This is a basic outline of the legal steps and steps that are not legal but have an impact on possible legal issues that you should take when a person dies. Unfortunately, many of these steps can be very important and you must take them at a very sad and emotional time.
1. Consider the emotional impact of the death on the surviving spouse, children, and close relatives. Act accordingly.
2. If the decedent had dependant children, decide how to provide care for them. If the person left an incapacitated surviving spouse, do the same for the surviving spouse.
3. Decide what security the person’s home needs. At a minimum, you should cancel deliveries and credit cards and notify the post office to either forward or hold mail.
4. Make funeral arrangements. This may include contacting clergy, making mortuary and burial or cremation arrangements (resist overselling), organ donation if the person authorized it in a living will, and ordering death certificates, which you can arrange through the mortuary. Investigate whether the person had already made any funeral arrangements. KEEP ALL RECORDS OF FUNERAL AND OTHER EXPENSES.
5. Find the original Will and/or Living Trust. You must find the original.
6. Find life insurance policies and claim forms.
7. Investigate the following benefits and contact the appropriate claims personnel:
a. Social Security
b. Union death benefits
c. Veterans benefits (including Veterans Affairs benefits, Servicemembers and Veterans Group Life Insurance, Thrift Savings Plan, Survivor Benefit Plan, and Disabled Veterans Life Insurance - the monthly benefit statement from Defense Finance and Accounting Service will be helpful)
d. Veterans burial allowance
e. Accrued vacation pay
f. Employee death benefit
g. Final wages
h. IRA/401(k) account
i. Retirement plan death benefits
j. Deferred compensation
k. Medical reimbursements to help pay for hospital and doctorbills
l. Refunds on insurance, cancelled subscriptions or other items
m. Life insurance
n. Medical insurance
o. Bank, financial, and investment accounts
8. Find deeds to real estate.
9. Meet with CPA/accountant to prepare final tax returns and establish tax basis in property.
10. Consult a probate lawyer. Do not assume that you must file a probate proceeding or that you do not have to file a probate proceeding.
Your will is one of the most important legal documents you will sign during your life. Your will directs how your money and goes upon your death, names a personal representative to administer the estate, names a guardian to care for your minor children upon your death, and names a conservator to manage minor children’s assets. In order to serve these purposes, your will must be valid. In Arizona, a will must meet the following requirements to be valid.
Required Age to Execute a Will
The testator (the person making the will) must be 18 years of age or older and must be of sound mind. The person signing the will must be able to understand the extent of his or her property, know who would inherit his or her property if the testator dies without a will (spouse, children, grandchildren, parents, e.g.), and must understand that by executing a will the testator is specifically naming his or her beneficiaries what specific property each beneficiary should receive.
A Will Must Be In Writing, Signed, and Witnessed.
Arizona statutes must be in writing, signed by the testator, and signed by two witnesses. If the testator is unable to physically sign his or her name, s/he may direct another person to do so for him or her in the testator’s presence. Either each witness must see the testator sign the will or the testator must tell each witness that the signature on the will is the testator’s signature. Each witness must sign the will in the presence of the testator and the other witness.
A holographic will is a will that the testator wrote in the testator’s own handwriting. For such a will to be valid in Arizona, the material provisions in the will must be in the testator’s handwriting and the testator must have signed the will. Material provisions are provisions that name beneficiaries and the property they receive. The holographic will must also indicate that the testator intends and wants to dispose of his or her property with the holographic will. A holographic need not be signed by witnesses, but it can be signed by witnesses.
The witnesses must be generally competent. Although an interested person (i.e., someone named in the will) may sign as a witness, it is better practice to not have interested witnesses.
Wills can be "self-proving" in Arizona. If a will is self-proving and the authenticity and no one challenges the authenticity of the will, the probate court may accept the will in informal probate. Since the probate court automatically accepts a self-proven will, witnesses to a self-proven will do not have to testify. A will is self-proving if the testator and witnesses affirm the will’s authenticity in an affidavit they sign in front of a notary, and the notary signs and stamps the affidavit, which is either part of the will or attached to the will.
Thomas A. Morton, P. L. L. C.
2916 N. 7th Avenue, Suite 100
Phoenix, Arizona 85013
If you have a legal issue but aren't sure how to handle it, call Thomas A. Morton, Attorney.
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All information on this website is not, and is not intended to be, legal advice. You should consult an attorney for advice regarding your individual situation, as each case is different and contains different facts. I invite you to contact me and welcome your calls, letters and e-mail. Contacting me does not create an attorney-client relationship. Please do not send any confidential information until you establish an attorney-client relationship with me.
Attorney Thomas A. Morton is located in Phoenix, Arizona, and serves clients throughout Maricopa County, including Tempe, Mesa, Scottsdale, Glendale, Peoria, Gilbert, Chandler, Goodyear, Surprise, Avondale, Cave Creek, Carefree, New River, Anthem, Black Canyon City, Sun City, Laveen, Buckeye, Goodyear, Litchfield Park, Tolleson, Youngtown, Queen Creek, Guadalupe, Fountain Hills, Paradise Valley, Wickenberg, Apache Junction, and El Mirage.