & Testatement or Arkansas intestacy laws (if they did not have a Will).
Transfer of Death: Commonly known as TOD. Assets like this generally pass outside of the probate process.
Payable on Death: Commonly known as POD. Assets like this generally pass outside of the probate process.
Joint Tenants with the Right of Survivorship: Assets titled like this generally are passed to the last surviving owner. This is typically the surviving spouse.
Personal Representative: The person appointed by the Court to oversee the decedent’s assets and help move probate estate assets according to Arkansas Law. Often called an Executor of the Estate (if there is a Will) or an Administrator of the Estate (if there is not a Will).
Letters: Letter Testamentary (if there is a Will) or Letters of Administration (if there is not a Will) are required under Arkansas probate law and issued by the probate court to the personal representative and give the personal representative the power to manage estate assets.
Personal Property: All property that is not real property. This included bank accounts, cars, furniture, retirement accounts, etc.
Real Property: This is real estate. Houses and raw land.
Heir: Any person that would inherit property according to Arkansas probate laws if the decedent died with a Will. This typically includes the current spouse, biological children, adopted children (this means legally adopted by court order), and grandchildren if their parent (the decedent’s child) has predeceased the decedent.
Check with the bank and other financial institutions to ensure that all of your loved one’s assets are properly transferred. Also, look for any items like insurance policies or annuities as you may need those documents in order to gain access.
You may need to watch his or her mail to figure out where they had accounts and other assets. Through this process, you should make a list of all the assets they owed, how those assets were titled (in their name or jointly with someone else, etc.), if there were any beneficiary designations on the assets (POD or TOD designations), and how the estate plan affected those assets.
Pause and take some time to grieve.
Grief has five distinct phases, and it’s all too easy to get sidetracked by “all of the tasks that need doing.” To the point that the sudden surges of shifting emotions might soon become overwhelming.
Make sure you take time to grieve and take care of yourself through this process.
Secure valuables, personal assets, & belongings
The sad fact is that knowledge of a death may be an incentive for theft, either by criminals or even well-intentioned family members eager to claim emotional or monetarily valuable things.
It’s a good idea to change the locks on your house and make sure all windows or doors can be properly shut or locked.
Remove any perishables from the kitchen, wash any items or bed linens if the home will be vacant for an extended period, and clean any bathrooms. If the home is going to be vacant, make sure and notify the insurance company. Your insurance will go up, but if you do not notify them the home is vacant and damage occurs, then the insurance company may not pay the claim.
Don’t forget to look under mattresses or in coat pockets in the closet for any money that may be hidden, and find a secure location to store any valuables like jewelry, car keys, or family heirlooms.
It’s vital to consult with a trustworthy friend or family member if you have one. Not only as an extra set of hands but also as a witness to your actions, asking them to join you can help prevent any family disputes or accusations. If there is any chance of a dispute, it is best that you pull that phone out of your pocket and take a video of your actions, and show all the property in the house. It will help tremendously if there is a dispute of what property was there and/or taken.
Determine if probate is necessary
The probate process isn’t one-size-fits-all, but rather, may occur in different ways depending upon the type of probate required (Full Probate or Small Estate Affidavit), ownership & titling of assets, and the overall value of assets left behind in the estate (the defendant’s property).
The Small Estate Affidavit is Arkansas’s simplified probate procedure. You can read more about it here.
You should research the titles of certain assets to see whether they will go through probate or pass directly to identified recipients. You can click here to read more: Arkansas Probate Process.
There are a lot of things that need to be done after someone dies, but it’s best not to try to do everything at once. Take some time for yourself and remember that there is no one right way to go through this process. Everything will work out in the end as long as you take care of yourself and stay organized. If you need any help in the process, feel free to schedule a free consultation with us.