When a person dies in Florida, it is imperative that relatives or friends are around to put them to rest, secure their property and start the process of winding down their affairs.
If the person died in a facility, the staff will tell you what procedures to follow there. If the person died in their home, you will need to get in touch with the county medical examiner. If the decedent was an organ donor, call the hospital and ask them what procedure you have to follow.
Once that is taken care of, it is time to start making the funeral arrangements. If the decedent was a member of a burial society or a religious organization, contact those organizations and get them involved in the process. Get other friends and relatives and the decedent’s priest, rabbi, etc. involved as well. Find a funeral home and instruct them to get started on making funeral and burial arrangements.
Be carful with the decedent’s documents or property. Do not take anything without a court order. Call an estate attorney and get a court order right away. In Miami-Dade and Broward counties, one can get a same-day court order in this situation. In the order, the court may authorize you to get the will from the residence and file it with the court, take an inventory of the decedent’s property in their residence, perform a search and inventory of the safe deposit box, and any other matters of concern. When you go to court, leave someone you trust by the house to make sure that the documents and property are not disturbed.
The court order will tell you what you may or may not do next. You may be able to remove the decedent’s documents from the residence, or the court may allow you to make photocopies. Some of the decedent’s records may be on the computer; it’s a good idea to copy the contents of the computer on a disc in the event something happens to the computer. If the computer is password protected, you will need a court order to bypass the password.
Once you have the court order, you can look over the decedent’s will or living will for any instructions relating to burial, funeral or organ donation.
Even before going to court, go to the decedent’s bank and inform them of the death – you do not want people to drawing on the account or withdrawing funds from the account. Inform other financial institutions as well. The decedent’s affairs should be sorted out in court, not willy-nilly by people who may later abscond with the property.
Abandoned houses get burglarized and burglaries are known to happen during funerals. Or, someone might decide they’re entitled to items of property and take them. Arrange to have cash, important documents and valuables stored safely in the residence, preferably in a safe, and have a good surveillance and security system installed if there is no one to watch the property.
Once you’ve obtained a court order and the property is secure, you can take a deep breath and think about your next steps. If you are the executor named in the will, then it is your responsibility to wind up the decedent’s estate. If you are not the executor, you may still be asked to help. If the decedent died without a will, have a family discussion and agree who will be the personal representative who will wind up the estate and have that person file the appropriate paperwork in court as soon as possible.
Ask the funeral home to give you multiple originals of the death certificate – you will need the original Florida death certificate for estate proceedings, banks and life insurance.
Once you have all the documents in order and the decedent is put to rest, you are ready to hire an estate attorney and start the probate proceeding, in which the decedent’s assets are collected, debts and taxes are paid, and the estate is distributed to the heirs. If you need an estate attorney in the Miami, Florida area, give us a call at (786) 522-1411.