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What To Do When a Family Member or Loved One Dies

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Obviously, the death of a family member or close friend will be an emotionally charged moment. Most of us only have to endure the process a handful of times in our entire lives. That means we may be ill-prepared for what needs to be addressed, and extremely distracted and even vulnerable at the very time we need to be at our best.

There are a few legal matters that need to be dealt with, and a myriad of practical issues. Family and friends must be notified, an obituary notice prepared, and funeral arrangements made (or simply implemented, if the decedent was organized enough to have made advance arrangements). Here are a few others to be dealt with right away:

  • Pets need to be taken care of. Will someone in the family take responsibility for the cat? She needs to be attended to right away — she should not be left in the house alone, frightened and without adequate food and water.
  • Is security at the decedent’s home a concern? Someone should be detailed to turn lights on and off, pick up (and cancel) newspapers and collect the mail every day. Locks may need to be changed, especially if there have been caretakers, neighbors and repair workers in and out of the home.
  • The refrigerator needs to be cleaned out, dishes done and put away, and the house generally looked after. If those tasks are left for later, all sorts of problems can arise.
  • Mail should be forwarded, but it may not be possible to accomplish that until someone has been formally appointed as Personal Representative of the decedent’s estate. In the meantime, someone can pick up the mail daily while checking on the house.
  • Start a log and/or spreadsheet to show all expenditures and time spent on the decedent’s affairs. Even if you do not intend to seek payment later, it may be important to have this information collected — and it is much harder to recreate it later.
  • Arrange for a visit to the safe deposit box. In Arizona the bank is no longer required to impound the box’s contents, but it may be that no one is a signer on the box — or that the key can not be located. Look for information about the safe deposit box, and the key, among the decedent’s papers and personal possessions.
  • Cut up and return credit cards in the decedent’s name. It is not legal to use them, so there’s no need to keep them around. Do not be tempted to charge funeral expenses or other urgent bills on the credit cards.

What’s missing from this list? Call the lawyer. We don’t want to intimate that we think calling for legal counsel is unimportant (hey, we’re a law office, after all). In most cases, though, it is not among the first things that need to be done. It is probably not necessary to meet with the attorney immediately, but it may well take several days to get an appointment and in the meantime you might be able to get at least some guidance by telephone — so an early call is good, but perhaps not the most important item on your list.

Your circumstances may be different, of course. Perhaps there is a relative who is trying to remove valuable personal property without proper authority. Maybe your loved one lived in a rental unit, and security, cleaning and pets are not a concern. One item, at the head of every list, should be universal: breathe. That is, take a deep breath, ask for assistance from family and friends (most will be happy to pitch in, even if they were not related to, or close to, the decedent), and remember that it is permissible — and even laudable — to grieve as you work through the tasks that must be accomplished.

This is a short list of the most urgent steps to take. In another newsletter we’ll suggest some others, and even provide a checklist.

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Robert B. Fleming


Robert Fleming is a Fellow of both the American College of Trust and Estate Counsel and the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys. He has been certified as a Specialist in Estate and Trust Law by the State Bar of Arizona‘s Board of Legal Specialization, and he is also a Certified Elder Law Attorney by the National Elder Law Foundation. Robert has a long history of involvement in local, state and national organizations. He is most proud of his instrumental involvement in the Special Needs Alliance, the premier national organization for lawyers dealing with special needs trusts and planning.

Robert has two adult children, two young grandchildren and a wife of over fifty years. He is devoted to all of them. He is also very fond of Rosalind Franklin (his office companion corgi), and his homebound cat Muninn. He just likes people, their pets and their stories.

Elizabeth N.R. Friman


Elizabeth Noble Rollings Friman is a principal and licensed fiduciary at Fleming & Curti, PLC. Elizabeth enjoys estate planning and helping families navigate trust and probate administrations. She is passionate about the fiduciary work that she performs as a trustee, personal representative, guardian, and conservator. Elizabeth works with CPAs, financial professionals, case managers, and medical providers to tailor solutions to complex family challenges. Elizabeth is often called upon to serve as a neutral party so that families can avoid protracted legal conflict. Elizabeth relies on the expertise of her team at Fleming & Curti, and as the Firm approaches its third decade, she is proud of the culture of care and consideration that the Firm embodies. Finding workable solutions to sensitive and complex family challenges is something that Elizabeth and the Fleming & Curti team do well.

Amy F. Matheson


Amy Farrell Matheson has worked as an attorney at Fleming & Curti since 2006. A member of the Southern Arizona Estate Planning Council, she is primarily responsible for estate planning and probate matters.

Amy graduated from Wellesley College with a double major in political science and English. She is an honors graduate of Suffolk University Law School and has been admitted to practice in Arizona, Massachusetts, New York, and the District of Columbia.

Prior to joining Fleming & Curti, Amy worked for American Public Television in Boston, and with the international trade group at White & Case, LLP, in Washington, D.C.

Amy’s husband, Tom, is an astronomer at NOIRLab and the Head of Time Domain Services, whose main project is ANTARES. Sadly, this does not involve actual time travel. Amy’s twin daughters are high school students; Finn, her Irish Red and White Setter, remains a puppy at heart.

Famous people's wills

Matthew M. Mansour


Matthew is a law clerk who recently earned his law degree from the University of Arizona James E. Rogers College of Law. His undergraduate degree is in psychology from the University of California, Santa Barbara. Matthew has had a passion for advocacy in the Tucson community since his time as a law student representative in the Workers’ Rights Clinic. He also has worked in both the Pima County Attorney’s Office and the Pima County Public Defender’s Office. He enjoys playing basketball, caring for his cat, and listening to audiobooks narrated by the authors.