Our condolences on your loss…

By September 11, 2018 No Comments

When we lose a loved one it seems unfair to have to then prepare for the whirlwind of events, emotions and days ahead. While a loss is never fully healed, all the steps necessary to find closure and healing can get lost in the melee of events and steps that need to happen after we lose a loved one.

In an effort to help, we have created a Thirty Day (30) listing of the steps survivors need to navigate through during an already extremely difficult time. Having to make funeral plans, notify friends and family and start the grieving process can be overwhelming. Unfortunately, there are also several critical financial items that need your attention. Facing the death of a loved one can be a daunting journey. Enlist the help of friends and family during this time, they can help you navigate, grieve and think through all that is required.

Day One:

  1. Get a legal pronouncement of death. If no doctor is present, you’ll need to contact someone to do this:
  • If the person dies at home under hospice care, call the hospice nurse, who can declare the death and help facilitate the 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 one, 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.
  • Follow body bequeathal/organ donation instructions. It may be the last detail you want to think about, but arrangements need to be made almost immediately at death so the organs can be harvested as promptly as possible.
    • Not certain about the person’s wishes?
      • Two sources to check: the driver’s license and an advance health care directive, such as a living will or health care proxy. If the answer is “yes,” the hospital where the person died will have a coordinator to guide you through the process. If your loved one died outside of a hospital — that includes in hospice or a nursing home — contact the nearest hospital. Staff will be on hand to answer questions about what’s next.
      • If the person hasn’t made arrangements, the next of kin can donate the body, but the decision needs to be made as early as possible.
    • There is no cost.
  1. Arrange for transportation of the body. If no autopsy is needed, the body can be picked up by a mortuary (by law, a mortuary must provide price info over the phone) or crematorium.
  2. Notify the person’s doctor or the county coroner.
  3. Contact immediate family. (Ask some to contact others.)
  4. Handle care of dependents and pets.
  5. Call the person’s employer, if he or she was working. Request info about benefits and any pay due. Ask whether there was a life-insurance policy through the company.

Days One – Three

  1. Arrange for funeral and burial or cremation. Search the person’s documents to find out whether there was a prepaid burial plan. Ask a friend or family member to go with you to the mortuary.
  • Meet with the director handling the funeral or memorial arrangements. Use instructions your loved one might have left and the earlier family discussion to guide the many decisions to be made.
    • Will the body be embalmed or cremated?
    • Will there be a casket, and if so, will it be open or closed?
    • If body will be cremated, will the ashes be scattered? If the ashes are deposited in an urn, will it be placed in a mausoleum?
    • Where is the burial site?
    • Do religious traditions need to be respected?
    • Will there be contributions to charities in lieu of flowers?
  • Consider whether you need or want other financial assistance for the funeral and burial. Help might be available from a number of sources, including a church, a union or a fraternal organization that the deceased belonged to. Phone or send an email to the local group.
  • Relatives and friends may be needed to serve as pallbearers and/or to create or design the funeral program.
  • Prepare an obituary. The funeral home might offer the service or you might want to write an obituary yourself. If you want to publish it in a newspaper, check on rates, deadlines and submission guidelines (Don’t include exact details, like date of birth, an identity thief could use).
  1. Notify government agencies to start and/or end benefits. Contact that organization as it may have burial benefits or conduct funeral services.
  • Notify local Social Security office. Typically the funeral director will notify Social Security. If not, call 1-800-772-1213, visit or contact your local office.
    • If your loved one was receiving benefits, they must stop because overpayments will require complicated repayment. Even a payment received for the month of death may need to be returned.
      • If your loved one received Medicare, Social Security will inform the program of the death.
      • If the deceased had been enrolled in Medicare Prescription Drug Coverage (Part D), Medicare Advantage plan or had a Medigap policy, contact these plans at the phone numbers provided on each plan membership card to cancel the insurance.
    • If the deceased has a surviving spouse or dependents, ask about their eligibility for increased personal benefits and about a one-time payment of $255 to the survivor.
  • For a veteran, inquire about special arrangements. A range of benefits can help tailor a veteran’s service. While some benefits require that the death occur while on active duty, others just require service.
    • You can find many details about options at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs  or call Veterans Affairs at 1-(800) 827-1000 or your local veterans agency, often included in local government listings.
    • You can also inquire about veteran’s survivor benefits payable to the spouse/ex-spouse  and/or the children under age 16 (or disabled children of any age) of the deceased veteran.
      • Both a spouse and an ex-spouse (if they were married to the deceased for at least 10 years) may be able to qualify for unreduced survivor benefits at the same time.
    • You may be able to get assistance with the funeral, burial plot or other benefits.
  1. Arrange for headstone. You can typically purchase a headstone through the cemetery or from an outside vendor of your choice. Consult the cemetery about rules, regulations and specifications such as color and size, particularly if you go with an outside vendor.
  2. Organize a post-funeral gathering. Depending on your tradition, it’s called a repast or a wake. It can be held at the church, a banquet hall or someone’s house.
  • Enlist the help of friends and relatives to plan, cook meals (for a repast gathering or simply for the household of the deceased), take care of children or pets, or shop for any items needed for the funeral or household of the deceased.
  • If the deceased left an ethical will, arrange to share it, maybe even have it printed.
    • An ethical will isn’t a legal document, but rather a letter of sorts written to your family and friends that shares your values, life lessons and hopes for the future.
  1. Once a date and time have been set for the service, share the details with those on your contact list. Include an address to send cards, flowers or donations.

