Keeping organized is key. There are legal, practical and humanitarian considerations. First of all, make sure that any pets are fed, watered and taken care of right away. This is primary. Secondly, make sure the premises are secure because an empty home can be a target for thieves, especially during the funeral, so ask neighbors to watch the house or ask the police to drive by and keep watch on the property.
Next, locate the deceased person’s Last Will and Testament, if there is one. If there are multiple versions or multiple copies, keep them all together. This can be especially important because there may be funeral instructions contained in the will.
Next, locate & secure important identity papers (social security card, driver’s license, insurance cards). You may need these for the planning session at the funeral home.
Then, locate the current bills to find those that need to be taken care of right away. (mortgage payment, utility bills, premises insurance). If there is a Will, who is the named Executor? If the Will is probated, it will ultimately be the Executor’s job to pay bills of the estate and secure the property. If there is not a will, Texas law will determine who inherits. In some cases, a probate action may need to be filed right away. If you haven’t already done so, now is the time to get a legal consultation with a probate attorney to decide the best way to handle the estate.
It is important to make sure the property is secure, clean and safe. If it is unoccupied, arrange for someone to check on the property and make sure the property insurance stays in effect. Keep the place clean and maintained (trash take out, trash pick up, yard work done, gates closed, mail and newspapers picked up) so that it is not a target for thieves or a health hazard.
There are many reliable services available that can help you have an estate sale, clean out the home, recycle, or discard items. Some of these services specialize in taking care of deceased person’s property and can help from day one. Others services may take care of finishing the cleaning process later, once you have distributed, donated, discarded and recycled most of the contents.
*IMPORTANT* If there is a Will, it is important to respect your loved one’s wishes. If there is no Will, the law will determine who inherits. It is not appropriate for people to go into the home and begin randomly removing things (other than taking care of pets). Have a legal consult to determine the right thing to do. Also keep in mind that the estate may be sued for any accidents that happen when others are driving your loved one’s vehicle. So, it is safest to park and lock it.