Dealing with the death of a loved one can be one of the most difficult challenges we face.
1. Grieving And Family Is A Priority
It is natural to feel a sense of urgency in handling a loved one’s financial affairs; however, in most cases, matters can wait. Do not rush into making changes or worry about the financial affairs in the days following his or her passing. You will need time to properly grieve. Although, at this time you may want to arrange for the care of members of the immediate family, including children and the elderly.
2. Burial Or Other Wishes
Whether or not you are aware of the decedent’s wishes regarding his or her burial or cremation, we highly recommend consulting any written estate planning documents. Depending upon your relationship with the decedent, it may be advisable to also discuss the plans with other family members before acting or signing contracts. Determine if he or she pre-paid for a funeral or burial, then contact a funeral director and make the necessary arrangements.
3. Death Certificates
The funeral home will obtain the decedent’s death certificate. You should obtain multiple certified copies, generally one for each separate financial account, life insurance policy, and parcel of real estate. Photocopies of the death certificate are often not accepted by financial institutions and others. There is a nominal fee for each certificate.
4. Review Estate Planning Documents
You will need to obtain and review the decedent’s Last Will or Trust to determine who has been nominated to handle the financial affairs (the “executor” or “trustee”). Confirm you have the most recent documentation. If you are the executor or trustee, identify all the beneficiaries listed in the documents since you will eventually be required to communicate with them, if not distribute money and property to them.
5. Personal Residence And Automobile
Make sure the decedent’s personal residence and motor vehicle(s) are secure and that all insurances are in force, utility bills are covered, and mortgage or rent is paid up. Secure the keys to the automobile and seriously consider selling it or giving it to the heirs sooner rather than later.
Ultimately, arrangements will have to be made to sell the home or terminate the lease. It is usually advisable that you inventory your loved one’s assets before making any final decisions and seriously consider consulting with a qualified estate or probate attorney.
We recommend you review all incoming mail for at least 90 days after your loved one has passed. If appropriate, you might also have the mail forwarded directly to your home address.
7. Personal Property
You should inventory all tangible personal property. If appropriate, you might take possession of valuable items (jewelry, collectibles, etc.), and photograph the others – sometimes these items are “lost” in the days following the decedent’s death. We generally recommend securing firearms and any other possessions that might pose a danger to others.
8. Financial Information
Identifying and inventorying all your loved one’s assets may be the most important obligation. Sorting through the mail in the months following your loved one’s death will be helpful. Also, review his or her bank statements or check register to be sure you have identified everything. You will need to gather the following items:
- Any and all recent financial statements;
- Tax returns;
- Life insurance policies;
- Motor vehicle titles and insurance;
- Retirement account statements;
- Business documentation; and
- Deeds for real estate.
All Trusts and Estates must file an income tax return (Form 1041). Finally, the decedent’s final income tax return (Form 1040) will have to be filed. If the Trust or Estate is very large, a U.S. Estate Tax Return (Form 706) will be due nine months from the date of death. Contacting the accountant who did your loved one’s income taxes can be very helpful; same with his or her financial advisor.
10. Debts And Expenses
You must identify all the decedent debts, including his or her mortgage company and credit card statements. To do so, you might obtain his or her credit report. At the appropriate time you should cancel any services that you determine are no longer necessary and dispose of credit cards. Always consult a qualified attorney before taking any such actions. There are time limitations and laws that limit creditor claims.
11. Government & Work Benefits
You should confirm with the Social Security Administration if there are any benefits available (there is a small death benefit). Also verify if there are Medicare reimbursements due. If he or she was a veteran, you might make an inquiry with the Department of Veteran’s Affairs. At the appropriate time, you should also contact his or her employer regarding benefits.
Make sure you carefully keep track of all the money and time you and other family members personally expend so that proper reimbursement takes place. Keep a copy of the bills in all cases.
When you are ready, you should meet with an attorney. He or she will assist you in every aspect of administering your loved one’s estate, whether he or she had a Will, Revocable Trust, or no estate planning documents at all.