Losing a loved one is never easy. Emotional needs must be met. Immediate family matters must be attended to. Funeral or memorial service arrangements must be made. But at some point fairly soon after death certain practical steps need to be taken. Those practical steps are usually in addition to any probate work or other legal work that needs to be done.
Bucky Highsmith has practiced probate law for almost 30 years with Stewart, Melvin & Frost, one of Northeast Georgia’s oldest and largest law firms. As a probate lawyer Bucky has not only handled the legal issues involved in settling an estate, he has also seen, first-hand, many of the practical issues families deal with following the loss of a loved one.
Question: Why do any steps need to be taken other than the obvious steps of visiting with family, arranging for the funeral, and similar matters?
Bucky: This is a piece of advice that is not legal advice: Take time to be with loved ones, take time to grieve, and take time to spend a few minutes with your maker. That’s the most important part. It’s not the legal steps. Take the time necessary to grieve and then move onto the legal aspects.
Question: We know that every situation is different, but as a general rule what should be one of the first steps that should be taken after a loved one’s death?
Bucky: One of the first things people need to do after going through the grieving process is to find all the paperwork that will be necessary over the next few weeks. The process is very document intensive. Credit card statements, bank account statements, pre-nuptial agreements, tax returns, contracts related to your business, birth certificate, marriage license, Veterans Administration file number if you are a veteran, social security number and insurance policies are some to the paperwork you will need to locate.
Question: Has there been any changes in the way we live our lives today that has alleviated a problem people faced years ago when dealing with issues after a death?
Bucky: Sometimes we see people panicking over cash needs. That was the case more so 20-25 years ago. Today people have more options available for cash with various accounts and credit cards to meet any initial financial issues after a death.
Question: Are there some practical steps that families should take that you sometimes see being missed?
Bucky: It is amazing sometimes the things we find and most are employment related. We’ll find someone belonged to a union when they live in Pittsburgh 30 years ago and there are union benefits available. We find that a person worked for a company in another state and there is deferred compensation due. It can really take a little bit of digging. That’s why I say one of the first things to do is dive into those basement boxes and find all the paperwork from years ago.