A loved one has passed away, what steps do I need to take?

There are several considerations and steps to take when a family member passes away including making funeral arrangements, managing the affairs of the deceased, and beginning the probate process. A lawyer can best advise you on what steps to take immediately after a death, and can help you through this process.

First, determine if the deceased had a valid will

A will is a legal document that takes effect at the time of death and expresses the wishes of the deceased, including what happens to property and whether specific funeral arrangements should be followed. To be valid, a will must conform to certain legal requirements. These requirements vary based on what province or country the will was made in. A lawyer can advise you on whether a will is valid. If a will is invalid or the deceased did not make a will prior to their death, he/she is considered to die “intestate” and division of property will occur based on a series of default rules. A lawyer can help you through this process as well. If you are unsure whether the deceased left a valid will, a lawyer can perform a search to determine whether a will exists anywhere in BC.

A will often states who is appointed “executor” or “trustee”. This is the person responsible for making funeral arrangements, managing the affairs of the deceased, and disposing of the deceased property. If the deceased died intestate, an “administrator” may be appointed by the court to manage the affairs of the deceased. If you have been named as an executor or trustee, or want to apply to be an administrator, a lawyer can advise you on what your responsibilities are.

If you are an executor or trustee

In order to distribute of the deceased person’s assets the executor in most cases must apply for probate. Probate is the court process that confirms the validity of the will. There are many steps to probate, including notifying any debtors or creditors the deceased may have, closing the financial accounts of the deceased, contacting beneficiaries, drafting the probate application, and appearing at court. A lawyer can assist you with all of these and in most cases any fees charged will be paid out of the estate.

As the executor or trustee you will need to have a comprehensive understanding of all of the deceased’s property. A lawyer can advise you on who to talk to and where to get the required documents in order to complete the probate process. Probate must be completed within a year of the deceased’s passing, so it is best to talk to a lawyer as soon as you can.