Three Legal Things You NEED to Know When Someone Passes Away - By a Yale Law Estate Attorney

Most people don’t know that death “flips a switch” on the legal status on a person’s property.  Yale Law educated estate attorney Janice Tam says three critical legal changes happen when someone passes away:


In every state, a Power of Attorney expires when the person who signed and granted it dies.  

During life, the person who passed away may have appointed an agent to make decisions for that person, but the Power of Attorney is only valid while the person who granted it is living, and after that person dies, the agent no longer has the power to act.


The Social Security Administration (SSA) disables a person's social security number and terminates benefits upon learning of a person's death. Funeral directors usually notify social security, but if that doesn't happen—the surviving family members must report the death and return any social security checks received after the month of the person’s death. If the death isn't reported and a family member continues to receive the deceased person's benefits, the SSA may bring legal action.


Bank accounts held only in the name of the person who passed away cannot be legally accessed after the account holder dies. Some family members may be tempted to use the deceased person's ATM card or check book to withdraw money from their account, but they should resist the temptation because doing so is illegal fraud—and check forgery is a felony in all fifty states!

In order to get legal control of the deceased person's assets as soon as possible, the family must:

  • Find out where the deceased person did their banking

  • Order death certificates

  • Get legal documentation showing they are entitled to control

If you recently lost a loved one and are seeking guidance in this painful, confusing process, Estatehood is here to help.

Janice TamComment