There are few things more difficult than coping with the death of a loved one. On top of the emotional strain of losing someone you love, you also may find yourself planning a funeral, tending to final wishes — and settling important financial issues.
But when you are dealing with the immediate struggles of coping with a death, it can be difficult to know what needs to be done or where you should start. Here are seven important financial considerations.
GET A DEATH CERTIFICATE
You’ll need a death certificate (or copies of the death certificate) in order to complete a lot of the financial tasks on this list, such as filing to claim insurance benefits or settling your loved one’s estate. Often, the funeral director can help you obtain the certificate, but you can also get copies by ordering them from the vital statistics office in the state where the death occurred.
BEGIN THE PROBATE PROCESS
If your loved one has a will, it needs to be filed with the probate court. An executor (who will be named in the will), is the person in charge of handing out your loved one’s assets to beneficiaries according to the terms of the will. If there isn’t a will, the court will name an administrator to handle the estate and decide who gets what. An estate attorney can help with this process.
CONTACT THE DECEASED’S FINANCIAL ADVISORS, BANK(S), ETC.
A financial planner or professional can help you determine what assets your loved one had. Financial institutions can give you information about balances and more if they were not made clear in the will.
Some assets can pass to beneficiaries outside of a will if the deceased set up transfer on death (TOD) or payable on death (POD) instructions. TOD instructions are for brokerage accounts; POD instructions apply to checking and savings accounts, or certificates of deposits. Financial institutions can help you determine who is named as the beneficiary, though you may have to provide a copy of the death certificate.
Also, if you lost a spouse who was receiving or set to receive any employer, union or pension benefits, you should contact the appropriate institutions to see if those should be discontinued or if you are eligible for survivors’ benefits.
CONTACT INSURANCE COMPANIES
If your loved one had life insurance, you’ll need to file the necessary claim forms to receive the benefit. You will need to provide the life insurance company with a death certificate and the policy number.
Remember, too, to terminate other insurance policies as necessary. This could include anything from health insurance to home, auto, renter’s or other policies. Any claim form will require a copy of the death certificate.
CONTACT GOVERNMENT AGENCIES
Often, the funeral director will notify Social Security of your loved one’s passing, but it never hurts to double check. You’ll also want to notify Medicare, Veterans Affairs or any other agency that had provided benefits to your loved one. If notification isn’t made and payments do not stop, you may need to go through a lengthy and complicated repayment process. Spouses and other dependents of the deceased are often eligible to receive survivors’ benefits, so be sure to ask when you talk to the agencies.
Contact the Department of Motor Vehicles to cancel a license and voter registration, and the post office to decide where to forward the deceased’s mail. Whoever receives the mail can then determine which subscriptions or accounts need to be canceled.
NOTIFY CREDIT REPORTING AGENCIES
To help prevent identity theft, notify the major credit reporting agencies (Equifax, Experian, TransUnion) of the death and provide them with copies of the death certificate. Periodically check your loved one’s credit report to make sure fraudulent accounts have not been opened; if they have been, notify the agencies and authorities.
PREPARE FINAL TAX FILINGS
Final tax filings need to be submitted on behalf of your loved one’s estate. Doing so earlier rather than later in the process may make it easier to understand what in the estate is truly available to the heirs. An accountant, tax attorney or tax preparer can help with this.
Periodically check your loved one’s credit report to make sure fraudulent accounts have not been opened.