The death of a loved one has a way of altering the senses and experiences: time slows, food becomes undesirable, it may be difficult to sleep (or, conversely, stay awake), concentration may wane, attention may wander, and hearing may become less acute. A survivor may experience a range of emotions: anger, grief, sadness, guilt, numbness, disbelief, and sometimes—particularly if the deceased had been in pain—a sense of relief. The world (and sometimes oneself), in short, may appear disorienting and unrecognizable even as it appears everyone else operates as if life was “normal.”
We often get telephone calls from survivors who are in the midst of the disorientation surrounding the death of a loved one. Sometimes they live out-of-town. They are often eager to get moving on being officially appointed by the court as the executor. Not infrequently, the funeral or memorial service has been scheduled, but has not occurred.
Our general recommendation is for survivors to focus on their immediate grief and the memorial service or funeral arrangements. Although individual circumstances vary, in general, no immediate action is required (or often possible!) when someone passes away and waiting two weeks or so before seeking advice specific to your situation is not going to affect the outcome. That time can usually be better spent on grieving, planning the memorial service, and meeting with family and friends to share memories of the deceased and receive their comfort and support. Those first several weeks can be hard and it is often beneficial to be present and receive support from others before diving in to the process of settling the estate.
While this sounds self-serving, we strongly recommend consulting with an attorney who specializes in estate administration before you dive in and try to tackle the process yourself. We have worked with clients where “if they’d only known” things would have gone much smoother. You can save yourself a lot of grief, expense, and stress if you consult with an attorney who specializes in administration first to understand your options rather than proceed on your own and then need an attorney to salvage the situation.
When you do meet with the attorney, it is helpful if you have at least a general idea about the assets the decedent owned and how they were titled or if they had beneficiary designations as well as the general amount of the decedent’s debts. Virginia offers several levels of probate estate administration and being able to select the proper one from the outset can save you time, effort, and money. Virginia also offers time-sensitive processes that can ensure that the surviving spouse or minor child(ren) receive priority payment from the decedent’s probate assets, even if such payment means that creditors will not get paid in full.
In summary, following the death of a loved one:
- Give yourself some time to grieve and breathe,
- Contact our office at (757) 690-2470 to get more guidance on the information an attorney needs to make the best use of your time in advising you on the next steps in probate estate administration, and
- Once you have gathered the information to the best of your ability to do so, then you can have a consultation with one of our attorneys on how to best proceed given the particular facts and circumstances of your loved one’s estate.