Legal requirement to notify next of kin

Dick and Jane have been married for 20 years. They have no children and few close friends.
Jane loathes her in-laws and doesn’t much care for her own family. Lucky for her both their families live several states away.

One day, unexpectedly, Dick assumes room temperature.

Other than the medical examiner and undertaker Jane tells nobody. She publishes no death notice or obituary, holds no funeral or memorial service, tells no family or friends, and puts nothing on social media. Doesn’t even tell anyone at her place of employment. Simply has Dick cremated and moves on with her life. All their property and holdings were also in her name and Dicks will left everything to Jane and she is executor anyway.

After months of not hearing from Dick his family does some poking around and find out he’s been dead. They are furious.

Other than this being creepy on Janes behalf, did she have any legal requirement to inform his family? I realize anyone can sue for anything, but does Dicks family have any legal recourse? Emotional distress suit?

Are there any cases of something like this happening in real life? Would Dicks family have any legal way of making Jane regret her decision?


I always thought the “notify next of kin” was the responsibility of the authorities (cops/military,etc.). Jane is the next of kin. The medical examiner gave her the death certificate. Jane doesn’t have to notify the next next of kin.

I am sure there are a fair amount of people estranged from their families for various reasons, where the scenario in the OP might come up.

The only exception might be if there is some legal standing with regards to the deceased’s estate.

Bolding by Tripler

I thought there was, generally speaking across all fifty states, a requirement to post a death notice to allow creditors the opportunity to stake their [proveable, legitimate] claim on the decedent’s estate, as @Somethingwitty1 points out. I understood it was part of the probate process.

But as indicated above, I thought the “notification” process was to get the process started (claim the body, make arrangements for remains, probate, yadda yadda. In the OP’s case, Jane’s already instigated the process and doesn’t have any further obligation (unless probate says different).

Not telling the family? Dick move.

Yeah, ianal, but she’s the next of kin. The rest of his family isn’t. I think she’s behaved abysmally, but I’d be surprised to learn she broke the law by failing to notify them.

I see what you’ve done there.

If Jane has survivor rights on properties and open accounts there shouldn’t be any probate, should there be?

And can anyone comment whether there is a requirement to publish a death notice on a spouse?

Assuming there is, Janes family and in-laws live out of state and probably would never see it.

IANAL, but I think that if they had been left anything in the deceased’s will, then the executor of the estate - it might be Jane, it might not be Jane - would have a legal obligation to notify them of their inheritance.

Maybe not broken the law, but does Dicks family have anything civilly they could do?

Yeah, in a marriage where all assets are held jointly and there is no estate to go into probate, I’m not actually sure there would be a legal requirement to even post a death notice. In such a scenario all the man’s debts are jointly his wife’s debts, so there are no creditors of the man who need to be notified, and there’s no estate for them to go after anyone–they simply continue collecting their debt payments from the woman.

My research says, at least in my state, there is no legal requirement to publish a death notice.

FYI this all comes from an odd conversation I overheard while sitting at the bar of a restaurant last night. It’s nothing I’m personally involved in.

IANAL, but I suspect that they could certainly file a civil lawsuit, claiming emotional damages from not being notified of their relative’s death (as his relatives, I suspect that they would have standing to file such a suit).

As we’ve seen in many threads here about “Can X sue?”, the answer is usually “well, you can always try.” Whether they could actually win such a lawsuit is another issue.

Hey man, no other sigline has ever been so obvious to me. :laughing:

I didn’t realize this. I thought, at a minimum, the county judge had to check a box or two, noting:

[ :heavy_check_mark: ] Yup, dead.
[ :heavy_check_mark: ] Community estate, so nothing else to do.

. . . which constituted the bare minimum of a probate process. I stand corrected.

If only all other legal processes were so simple.

Here’s an article from a Lawyer Q&A column from SFGate that suggests just such a scenario is one of the best ways to avoid probate after a spousal death:

The death certificate would be filed by the county and I think the estate probate is as well. I would think the creditors would use the official locations in the county recorder rather than scanning random newspapers for announcements. Like, I would be surprised if a company like Chase is really looking at the public notices in every single newspaper where they have customers.

