Recently, I was able to speak with Cindy Nelson, Attorney at Law and founder of Nelson Elder Care Law located in Marietta and Woodstock. Our main focus was discussing what legal processes happen after someone passes. Working in a Funeral Home, I hear words like notifying Social Security, Probating the Will, Advanced Healthcare Directive, among others all the time, but do I really know what they mean? Not really. If you are like me, you may think, “I don’t need to know all of this right now. I can figure it out when I need to.” After talking with Cindy, it became clear that learning what they mean and understanding these processes now could save you time and money later on.
Once a loved one has passed, many individuals are not able to properly grieve because there are so many legal steps that must be taken care of pretty quickly. However, many people don’t understand this until after a death has already occurred. Cindy says that many of the individuals that come to her are ones that have seen someone else go through the process firsthand and witnessed how much of a burden the process can be. They then come to her in hopes of being proactive and get things started to help ease that burden for their family for when that time does come.
Notifying Social Security is typically the first step. In the State of Georgia, Social Security is notified once a passing is filed with the State by the Funeral Home. Death Certificates in Georgia are filed electronically and once this information has been entered in the system by the Funeral Home, that is all that needs to be done. According to Cindy, it is not necessary for the family to follow up with Social Security to confirm the filing. She said what most families do not realize though is that if the loved one was drawing Social Security and passes before months end, but their Social Security check had already been deposited, Social Security will in fact take the money back.
As Cindy stated in our interview, “Probating the Will or going to Probate Court is the legal process in transferring assets from one person to another.” Probating the Will can be very cumbersome and while an Attorney is not necessarily needed in order to do this, Cindy recommends that you have one to save you the headache and walk you through some of the legal aspects that you may not fully understand. Even if your loved one did not a have a Will set in place, you will still need to go to Probate Court in order to have assets divided and distributed to the beneficiaries. Bank accounts and other assets are not automatically transferred to children after a passing as many people often believe. Going through Probate can take 6-9 months depending on the complexity of the Estate.
Cindy described in our interview that there is a legal order in which debts and bills should be paid. This is likely something that without an Attorney, people do not realize must be done in a specific order. For instance, the Funeral bill should be paid prior to any medical bills that the deceased may have had. If you do not have an Attorney and the Executor, the individual appointed to administer the Estate, or anyone else, decides to pay medical bills prior to the Funeral Bill then the Executor then becomes personally responsible for paying the Funeral bill. Another financial matter that an Executor may not realize without the guidance of an Attorney, is that taxes must still be filed for the loved one the year that they pass. These are just a few examples of how an Attorney can help with Legal processes after a passing and save you legal and financial liability for something you may have not been aware of.
When asked “What should individuals do now to help ease some of the burden for those left behind?” Cindy stated her biggest piece of advice she could give is to preplan your services. She said she sees too often families are not able to mourn the loss of their loved one because they may be bickering about what Grandma would have wanted in a funeral, if she wanted to be cremated or buried, and even how much money will be spent on the services. Preplanning will take away the burden of not knowing – Grandma can come in herself and make her arrangements for when the times comes and leave her wishes with the funeral home and even prepay for her services which in the long run, will end up saving her and the family money.
Cindy’s firm, Nelson Elder Care Law located in Marietta and Woodstock, provides a no money down policy. This is extremely helpful for families, especially those that do not have the funds to pay the Attorney fees up front. Having a no money down policy allows the family to go through the Probate process and get access to the Estate funds and then the family is able to use those funds to pay Nelson Elder Care for their services. The term “Elder Care Law” can be misleading, Elder Care Law is for all ages, not just for the elderly. Estate Planning and planning for the unknown is important for everyone. Planning ahead and speaking to an Attorney can give you and your family peace of mind as well as preplanning your services with the Funeral Home.
Here at Mayes Ward-Dobbins Funeral Home, we provide the family with a checklist of items that will need to be addressed after the passing. Typically, we give these to the family with the Certified Death Certificates, but they can also be found on our website. Some of these items include meeting with the Deceased’s Attorney, notifying Social Security, and prearranging your own funeral. We also have someone on staff that specializes in Aftercare. Roger Moore contacts families after the service to check in and see if he can be of guidance to them in anyway. All of these services are available at no additional charge because we know how overwhelming this time can be and we want to help you.
~ Sarah Driskell