If you haven’t dealt with losing a loved one, the days and weeks after a death can be overwhelming. Pain and grief are paired with important tasks that must be done, or unnecessary stress will result, explains a recent article, “11 Financial Steps to Follow After the Loss of a Loved One,” from U.S. News & World Report.
An official declaration of death. If the death occurs in a hospital, the hospital will issue it. If the death occurred at home, a medical professional or first responder would make the declaration.
Obtain a death certificate. This usually comes from the funeral home. You’ll want to get five to ten original certificates, which will be used for various legal and financial matters.
Gather financial documents. This includes estate planning documents, a will, a trust, bank and investment account information, utilities and bills, insurance policies and tax returns.
Reach out to advisors. This includes the estate planning attorney, financial advisor, CPA and other professionals working with the deceased. They will be able to offer guidance as you go through the process of managing the estate.
Contact any government agencies. If your loved one was receiving benefits from Social Security, the Veterans Administration, Medicare, Medicaid, or any other government agency, you must notify them of the death. The funeral home may have already sent the SSA a notification. You may still want to confirm if it has been sent, as the ultimate responsibility for notification is the surviving spouse or adult child.
Contact financial institutions. The financial institutions, including commercial banks, brokerage accounts and insurance companies, will all need to receive an original death certificate. If there is a POD (Payment on Death) order, the balance on accounts will be transferred to the designated beneficiary. If there are life insurance policies, you’ll need to find the policy and identify the designated beneficiary.
Avoid identity theft. Contact credit agencies, including Experian, Equifax and TransUnion, to notify them of the death. You may need to contact one for the others to become aware. You should also close the social media accounts of the deceased. Depending on the platform, you may only be able to memorialize the account instead of deleting it.
Other important institutions to contact. The post office will need to be notified, although you may first want to have the person’s mail sent to your home directly. The motor vehicle department needs a notification of death to stop renewing licenses. Unions and professional, service, or fraternal organizations should be notified. There may be survivor’s benefits.
Voter registration. You’ll want to notify the deceased’s voter registration agency, so they can remove their name from voting rolls.
Prepare the final tax return. There are two tax returns to be aware of—the final income tax returns and the estate tax returns. Your estate planning attorney will know the deadlines for both.
Filing the will with the probate court. Once the will goes through probate and is approved by the court, the executor will be able to distribute the deceased’s assets in accordance with the will. If there is no will, the distribution will be overseen by the court and follow the state’s intestacy laws.
Settle any remaining debts. In most cases, the remaining liability on a mortgage or car loan will be payable by the person inheriting them. All other forms of debt, like student loans, credit cards and medical loans, will be charged against the decedent’s estate.
Carrying out these tasks during a difficult time is not easy. An experienced estate planning attorney can help make the process easier for all concerned.
Reference: U.S. News & World Report (Sep. 1, 2023) “11 Financial Steps to Follow After the Loss of a Loved One”