Easy to Follow Checklist of Things to Start Doing When a Person Dies and the Estate Needs to Be Probated

When someone dies, the announcement of his/her death often creates a “paralysis” among family members and close friends who then rally around those affected by the death.

Seldom are their immediate thoughts directed toward what should be done to finalize the decedent’s affairs.

In case you’re involved in a situation I just described or anticipate the death of someone close to you soon, I have created a checklist to follow to get family members and estate representatives prepared and through the probate/estate administration process.

This checklist is very general. It may not address all the details that have to be accomplished in your particular case but it’s a good start. If the process seems overwhelming, don’t panic, I’m here for you together with our paralegals and co-attorneys with decades of experience. We can handle all the details of the estate or just a few tasks depending on your needs.

Click here to download and print my east to follow estate administration checklist: Checklist of Things to Do When a Person Dies

What to Do When You Are Named as the Executor or Estate Administrator


Place an “X” in the left column when the item has been completed

Notify immediate family and close friends of the death
Evaluate and then respect the emotional impact on the surviving spouse, children, close relatives, and friends; arrange for needed support be it financial or otherwise
Deal with the donation of bodily organs to an “organ bank”, as appropriate
Arrange care for dependents, especially minor children, if any
Arrange care for pets, if any
Find and review the decedent’s expressed funeral and burial wishes, often found in a Last Will or safe deposit box. This is very important. Notify any designated funeral representative named in the decedent’s Last Will or other writing so arrangements can be started.
Prepare and arrange for an obituary
Arrange for mortuary, cemetery, burial, cremation, as appropriate
Ask for and obtain death certificates from the funeral home (you may want to ask an attorney how many are needed). I suggest requesting more than what may be anticipated.
Arrange funeral/burial services
Notify other members of family and friends of the funeral and burial arrangements
Locate Will, Codicils, Trusts
Locate other important legal and financial documents, accounts, investments, income tax returns, life insurance policies, etc.
Advise Social Security and other government benefit agencies, and private pension administrators as appropriate
Evaluate the need for police security at the decedent’s residence
Cancel or rearrange home deliveries
Have the post office hold mail or initiate a forwarding address
Find perishable property (food, plants, etc.), arrange for care or disposal
Notify agent under any power of attorney of the death to stop using the power of attorney
Keep written records of all payments for funeral and other expenses
Locate safe deposit box(es)
Locate life insurance policies and determine death benefit(s)
Investigate Social Security death benefits
Investigate union death benefits
Investigate veteran’s burial allowance and other veteran benefits
Investigate fraternal organizations for any death benefits (i.e., Knights of Columbus)
Investigate employee benefits, including accrued vacation pay, death benefits, final wages, retirement plans, deferred compensation, medical reimbursements
Investigate refunds on insurance or canceled subscriptions
Investigate Keogh and IRA accounts
Investigate business, partnership, and investment arrangements
Retain and meet with an attorney regarding estate matters
Retain and meet with CPA regarding tax and accounting matters
Meet with a life insurance agent to collect proceeds or consider options
Deal with fire, theft, liability, and auto insurance on decedent’s property
Work with attorney and CPA to prepare inventory, list of accounts, and list of debts
Review credit cards and charge accounts, cancel as appropriate
DO NOT pay any of the decedent’s debts until the attorney discusses with family or executor
Obtain valuations and appraisals of assets, as appropriate
If Trust is involved, arrange for any allocations and transfers
Consult with an attorney about distribution, probate, and non-probate assets to beneficiaries
File required tax waivers to secure release from New Jersey Estate Lien(s)
Secure release of liability to beneficiaries through Accounting(s) and/or discharges
Arrange for final income tax return and estate tax return, as necessary


Fredrick P. Niemann Esq.

I hope this checklist helps.  Like I said earlier, it’s not an exhaustive list but it’s a good start.  If you need some help or advice addressing this checklist or want to speak with a knowledgeable New Jersey estate administration attorney who can work with you, please call me at toll-free (855) 376-5291 or e-mail me at fniemann@hnlawfirm.com to set up an office consultation at your convenience.  It’s my pleasure to be of assistance.




Written by New Jersey Probate and Estate Administration Lawyer, Fredrick P. Niemann, Esq.