After the loss of a loved one, you may be faced with the overwhelming responsibility of making funeral arrangements, notifying friends and family and handling the estate. During that time, it is often very hard to think of all the things that need to be done and what questions to ask. Having a clear picture in advance can help alleviate additional stress.
Use this checklist as a starting place, as this is not intended to be an exhaustive list. Consider these some of the essential steps to be taken when a loved one dies.
- Contact a funeral home to make preparations. Ask the funeral director to help obtain certified copies of the death certificate. Be sure to get multiple copies, as survivors will need these to file for life insurance and other benefits. The funeral director may also be able to assist in writing an obituary.
- Notify the deceased person’s employer, if applicable. Speak with the Human Resources department about any paperwork to be completed, benefits and pay due to the estate and whether the deceased had life insurance through the employer. Find out the options to continue medical coverage for family members covered under the company’s health plan.
- Locate important documents, such as a will, birth certificate, Social Security card, bank statements, car titles or property deeds.
- Check with military, fraternal or religious groups if the deceased was a member. The organization may provide benefits or want to participate in funeral services.
- Contact Social Security, Veterans Affairs and other applicable agencies, such as pension services, to stop payments and inquire about survivor benefits.
- Check for any life insurance policies and contact the company about filing a claim. Ask what documents are needed, how long the process takes and what to expect during the process. If you don’t know if your loved one had life insurance, try contacting your state insurance department to find out if it has a resource to search for missing life insurance policies. You may need the person’s name, date of birth, Social Security number and address to conduct the search or request information.
- Contact an attorney to review the will of the deceased, if applicable. If items need to go through probate, ask how that process works.
- Open a bank account for the deceased’s estate, if necessary, for refunds, overpayments or benefits to be paid even after the estate is settled. The executor may be the only one allowed to open such an account.
- Make arrangements to pay outstanding bills. Contact service providers, such as utility companies, cable, internet and phone, to change or discontinue services. Reviewing a bank or credit card statement may help to identify less obvious monthly payments or charges, like gym memberships, home security or other in-home or club services.
- Contact any banks, financial institutions or other companies where the decedent had an account or financial interest. Each institution or company probably has its own requirements for collecting the funds. Confer with an adviser before cashing out any investments.
- Ask a friend or relative to keep an eye on the person’s home, collect mail and take care of any pets on a temporary basis. Don’t let the house appear vacant.
- Alert the post office to forward any mail.
Remember to ask questions — lots of them. If you don’t understand or just don’t know, ask. Take a notebook with you to appointments, so you can make notes of the meetings. The added emotional stress of this difficult time can make it challenging to retain or understand all the information given to you. Taking notes can help you break it down into more manageable chunks.
And don’t try to handle it all on your own. Find a trusted friend, family member or support group to help you through the process.
By Ann S. Binzer