What to Do After a Loved One Dies

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Facing the death of a loved one can be daunting; losing a loved one is extremely challenging, and often the most painful kind of experience. Having to handle some important decisions can only make it even more overwhelming.

As one starts his or her own grieving process, in addition to making funeral plans and notifying friends and family, there are also several critical financial items that need to be addressed. During such difficult time, it’s helpful to know which steps exactly one needs to take, and knowing what to do with finances can at least bring some comfort and order to the survivors.

We put together a list of things to do after a loved one passes away to help guide you during such emotionally and otherwise hard time:

Obtain Death Certificates

Your first step is to contact the Vital Statistics office in the state in which the death occurred, and possibly through the funeral home, and request several certified copies of the death certificate. You will need a copy for each of the entities listed below, and most will require an original certified document.

Locate The Will 

You need the original will, as the court will not accept a copy. Once you have the original, register the will at the local probate office.

Probate The Estate

If your loved one had a will and you are named executor of his or her estate, you have a long list of additional responsibilities. You may want to consult an estate attorney to help you through the probate process, as you will need to obtain letters testamentary giving proof that you have a right to handle the deceased’s financial affairs.

If you are not the named executor, the actual executor may need your help carrying out final wishes and distributing property.

If there was no will, state law will typically provide a list of people who could serve in this capacity.

Notify Financial Institutions

Once you have the death certificates and the letters testamentary, the next step is to contact any insurance company where your loved one had a policy, such as employer-sponsored plans, individually owned policies, mortgage cancellation plans and policies issued by associations, banks and credit card companies. Some of these policies, may only provide benefits if the death resulted from an accident, while others may provide an additional benefit for accidental death.

Take steps to fulfill any outstanding liabilities.

Next, you’ll need to notify all savings and investment companies where the deceased had an account, including both individually owned accounts and joint accounts.

Upon receiving the notification of the death, the company will most likely freeze the accounts, so plan accordingly to avoid any hardship. Once you provide a death certificate and letters testamentary for each account, new accounts will be set up in the names of the heirs so that the assets can be received.

Mortgage companies and other loan providers and credit card companies need to be notified, as these debts are now obligations of the deceased’s estate and need to be paid off by the assets of the estate. If the decedent was married, the responsibility may transfer to the spouse.

Note: it’s wise to contact the credit bureaus and report the death to prevent identity theft after their passing, and request a copy of the deceased’s credit report.

Notify Government Agencies

Contact appropriate government agencies to start and/or end benefits, such as: a one-time $255 death benefit from the Social Security Administration potentially payable to the surviving spouse or children; survivor benefits available for children under age 16 (or disabled children of any age) and to spouses or ex-spouses (if they were married to the deceased for at least 10 years).

Additionally, if the deceased served in the armed forces, there may be Veteran’s Administration survivor benefits for the spouse and/or the children of the deceased. These benefits are fairly complicated so it’s best to contact the VA to determine if they qualify.

Notify The Person’s Employer

If applicable, contact your loved one’s employer, as you will need to handle retirement plan distributions, employer-purchased insurance payouts and ensure that any vacation pay due goes to beneficiaries.

Otherwise, contact any pension providers to see if the pension benefit includes survivor payments.

Contact Service Providers

Utility companies and other service providers need to be notified so they can discontinue or change the service. You may want to review bank and credit card statements to identify other less obvious monthly recurring charges, such as gym memberships, home security systems, etc.

Take steps to fulfill any outstanding liabilities.

File Tax Returns

Federal and state income tax returns, and possibly estate tax returns, will need to be filed. Typically, a federal estate-tax filing is required for estates with combined gross assets and prior taxable gifts exceeding $3.5 million and due within nine months of the death; state estate tax rules can vary.

Consult An Estate Attorney

Finally, whether you’re not comfortable handling an estate, or you just want to ensure you are properly completing all the tasks, consulting an estate attorney can give you a peace of mind, and save you a lot of time and headaches.

Since the laws vary from state to state, it’s wise to consult with a knowledgeable estate lawyer. 

We invite you to contact us so we can help you take steps to ensure your wishes, interests and assets are protected, and to assist you in handling an estate of your loved one – contact Levin Law Group’s trustworthy estate attorney today for a free consultation.

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