You need to secure all property, change the locks on the house, find care for the pets, gather all recent bills and financial information, search for electronic accounts and passwords, and search for other vital information such burial plans and insurance policies.

You will have to file the will with the probate court after you obtain a death certificate. The court will review the will, likely approve it to be probated, and appoint you to be executor (a.k.a. personal representative) of the estate through letters testamentary. As executor you have three major tasks: to identify and protect the estate’s assets, to pay off all creditors from the assets of the estate, and to distribute the remaining assets, if any, to the heirs according to the will.

Most estates do not require extensive attention from a lawyer, but you are liable for mistakes you might make. For example, if you distribute assets before the bills are paid and then run out of money for the creditors, the creditors can sue you for the difference.

Therefore, unless you are very confident in yourself to abide by the probate code to the satisfaction of the court and the heirs, I recommend that you retain an attorney to help you evaluate the situation before you make a rookie mistake that is hard to undo. A few hundred dollars could spare you from aggravation and considerable liability.