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By Liza Horvath


What Happens When We Die


An often asked question regarding end of life planning is “What happens when I die?” Not meant as a spiritual inquiry - the question is more an expression of concern for those left behind. Some ask who will get notified of my death and how? Can friends or family choose items to keep from my treasured personal possessions and can family stay in my house after I am gone? The question really is, “I will be gone and want to be sure everything goes well for my loved ones. What are the actions that will be taken by my family and trusted advisors?” 


First, the question of how family will respond should be off the table. No matter how well you know your children it is impossible to predict what jockeying around for position within the family will take place after the death of a patriarch or matriarch. The stories are legendary - hence the old saying, “You don’t truly know your siblings until you have shared an inheritance.”  Setting family dynamics aside, the work that needs to be done immediately at death is defined both by law and by your will, trust and other writings.    


First, your representative should secure the home and address any other urgent issues. This means checking through your home and removing personal items such as jewelry, cash and original documents and securing these and other valuables in a vault or safe deposit box. If a pet survives you, arrangements for a caregiver or the transfer of the pet to a designated custodian must be made. If the house is now empty, locks should be changed to prevent unauthorized entry by housekeepers, former caregivers, or by family members that should not be in the house but who may retain a key.


If you leave contact information for those you would like notified of your death, it will make your representative’s job of notifying family and friends much easier. Also, indicate if you would like them notified by phone, email or by letter.


Even if you have done preplanning for your remains, the funeral home will need information from your representative or the agent named in your Advance Health Care Directive. Ask your planner what information will be needed so you can prepare your agent ahead of time.


If you want family members or friends to have items of personal property, state that in your will or trust. Your document can say, “I leave my personal property according to a separate writing.”  You can then prepare an ancillary list stating what items you would like to go to friends or family and state that your representative has authority to honor your wishes.


Similarly, if you want your family to stay in your home during the funeral services or for a period of time after your death, provide written instructions. Without this, your representative takes a risk by letting family stay in the home and most professional or corporate trustees will not allow it.


The answer to your question, “What happens when I die?” lies in the details provided by you to your representative.


Liza Horvath has over 30 years experience in the estate planning and trust fields and is the president of Monterey Trust Management, a financial and trust management company. This is not intended to be legal or tax advice. If you have a questions call (831)646-5262 or email liza@montereytrust.com










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