Days Four – Ten

  1. Obtain death certificates from the funeral home or by contacting the Vital Statistics office in the state in which the death occurred. You may need a dozen certified death records to complete upcoming tasks, though some will require less expensive copies. Some of the recipients may accept a faxed copy, but most will require an original certified document. There may be a charge of around $10-20 for each certified copy requested.
  2. Probate the estate. The probate process starts with an inventory of all assets (personal property, bank accounts, house, car, brokerage account, personal property, furniture, jewelry, etc.), which will need to be filed in the probate court.
  • The executor should choose the attorney. Getting recommendations from family or friends might be the best approach, but an online search can also be an efficient way to find an attorney.
    • If there is a will, the executor named in it and the attorney will have the document admitted into probate court. The executor is in charge of carrying out final wishes and distributing property. If you are named executor, you should obtain letters testamentary, which provide proof that you have a right to handle the deceased’s financial affairs during probate.
      • Take the will to the appropriate county or city office to have it accepted for probate.
  • If there isn’t a will (also known as “intestacy”), the probate court judge will name an administrator in place of an executor, state law typically provides a list of those who could serve in this capacity. It is important to note that since property transferred at death is governed by state law, the details will differ from state to state.
  • Contact a trust and estates attorney, to learn how to transfer assets and assist with probate issues.
    • File a petition and give notice to heirs and beneficiaries.
    • Following appointment by the court, the personal representative must give notice to all known creditors of the estate and take an inventory of the estate property.
    • All estate and funeral expenses, debts and taxes must be paid from the estate.
    • Legal title in property is transferred according to the will or under the laws of intestacy (if the decedent did not have a will).
  1. Notify financial institutions once you receive the death certificates and the letters testamentary, you should contact any insurance company where the deceased had a policy. This may include employer-sponsored plans, individually owned policies, mortgage cancellation plans and policies issued by associations, banks and credit cards companies. Some of these policies, especially the last three, may only provide benefits if the death resulted from an accident. Other policies may provide an additional benefit for accidental death.
  • You will have to provide a death certificate and letters testamentary for each account and then set up new accounts in the names of the heirs in order to receive the assets.
  • Notify all savings, safe deposit box(es) and investment companies where the decedent had an account.
    • This includes both individually owned accounts and joint accounts. It is critical to understand that the account will most likely be frozen once the company has been notified of the death, so plans should be made in advance to prevent any hardship this might cause.
    • Did the deceased have a safe deposit box? If a password or key isn’t available, the executor would most likely need a court order to open and inventory the safe deposit box. Most probate courts have administrative rules about steps to access the box of any decedent.
  1. Secure property. Lock up the person’s home and vehicle. Is the car parked in a secure and legal area? Will the home be vacant? If so, you may want to notify the police (dial a non-emergency number), landlord or property manager.
  • Have someone care for pets until a permanent arrangement is made.
  • Have someone throw out/salvage food, and water plants.
  1. Contact their investment adviser, stockbroker(s), etc. for information on holdings.
  • Determine the beneficiary listed on these accounts. Depending on the type of asset, the beneficiary may get access to the account or benefit by simply filling out appropriate forms and providing a copy of the death certificate. If that’s the case, the executor wouldn’t need to be involved. If there are complications, the executor could be called upon to help out.
  1. If your loved one had life insurance, appropriate claim forms will need to be filed. You will need to provide the policy numbers and a death certificate. If the deceased was listed as a beneficiary on a policy, arrange to have the name removed.
  2. If the deceased was working, contact the employer for information about pension plan, credit unions, survivor benefits and union death benefits. Contact their Pension Agency, to stop monthly check and get claim forms.
  • Notify the health insurance company or the deceased’s employer.
  • End coverage for the deceased, but be sure coverage for any dependents continues if needed.
  1. Contact utility companies and other service providers to change or discontinue service. Some services like cable television, Internet, and telephone lines can be cancelled immediately, while it may make sense to delay others like electric, water, gas, and lawn care so that the home can be properly maintained.
  2. Notify the post office. Use the forward mail option. This will prevent accumulating mail from attracting attention.
  • It can also inform you about subscriptions, creditors and other accounts that need to be canceled or can be valuable in tracking down what you may not have thought of.
  • It might be helpful to look over bank and credit card statements to identify other less obvious monthly recurring charges, like gym memberships, home security systems and club membership dues.
  • Make a list of important bills (mortgage payments). Share the list with the executor or estate administrator so that bills can be paid promptly.

