Prior to the appointment of a Personal Representative, it may be necessary for a family member or the person to be appointed as the Personal Representative to act in a responsible manner to protect and secure the assets of the Decedent. This may include the placement and safety of family pets, which will require immediate attention.

The Decedent’s home or apartment should be secured as soon as possible. Locks on the Decedent’s home should be replaced when necessary, and the Decedent’s home should be inspected to limit the risk of water damage due leaking pipes and weather events. Sidewalks should remain free and clear of ice and snow, and the Decedent’s car should be secured. If you live out of state, a trusted family member, friend, or an attorney’s office can assist you with these responsibilities.

The Decedent’s personal effects should be secured. It is generally not advisable to distribute any of the Decedent’s personal property before the Personal Representative is appointed. Disagreements and serious legal questions can arise when distribution of items are made too early and without proper documentation, especially if the items are distributed to the wrong person(s). This can also cause problems with taxing authorities if an item is distributed without a prior appraisal. There are times when certain assets may be listed on the Decedent’s homeowners’ insurance policy, and without a current fair market appraisal, the taxing authorities may want to tax the item at the highest value possible.

Uncashed checks may be found in the Decedent’s home. These checks should not be deposited into the Decedent’s current checking account. Instead, these checks should be held and deposited into an Estate checking account at the appropriate time. Proper handling of the assets of a Decedent will avoid any appearance of impropriety that might alienate a family member even though done with the best intentions.

If there are concerns about individuals improperly accessing the Decedent’s bank account or brokerage account, then notice of the Decedent’s death should be given to the institution. Better yet, it is safest to notify all of the Decedent’s banks and other institutions of the Decedent’s death as soon as possible.

Special attention should be given to securing important documents, such as income tax returns, life insurance policies, titles to cars and boats, property deeds, and the like. Computers should also be preserved.

Read More: Initial Duties of the Personal Representative AFTER Appointment