If Dick has been estranged from his parents, then it’s probably not unusual for them not to be notified. I suppose lots of estranged relatives are not notified of deaths. And Jane can always get off the hook by saying that Dick requested that she not notify his parents.

Early in my marriage my wife and looked into estate planning. All our stuff in “Joint Tenant with rights of survivorship”.

I’m not clear though on if one needs to notify anyone that the other one died. Do you need to take the deceased name off the credit cards?

What about the deed to the house? when you sell the house isn’t the escrow person gonna want the dead spouse to sign everything?

I still think there is no need for Jane to notify the family. Maybe they were abusive shitheads. But the OP seems to say Jane didn’t notify anybody.

Well, he notes in the OP:

So, given that, I would presume that a death certificate would have been filed with the state, even if there was no publication of a death notice in the newspaper.

My Ma didn’t change anything. The phone, electric, water, etc bills all are in my dads name only and he’s been dead for over 30 years. The house and other things were joint. But she certainly told everyone when he died, just didn’t change anything.

This is not always true.

My spouse had had a business and things were structured such that when he died I did NOT inherit that debt (and yes, I absolutely did check with a lawyer). However, the average person is probably not going to have something of that nature set up, as it does have to be deliberately arranged far in advance. Also, laws may vary by jurisdiction on that.

Spending an hour with a lawyer after he died proved to be a wise investment, it saved me much time, money, and aggravation. Sure, he charged me for it but within a week I’d saved far more money than that because of the advice he gave me.

As to the question in the OP - my spouse was very estranged from his biological family (as opposed to my family, his in laws) and specifically said that not only did he not want to speak with them before he died, he did not want me or anyone else to contact them after his death.

I inherited everything, so that was a non-issue.

About two years later my sister-in-law found out (somehow) her brother had died and contacted me via Facebook and was going on about OMG WHAT HAPPENED TO MY BROTHER?!? I reminded her that they were estranged years back (the final straw was the bullshit around their mother’s death) and he had specifically said NOT to contact anyone on his side of the family AND had destroyed all contact information we had for anyone on that side.

Then, as a courtesy, I informed her of the cause and date of his demise and requested that she not contact me again. But I wasn’t required to do even that that.

I suspect she was hoping for money (she’s always been like that) but I never heard from her again. If she had contacted a lawyer she would have undoubtedly been told that under the laws of Indiana the widow gets everything unless there’s some sort of prior will, which there wasn’t.

So no, you don’t have to tell anyone if you’re the legal next of kin. There is an obligation to tie up loose ends with creditors and such, but beyond that no, you don’t have to tell anyone anything. At least not where I live and where my spouse died.


However, it’s a lot less confusing if you do so. Ditto for any other joint account type things. My cell phone provide made it too damn difficult to take his name off that account so he’s still listed there.

Yeah, you might want to make a correction there. Either that, or bring a copy of the death certificate to the signing so as to make it clear the spouse is deceased. (IANAL - if an actual lawyer corrects me on that please take the word of the actual lawyer).

I did publish an obituary for my spouse, but I was informed by several parties that I did not have to do so.

Yep. The death certificate is mandatory.

I would guess, though I am not a lawyer, and with the experience of my mother’s estate I think something (legal notice?) would be published to let any creditors know the person has passed away and file a claim against the estate to collect money owed. Also for any people who owe money to pay the estate money owed. My mom’s legal notice (not the obituary) was published 3 times in the local paper.

This page seems to have decent general info.

Probate Notices - Who Should Receive Them? | EZ-Probate.

There are some legal obligations. You have to tell the Social Security Administration if the person is receiving benefits, and return any received since the person’s death. Same with any pension or VA benefits. File a final, deceased, tax return.

If there is an estate, you may have to notify heirs-at-law, and any beneficiaries of a will. If there’s life insurance, you’d want to notify that company.

Cancel insurance policies.

If there are accounts with only the deceased’s name, I think you would need to get those changed. In general, you would not, past probate, at least, be able to act in that person’s name, so things should get switched over to your own name.