Day Eleven & Beyond:

  1. Contact mortgage companies and other loan providers, including credit card companies. Since these debts are now obligations of the deceased’s estate, they will have to be paid off by the assets of the estate.
  • One exception is if the decedent was married. In that instance, the responsibility may transfer to the spouse.
  1. Contact Accountant or tax preparer, a return will need to be filed for the individual, as well as for an estate return. Keep monthly bank statements on all individual and joint accounts that show the account balance on the day of death.
  2. Contact other insurance policy providers. That could include homeowner’s, automobile and so forth. Claim forms will require a copy of the death certificate.
  3. Close credit card accounts. For each account, call the customer service phone number on the credit card, monthly statement or issuer’s website.
  • Let the agent know that you would like to close the account of a deceased relative. Upon request, submit a copy of the death certificate by fax or email.
    • If that’s not possible, send the document by registered mail with return receipt requested.
    • Once the company receives the certificate, it will close the account as of the date of death.
  • If an agent doesn’t offer to waive interest or fees after that date, be sure to ask. Keep records of the accounts you close and notify the executor of the estate about outstanding debts.
  1. Cancel driver’s license. Clearing the driver’s license record will remove the deceased’s name from the records of the department of motor vehicles and help prevent identity theft.
  • Contact the state department of motor vehicle for exact instructions.
    • You may have to visit a customer-service center or mail documentation.
  1. Cancel memberships in organizations. Reach out to sororities, fraternities, professional organizations, etc., the deceased belonged to and find out how to handle his/her membership status.
  • Social organizations/affiliations may want to hold a special ceremony for your loved one.
  1. It is also a good idea to contact the credit bureaus and report the death to prevent identity theft after their passing. The executor should also request a copy of the deceased’s credit report
  • To minimize the chance of identity theft, provide copies of the death certificate to the three major firms — Equifax, Experian and TransUnion — as soon as possible so the account is flagged.
  1. Notify the election board. According to a 2012 Pew Center report, almost 2 million people on voter registration rolls are deceased.
  2. Cancel email and website accounts. It’s a good idea to close social media and other online accounts to avoid fraud or identity theft.
  • The procedures for each website will vary.
    • For instance, Google Mail (Gmail) will ask you to provide a death certificate, a photocopy of your driver’s license and other detailed information.
  1. Send thank-you notes. From the contact list that you acquired earlier, send thank-you notes and acknowledgements. Consider delegating this task to a family member.

Detailed Document Listing

Checklist Guide

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