Man reading documents

He drove straight to his father’s house after leaving the hospital. In his hand was the envelope he had removed from his safe earlier that evening, when he had received the call that his father had mere hours to live.  

Opening the envelope, he removed a card listing codes for the garage door and the alarm system. He also took out a ring holding keys for the front door and a filing cabinet. 

Once inside, he headed directly for his father’s office, unlocked the filing cabinet, and opened the top drawer. He started thumbing through the folders. 

The first file contained a document with a list of actions he needed to take. Behind it were funeral and burial instructions, a designation of burial agent, his father’s obituary, and the information he would have to submit to the funeral home so that his father’s death certificate could be issued. There was also some cash to pay for incidentals.

The second file contained the list of people and their contact information who he needed to notify about his father’s death. Included were his dad’s lawyer, financial planner, life insurance agent, property insurance agent, and banker. 

The third file contained pet information: the pet boarding company, veterinarian, and contact information for the person who had agreed to temporarily watch his father’s pets.

The fourth file held his father’s original will, trust, trust summary, and a list of assets funded into the trust. The contact information for the named executors and the successor trustees was listed on a separate paper. He disregarded the documents that had been clipped together – the medical power of attorney, durable financial power of attorney, directive to physician and designation of guardian – because they were no longer in force. His father’s HIPAA release he set aside, in case he later needed to get his father’s medical records. 

The fifth file had names, phone numbers and logins for the house utilities, alarm company, plumber, electrician, handyman, lawn service, and swimming pool service.

The next file held login information for his father’s online accounts, and his phone, computer, and other devices. 

The last file in the drawer held source documents – birth certificate, social security card, driver’s license, DD-214 for military discharge, wedding certificate, wife’s death certificate, and probate order for his wife’s estate.

He pulled open the second drawer in the file cabinet. In it were detailed lists and backup documents of his father’s assets, debts, and sources of income. There was a recent credit report and tax returns for the previous 10 years. There was login information for the big 3 credit reporting agencies so that he could freeze his dad’s credit reports. There was also information about the safety deposit box at the bank.

After looking at his checklist, he pulled the first file for planning his father’s burial and the funeral, and the information for the pets. Those required action that day. He also took with him his father’s original will and trust for safekeeping. He knew that original wills and trusts can go missing at the hands of disappointed heirs. He would call a lawyer the next day to get the probate started.

He picked up the phone and called a locksmith to make an emergency visit to change the locks on his father’s house. His dad had named him executor, and no one else would enter the house until the estate was distributed.

That, my friends, is how it should be done.

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Virginia Hammerle is an accredited estate planner and represents clients in estate planning, probate, guardianship and contested litigation. She may be reached at This column contains general information only and does not constitute legal advice.