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Death and estates - Seven things to do after a loved one passes away

It is a very difficult time when a loved one passes away. Often the last thing you want to do is deal with the legal and property issues that arise. In our experience, it is best just to take one step at a time and not be afraid to ask for help. There are some things though that do need to be addressed.

1. Obtain the Death Certificate

If you are the person responsible for the loved one’s estate, you will need to obtain the death certificate. This will be provided by the funeral director two to three weeks after the funeral. Although there will be only one original certificate, you are likely to need multiple certified copies so do not be afraid to ask the funeral director for certified copies. The death certificate is formal proof that your loved one has passed away. It will be needed when dealing with banks and other financial institutions, superannuation and life insurance policies and share registries. It will also be needed if there is a need to apply for probate or letters of administration of your loved one’s estate.

2. Obtain probate or letters of administration

It may be necessary to obtain probate or letters of administration. Probate or letters of administration are formal documents sealed by a Court showing that you as executor or administrator have authority to deal with your loved one’s estate. If your loved one only had a few assets, probate or letters of administration may not be needed. It will depend on the value of the assets and which bank, share registry or other organisation you may need to deal with. If your loved one has an interest in real estate in New South Wales (other than as joint tenant) you will definitely need to obtain probate or letters of administration. You don’t need to use a lawyer to obtain probate or letters of administration, but using a lawyer will often save time and anxiety. Once probate or letters of administration is obtained, assets will need to be transferred to beneficiaries or realised and the cash distributed to beneficiaries.

3. Collect important documents and information

There will usually be several important documents that you will need to locate and secure upon the death of a loved one. These include:
- Any will, including any codicils to it
- The death certificate (when provided by the funeral director)
- Bank account and credit/debit card details and statements (if any)
- Title deeds
- Share certificates/statements
- Recent tax returns
- Superannuation policies
- Statements relating to pensions
- Life insurance policies
- Any other documents evidencing ownership of property (e.g. car registration papers These documents will help you determine whether you need to obtain probate or letters of administration, what assets need to be transferred, sold or liquidated, and who you need to notify of your loved one’s death.

4. Centrelink, pension providers, banks, share registries etc.

Certain organisations will need to be notified of your loved one’s passing:
The key ones are:
- Centrelink, financial institutions or superannuation trustees that may have been paying
your loved one a pension. Unless notified, pensions will usually continue to be paid into
a bank account of your loved one, and these amounts will most likely need to be repaid.
Other organisations to be informed include:
- Banks
- Share registries
- Local councils or body corporates
- Utility companies
You do not need to let these institutions know immediately, but they will in time need to be informed. Banks and share registries are usually informed as part of the process of obtaining probate and letters of administration.

5. Cancel subscriptions and memberships

It may initially be difficult to identify all the subscriptions and memberships held by a loved one, although in due course you should be able to identify them, if only through communications sent by the relevant organisation to which loved one subscribed or was a member.

6. Pay outstanding bills

Once you have identified your loved one’s creditors and outstanding bills, you should pay them out with funds from their estate. This may take time if you need to obtain probate or letters of administration before you can access your loved one’s funds. Creditors just have to be patient and wait in such circumstances.

7. Close all on-line and social media accounts

This is not always easy to do, as you may find it difficult to find passwords or even know that some accounts exist. You may need to contact such companies as Facebook or Google directly to close such