The Executor or Administrator is legally responsible for gathering the assets of the deceased, paying bills of the estate, distributing any remaining property to beneficiaries, and otherwise making sure that the affairs of the deceased are in order. Many of these duties do not have to be done right away.
However, there may be a few matters that still need to be dealt with in the short-term. These are things that can help keep the affairs of the deceased in order, until the Executor, or other person who will be in charge of administering the estate, can deal with them more thoroughly at a later date. Preserving assets and documents makes it easier for the person who is charge of the estate to fulfill their long-term duties.
Hopefully the Executor will be involved, even at the stage immediately following a death. But, if the Executor is not available or there is no Executor, then those closest to the situation will need to take on some of this early responsibility. This does not mean that others need to worry about doing the Executor's job. What they ought to do in such a situation is be mindful of what should be done to protect and conserve assets and important documents belonging to the deceased.
People who are with the deceased at the time of death may have the opportunity to note the presence of certain documents or papers that may be important in dealing with the deceased's estate. Examples might be...
People other than the Executor are not expected to go out of their way when gathering up these sorts of things. That should be left to the Executor as much as possible. However, if others happen to come across such materials, they need to make sure that the documents are kept safe for use by the Executor or Administrator. Having these things available will help them make sure that the deceased's estate will be in order.
Also, things such as credit cards or phone cards should be secured to prevent fraudulent use and loss to the estate. They should be turned over to the Executor or Administrator, if there is one, and the issuing company should be advised of the death, as soon as possible.
Most property issues and duties can be dealt with at a later date by the Executor or Administrator. But, as with papers and documents, there may be immediate concerns that need to be tended to. If there is no Executor, relatives or friends may be able to do what is required in the immediate aftermath of the death. In some cases having the death certificate may be necessary if someone other than the Executor or Administrator is dealing with the deceased's property.
For example, the deceased may have had a vehicle that needs to be moved to a safe place. Before moving the vehicle, you should make sure that the registration and insurance are up to date. If they are not, leave the vehicle where it is. Make sure you leave it locked and as secure as possible. Hand the keys and any valuable contents over to the Executor or Administrator as soon as possible, along with any other information about the vehicle that may be important.
If the vehicle is properly registered and insured, it may be desirable to move it to a safe location. Perhaps the vehicle was left on the street or in a parking lot. In such a case, whenever it is practical, the vehicle probably should be moved to the deceased person's residence. The vehicle should not be driven any more than necessary, until the Executor or Administrator can give directions on what to do with it.
You may need to have access to the deceased person's residence, perhaps to take care of any pets or to ensure that there are no hazards, such as appliances that are left on. You may need to take in the mail or newspapers. Valuables may need to be secured or protected. Again, these sorts of things should be done by the Executor, as much as possible. However, if circumstances prevent this, then these kinds of tasks may be left to close relatives or friends.
Technically, only the Executor has a legal right to deal with the property of the deceased. This may make a landlord reluctant to give access to a rented home to anyone else. However, a landlord may help out in this regard if they can be assured that access is only for the limited purpose of preserving the deceased person's property and they are informed that there is no Executor or that the Executor is unavailable.
If you do access the deceased person's residence before the Executor is able to, you should do as little as possible without their instructions. It is not the duty of others to deal with the deceased's estate. Rather, they simply need to secure assets, protect property, and gather any relevant information that they come across, all with the aim of helping the Executor or Administrator fulfill their duties.