The death of a family member or loved one is a tragic experience for many. While grieving, it is especially stressful because of the funeral planning and estate planning the immediate family will have to take care of.

Zane Belyea, co-owner of Cleveland Jewish Funerals in Warrensville Heights, and Mike Solomon, partner at Solomon, Steiner & Peck in Mayfield Heights, said there are a few things the family needs to handle in the immediate aftermath of a death, whether it be a sudden or expected death.

Solomon said it is important the deceased will almost always have a last will and testament to say where and who their assets go to. But he also recommended having a trust in combination with a will. Having a trust gives greater control of where the assets go to and does not have to go through probate like a will does.

“There’s several reasons to have a trust,” Solomon said. “Depending on the person’s situation, one of the purposes of trusts is it helps avoid probate, which is the paperwork when someone passes away. Trust is a very good device for that. You can avoid probate without a trust, but many people use a trust.”

As for the funeral, Belyea said it can be challenging if families have not started the planning process quickly. According to Jewish tradition, a person should be buried within 24 of death. This is why he said it’s vital Cleveland Jewish Funerals take a personalized approach when walking families through the process.

“Trying to decide what plots you want, what cemetery you want to go into, what type of casket would you like, if you want to have a service in the synagogue, the funeral home, the grave site or a combination of both,” Belyea said. “There’s a lot of decisions that have to be made in a short amount of time. That’s what we’re here for, to sit down with families and walk through the scenarios and put a plan together that makes sense for them.”

He said they educate families on the burial process and what happens when death occurs based on different scenarios.

“Because there’s different protocols whether you pass away at a hospital or you pass away at home,” Belyea said, “we educate them on that process. There’s a lot of families that don’t really understand all of the Jewish rituals. In Judaism, there’s a lot of rituals that we follow. And depending on how religious you are, it’s important that all the family members understand how it works, why we bury the way we bury, why we have a shomer, or why we use the chevra kadisha.”

When it comes time to sift through the documents and assets the deceased left behind, Solomon recommended going through the documents one at a time and organizing them, as to not get more stressed.

“When you have too much to do, you won’t do anything because it’s too much,” Solomon said. “I tell them to take one asset at a time, go through it and see how it’s titled and if they think the beneficiary designation is appropriate. Go down each asset, start picking them off, and make sure you’ve covered each asset so you achieve your estate planning goal, which is to avoid probate.”

Solomon added while alive, a person should make a list of where everything is, what accounts they have, the account numbers, their legal adviser and their accountant. This will ensure your family will have an easier time going through your assets and other documents after you pass away.

“I’m not necessarily saying give it to your kids,” Solomon said. “You don’t necessarily want your kids to know everything about your finances. But have it somewhere, so that when you pass away, you can tell your kids, ‘Hey, I’ve got all my documents in the left-hand desk drawer.’ Have a sheet of paper of where everything is.”

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