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to-dos after death

To-Dos After Death

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Even though the death of a loved one comes with unbearable grief, there are important tasks you must carry out as soon as you’re able.

If you haven’t dealt with losing a loved one, there are to-dos after death that 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.

I have assisted many families with post-death legal matters. However, in the last few years, after losing both my parents, the needed actions have made a different impression on me. Some mechanical, but necessary for someone to handle.

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. To-dos after death include contacting 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.

Change the Mailing address and notify loved ones. The to-do after death of notifying friends about the loss can be a task that extends over time as holiday cards, calls, and other contacts trickle in over time.

Contact financial institutions. The financial institutions, including commercial banks, brokerage accounts, and insurance companies, will all require a death certificate, often an original. If there is a POD (Payment on Death) order, the balance on accounts will be transferred to the designated beneficiary. Find the policy and identify the designated beneficiary if there are life insurance policies.

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.

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 to-dos after death during mourning is not easy. as I can now attest, even as an experienced estate planning attorney.

Get help from our office if needed. as it can help make the process easier for all concerned.

In my case, I have help and support from legal assistants and lawyers. It is still a mind-numbing set to walk through.

Reference: U.S. News & World Report (Sep. 1, 2023) “11 Financial Steps to Follow After the Loss of a Loved One”