When the Willmaker dies his or her Executor takes charge immediately. The Executor has all the rights and responsibilities from the moment the deceased dies – including before the Executor obtains Probate, which is the approval an Executor needs from the Supreme Court to pay debts and distribute estate assets as per the Will.It is difficult to make important decisions at a time of personal distress. Fortunately only a few things need to be done in the first weeks after the death. These are:
Arrange the Funeral
The Executor is responsible for arranging the funeral and should confer with the family. The funeral ceremony is very important as it helps people accept the reality of death.
Check the deceased’s records to see if there are funeral plans or instructions. Check the Will to ascertain whether the deceased incorporated any burial instructions in it.
Note: Under law, the body of a deceased becomes the property of the Executor – the Executor has the final say on how and where the body is to be interred.
Things to consider include:
Whether the body is to be buried or cremated;
If the body is to be buried, where;
If the body is to be cremated,
Whether the ashes are to be scattered or retained;
The nature and format of the funeral service; and
Who they should notify about the service.
Funeral costs can be considerable. You need to pay the funeral costs almost straight away. Banks generally release the funeral costs from the deceased’s bank account. If you have problems with the bank releasing money to pay for the Funeral speak to your solicitor. The reasonable cost of the funeral is an expense of the estate, but the Executor should be careful not to incur expenses beyond the available funds in the estate.
The Executor may be asked whether organs can be donated. This usually occurs where the Willmaker has registered with the organ donation register or there is a request by the hospital or the next of kin. The decision is usually left to the next of kin.
Protecting and gathering the deceased’s assets and liabilities
Identifying assets can be tricky. See if the deceased’s Will Wizard portfolio includes and up to date asset diary. A search of the deceased’s home and belongings may have to be undertaken to locate bank account and investment details, recent accounts for rates and utility bills, credit cards and possibly title deeds.
Make a list of all of the assets (video recording or photographing household items is a good idea). Ensure all property is secured (change locks on buildings if necessary, move vehicles to secure location if no garage, store valuable household items securely). It is important to protect the assets by taking possession of them where possible.
Check that the car, home and other assets are insured. If something happens to them you may be personally liable.
Notify your solicitor
It is a good idea to advise your or the deceased’s solicitor promptly of the deceased’s death. While little needs to be done in the first few weeks after the funeral, your solicitor can answer preliminary questions and advise on any issues of concern.
There is generally nothing further you can do as Executor until you get the Death Certificate. The Registration of Death is official proof of the death. The deceased’s doctor signs the required forms. The forms are then lodged with the Registrar General’s office. It takes about three weeks for the funeral director to arrange and then give you the Registration of Death.
Notify Centrelink if applicable
If the deceased was receiving Centrelink benefits at the time of death Centrelink should be notified as soon as possible. Note that the deceased’s spouse may be entitled to a ‘bereavement allowance’ from Centrelink but it is imperative that application be made promptly.