A metal urn at a funeral

FAQs: What Needs to Be Done When Someone Dies

Caleb Bland Law, PLLC June 20, 2023

The loss of a loved one, especially if it is unexpected, can be truly traumatic, but as with everything in life, there are both personal and practical considerations to be made if a death occurs. Dealing with the personal side hinges on one’s own beliefs and family ties, but on the practical side, state and local laws and procedures need to be observed. 

If you have lost a loved one in or around Elizabethtown, Kentucky, the family law and personal injury attorney at Caleb Bland Law, PLLC with meet with you and offer compassionate guidance on moving forward, especially regarding any issues of probate court proceedings and the settling of financial affairs. We will provide ultimate comfort in your time of loss. 

We also serve clients throughout Kentucky, including in Louisville, Radcliff, Shepherdsville, Bardstown, and throughout the counties of Hardin, Meade, Grayson, Nelson, Jefferson, and more. 

What to Do When a Loved One Dies?

The answer to this question largely depends on where, when, and how the loved one dies. If they are in a hospital or nursing home, the attending physician or nurse can fill out the proper paperwork to certify the death and its probable cause.  

If not—for instance, if there’s an auto accident or a sudden death in one’s home or public sphere—then you will need to call 911 and summon authorities. The police will notify the coroner, who will certify the death. It’s best if you don’t try to move the body unless it’s absolutely necessary. 

Whom to Notify?

Once the death certificate issue is taken care of, there are more practical aspects regarding a loved one’s death, which really depend on the person’s individual circumstances. Of course, family and friends should be notified immediately.  

On a more practical front, there may be mortgages or rents that need to be accounted for, along with utility bills, outstanding debts, taxes, and more. Social Security, if the person is a recipient, needs to be notified, and unfortunately, will often ask for the last month’s payment to be refunded. Bank accounts need to be notified, as do any trust, retirement, insurance, annuity, or other accounts held in the person’s name. 

What About a Will?

If the deceased person penned a will, that of course must be presented along with a death certificate to the local probate court in the county where the person died, so that the post-death legal process can take place. Probate proceedings will settle all financial obligations of the deceased and then award the named beneficiaries with the assets so designated. 

A will also generally designates a personal representative who will become the court-appointed executor of the estate to oversee all probate proceedings. This personal representative will need to be notified that the testator (will-writer) has passed away and that he or she must appear before the court to begin probate proceedings. 

If the decedent created a living trust instead of a will, then the estate will belong to the trust and the successor trustee named by the decedent in their legal document. Trust proceedings are similar to probate but are largely conducted outside of court supervision, which means in many cases, everything can be wrapped up more expeditiously. Of course, as with a will, there can be challenges to a trust, and in that case, the court will get involved, as will attorneys on both sides of the challenge. 

What If There Is No Will or Trust?

If a loved one dies without having created a will or trust, then in legal terms, this is called dying intestate. The estate—all assets left in the decedent’s name that are not jointly held or designated directly to a beneficiary as on a life insurance or retirement policy—will then be distributed according to Kentucky’s laws of intestate succession. 

In intestate succession, a lot will depend on whether the decedent left behind a spouse. In Kentucky, if you die without a will, your spouse will inherit one-half of your intestate property under a law called “dower and curtesy.” The other half will pass to your descendants, parents, or siblings. If there are no descendants, parents, or siblings, then the spouse gets everything. 

Inheritance under intestate laws can get complicated when foster children or stepchildren are involved. Unless they have been officially adopted, they do not stand to inherit anything. Adopted children, however, stand to inherit an equal share to biological children. 

There is a general fear that dying without a will can result in your assets being taken over by the Commonwealth of Kentucky, but this is almost never the case. Even if there is a remote aunt or uncle, nephew or cousin, the estate will be awarded to them.  

Seek Compassionate Legal Counsel

If you’ve just lost a loved one in or around Elizabethtown, Kentucky, reach out to us immediately at Caleb Bland Law, PLLC. Losing a loved one is a time of great emotional stress, but at the same time, many practical and legal issues need to be dealt with.  

We can help you navigate the probate system or carry out the loved one’s wishes as expressed in a living trust. While you grieve over your loss, we will tackle the practical aspects for you.