You are currently viewing Wills and Estates After a Parent’s Death

Wills and Estates After a Parent’s Death

Angela-M-ward-attorneyBy Angela M. Ward, Attorney

Losing a parent is hard, even if children are grown. However, knowing what to do when that day comes can help ease the difficulty. While dealing with grief can be burdensome, handling the legal aspects of a parent’s estate doesn’t have to be overwhelming. This article was created to help adult children in Central Pennsylvania understand how to satisfy legal and social needs when a parent dies.

Start by Obtaining a Pronouncement of Death

An official pronouncement of death certifies the cause, time, and place of death and is used to obtain a death certificate. When a parent dies in a hospital, hospice, or care facility, that organization can usually provide a pronouncement of death. However, when a loved one passes at home, the responsible party can call 911 and request that the parent is transported to a hospital where a doctor can make the pronouncement.

After the pronouncement of death is filled out, a son or daughter can arrange for the body to be transported to the funeral home of their choice.

Next, Secure the Parent’s Home

If the parent lived alone, securing the home as quickly as possible is essential. Visit the house and collect mail. Mail may also provide information that helps identify bank accounts. You may want to work with the bank to change or cancel automatic payments, but don’t close the account until the final taxes are filed. (See “File Final Tax Return” below.)

Keep essential utilities in place until the house is sold. Make sure the home is warm enough to prevent pipes from freezing. Cancel auto insurance, phone service, cable and internet, magazine or newspaper subscriptions, prescription deliveries, and cleaning services.


Some parents may have rented medical equipment such as special recliners, oxygen tanks, or other equipment. Cancel rentals and schedule a pickup.

It’s also time to arrange care for any pets. Ask a neighbor or family friend to watch the house and collect mail if possible. If a person can provide proof that they are the appointed executor or administrator, they can implement a request to forward mail.

The house will remain safer if it looks lived in. For example, leave a porch light on. Keep the lawn mown and ensure packages don’t pile up on the doorstep.

Notify Friends and Family

It’s important to let people know about the death. Use the parent’s phone or address book to gather updated contact information. It may help to ask friends or family members to let certain groups know. For example, a trusted aunt can notify the extended family. A golf buddy can tell other people in that group. A member of the parent’s church can inform other parish members.

In addition to informing friends and family, notify employers and the parent’s doctors, dentist, and caregivers. If the death was unexpected, looking at calendars or date books may help one cancel reservations or appointments.

It’s common for hackers to use death notices to break into email or social media accounts. To prevent this, deactivate email. Some social media platforms allow an account to be memorialized, and all social media accounts have online instructions to help close down accounts after a death.

The funeral home often offers to place an obituary in local newspapers. If the parent regularly spent time in other areas or had a second home, consider placing obituaries in those papers as well. While keeping the printed death notices short is always more economical, remember that obituaries are often the only lasting public record that provides personal details of one’s life. Consider adding facts that help future generations learn more about their ancestor.

Plan the Funeral

Some parents are specific about the type of funeral they want. They may tell family members or leave written instructions in a desk drawer, a safe, or in a safe deposit box at a bank. If it’s possible that the parent made prepaid arrangements, call local funeral homes to see if they have any such agreements in place.

Parents who serve in the military may qualify for veterans’ burial benefits. Funeral homes often help determine benefits, or children can contact the Department of Veterans Affairs for more details.

 Ask for Copies of the Death Certificate

In Pennsylvania, death certificates are needed to close credit cards and financial accounts, settle estates, claim life insurance, get pensions, and cancel utilities. They’re also required to close social media accounts or email accounts.


The funeral director sometimes offers to obtain several copies of the certificate, but it’s also possible to order certified copies of a parent’s death certificate from the PA Department of Health.

Handle Probate

Probate is the process of transferring the property of a decedent to their heirs or legatees. If the parent left a Last Will and Testament, they probably named an executor or assigned power of attorney. In Pennsylvania, this person is also called a personal representative. They may be an adult child, a relative, a friend, or a legal professional.

The executor or personal representative is responsible for locating assets and policies and ensuring the deceased wishes are executed. Executors often use legal professionals to help locate assets.

However, if no Will exists, the process can get more complicated. Without a Last Will and Testament in place, the Pennsylvania laws of intestate succession will decide who inherits, based on the closest relationships with the deceased.

In both scenarios, probate can be complicated and confusing. It’s wise to consider retaining an estate attorney. An experienced estate attorney will help locate the Will, the executor, and the assets. Even if no Will is found, the attorney can help locate policies and accounts and advise on the best way to approach probate in court.

Notify Government Agencies

If the deceased received Social Security benefits, their death should be reported to the Social Security Administration. Many funeral homes offer to handle this as part of their services.

If the parent was receiving health coverage benefits, notify Medicare or Medicaid. Work with the Department of Motor Vehicles to cancel driver’s licenses.

File a Final Tax Return

The primary heir must file a final income tax return and pay any taxes owed. IRS Publication 559 contains instructions. Keep bank accounts or the estate account open until final tax returns are filed so the IRS can make a refund deposit if needed.

Don’t Go It Alone

An experienced estate attorney can help grieving family members navigate through the probate process. In addition, they help handle matters related to settling your parent’s estate. If you’re looking for a Lancaster County attorney to guide you through the probate process, The Law Offices of Going and Plank can help. Contact us today to get professional help with your family’s estate issues.

Want to learn more about Wills, Trusts, and Estate Planning? Check out these articles.

New Year Resolution: Create a Last Will and Testament to Protect Your Family

Tips to Get Wills and Estate Planning in Place in 2023

Why Parents at all Income Levels Should Understand What a Trust is and When to Create one

Power of Attorney: Learn What it is, Why You Need it, And What’s Different in Pennsylvania

Proud to participate with MetLife Legal Plan