Death is difficult for an abundance of reasons. There is the sudden absence of the person you love, but there are also the financial and legal complications. In fact, there are several steps you should take after the death of a loved one to ensure everything is taken care of financially.
- Get a Death Certificate:
The first step you need to complete after the death of a loved one is getting their death certificate. This is the legally binding document that proves they are no longer living. In most cases, the funeral director can help you obtain this or advise you on how to order it. Order several copies of this document, because you will have to send it to many places to prove your loved one’s death. Many people underestimate how many copies they will need. It’s generally recommended that you obtain at least 10 copies to ensure you have enough to go around.
- Locate their Will:
If your loved one had a last will and testament, locate it, and determine who is listed as its executor. This person is tasked with fulfilling your loved one’s last wishes and debt obligations. If there is no will, or no executor listed in the will, a probate court will usually appoint someone to this position. If necessary, contact the probate court for next steps and file any applicable documents with them.
- Claim Life Insurance:
If your loved one had life insurance, the beneficiary on the policy can begin the process of claiming benefits. It can take several weeks to receive benefits from a life insurance policy, so the sooner the claims process is started, the better.
- Check Beneficiaries on Bank Accounts:
If the deceased designated a beneficiary on their bank accounts and there is no surviving joint owner on the account, the beneficiary can typically provide the bank with a copy of the death certificate in order to have the assets transferred to them. If your loved one had a bank account without a listed beneficiary it will likely have to go to probate court, where the account funds will be distributed according to the deceased’s will. If there is no will, the distribution of funds will typically be determined through state laws.
- Alert Debtors:
Another important step to take after your loved one's death is to inform all of their debtors that they are now deceased. What happens to the remaining debt will depend on various factors, but it’s important to at least let the debtors know of the death so no late fees are accrued. You may also consider speaking with a lawyer or a financial advisor about how those debts should be settled.
- Cancel Accounts and Pay Bills:
Get a sense of what credit cards and other accounts your loved one had and call those providers to alert them to the death. Cancel subscriptions that they’ll no longer need but be sure to review and stay on top of any accounts that you’d like to stay active. For example, if you’ll need their home to continue having heat and electricity, you’ll need to keep up with their utility bills or have them transferred to someone else’s name.
- Forward Mail:
Make sure you have all of your loved one’s mail forwarded so that it’s not piling up in their mailbox and alerting burglars that their home is vacant. Another option to have someone routinely go by their property to pick up the mail and check on other things as well.
- Alert All Government Agencies:
Finally, you must notify government agencies that your loved one has passed. In many cases, funeral directors will take care of notifying the Social Security Administration, but you will want to make sure. Also, notify Medicare, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and any other agency that your loved one may have been receiving benefits through. Don’t skip this step, because if you don’t notify the appropriate agencies, and they keep sending your loved one benefits, you will then have to go through a lengthy and complicated repayment process. Also, depending on your relationship to the deceased, you may be eligible for survivor’s benefits.
Losing your loved one is never easy and dealing with the financial and legal ramifications of their death just makes it that much harder. However, taking care of things properly is necessary to ensure your loved one’s wishes are fulfilled, and that their estate doesn’t incur any penalties.