In addition to coping with the grief of losing a loved one, family members are often responsible for the various financial and administrative tasks that must be done on behalf of the deceased. Death of a loved one can be overwhelming and may result in family members spending months digging through drawers and file cabinets trying to locate important documents and waiting for statements and bills to be received in order to figure out what’s going on.
The following checklist provides a summary of what to do upon the death of a family member, followed by recommendations to alleviate this burden for your loved ones in the future. Some of these tasks are the responsibility of the executor of the decedent’s estate, so if that is not you, then it may be helpful to pass the information along and help with the items that you can.
Prior to death
- Know locations of the following: will (if one exists), birth certificate, marriage certificate, divorce decree (if applicable), Social Security information, life-insurance policies, financial documents, and keys to safe deposit box or home safe.
- Ask about the family member’s wishes regarding funeral arrangements, organ donation, and preference with regards to burial or cremation.
- Have the family member complete an advance directive, including a living will, which specifies wanted and unwanted medical procedures. The family member should also appoint a health-care proxy to make medical decisions if he or she becomes incapacitated.
- Have do-not-resuscitate (“DNR”) order drawn if the family member desires that health-care professionals not to perform CPR if their heart or breathing stops and intervention would not result in a meaningful life.
- Make sure you know where the advance directive, medical power of attorney, and DNR order documents are located and take them to the hospital if the family member is admitted.
Immediately after the death
- Get a legal pronouncement of death. If no doctor is present, you will need to contact someone to do the following:
- If the person dies at home under hospice care, call the hospice nurse, and they can declare the death and help with transport of the body.
- If the person dies at home without hospice care, call 911, and have in hand a do-not-resuscitate document if it exists. Without this document, paramedics will generally start emergency procedures and, except where permitted to pronounce death, take the person to an emergency room for a doctor to make the declaration.
- Arrange for transportation of the body. If no autopsy is needed, the funeral home will coordinate the transportation of the body.
- Notify the person’s doctor or the county coroner.
- Notify close family and friends.
- Call the person’s employer, if he or she was working to notify of the death.
- Handle care of dependents and pets.
Within a few days after the death
- Arrange for funeral and burial or cremation. Be sure to look for prepaid funeral plans or information regarding burial plots or mausoleums.
- Prepare an obituary if appropriate. Be sure to look for information that may be useful in creating an obituary (e.g., work history, education, family history, birth and death dates).
- If the person was in the military or belonged to a fraternal or religious group, contact that organization. It may have burial benefits or conduct funeral services.
- Ask a friend or relative to keep an eye on the person’s home, answer the phone, collect mail and newspapers, throw food out, water plants, and keep grounds maintained.
Within a few weeks after the death
- Collect all important documents and keep them stowed somewhere safe and accessible. Documents that should be collected include but are not limited to the following:
- Address book
- Automobile titles
- Bank statements
- Business records
- Check registers
- Funeral instructions
- Life insurance policies and annuities
- Notes payable
- Notes receivable
- Partnership agreements
- Past employment information
- Pension and retirement information
- Real property deeds
- Retirement account statements
- Securities and brokerage statements
- Stock certificates
- Tax preparer’s or accountant’s name and address
- Tax return backing documentation
- Tax returns
- Trust agreement and any amendments
- Will and any codicils
- Unpaid bills, including utilities, credit cards, mortgages, insurance, and the like
- Lists of financial, email, and social media accounts
- Lists of passwords, safe combinations, and the like
- Search the person’s documents to find out if he or she had a will or trust.
- Obtain death certificates (usually from the funeral home). Get multiple copies; you will need them for financial institutions, government agencies, and insurance companies.
- Banks, credit unions, and credit card companies: ask that accounts be closed unless there is a pay on death or joint owner with right of survivorship.
- An estate planning attorney: if a party is considering probate assistance, or needs questions answered, scheduling appointments can save a lot of time and stress.
- Police: to have them periodically check the deceased’s house, if vacant.
- Accountant or tax preparer: to find out whether an estate-tax return or final income-tax return should be filed.
- An investment advisor or financial consultant: for information on accounts.
- Bank: to find accounts and safe deposit boxes.
- Life insurance agents: to get claim forms.
- Social Security (800-772-1213; www.socialsecurity.gov) and other agencies that the deceased received benefits from, such as Veterans Affairs (800-827-1000; va.gov): to stop payments and ask about applicable survivor benefits.
- The person’s employer: to request information about retirement benefits, life insurance, and any compensation still owed.
- Agency providing pension services: to stop monthly check and get claim forms.
- Utility companies: to change or stop unnecessary services (e.g., phone, cable, internet), and to ensure the continuation of necessary services (e.g. electricity, natural gas, security monitoring).
- Post office: to forward mail to executor or next of kin.
- Services: to maintain the residence (e.g., lawn care, pool care).
- Homeowners and automobile insurance companies: to ensure coverage continues.
- The three major credit bureaus: to ensure that no new credit is taken out in the decedent’s name.
- Equifax – equifax.com, P. O. Box 740241, Atlanta, GA 30374-0241 (800) 685-1111
- Experian – experian.com, P. O. Box 2104, Allen, TX 75013-0949 (888) 397-3742
- TransUnion – transunion.com, P. O. Box 1000, Chester, PA 19022 (800) 916-8800
Organizing Important Documents
With some careful planning and organization, families can relieve loved ones of facing this future burden by helping your family easily settle your estate, pay required taxes, and quickly receive the benefits they need.
Creating a binder of essential information and documents and letting key family members know where they can find this information is an essential part of financial planning. Organizing this information and storing it in a safe place can also be helpful in the event of an emergency. The financial planning documents should be reviewed annually to ensure that it is up to date and includes the essential information and documents that your family would need in the event of a death or emergency.
A list of important documents to include as part of a financial planning binder can be obtained from a Certified Financial Planner™ professional or an estate planning attorney. A summary of key categories to include in the binder include the following:
- Key Contacts (personal and professional)
- Estate Planning Documents
- Identification and Vital Documents
- Insurance Policies
- Bank Accounts & Loans
- Investment & Retirement Accounts
- Pension Benefits & Social Security Information
- Property Deeds & Titles
- Household Utilities
- Security Codes
- Digital Information & Social Media Accounts
- Tax Returns and Supporting Information – the Internal Revenue Service recommends that individuals retain tax records for 3-years from the date they filed the original return or 2- years from the date taxes were paid, whichever is later, if you file a claim for credit or refund after you file your return. Keep records for 7 years if you file a claim for a loss from worthless securities or bad debt deduction. Source: www.irs.gov
Disclaimer: This information is provided for educational purposes and is not intended to be legal or tax advice.