A Survivor’s Guide to What to do After a Loved One Dies

We understand the loss of a loved one is an extremely difficult time for you and your family. You may feel overwhelmed both emotionally and logistically, and don’t know where to start. In this checklist, we have listed some action steps for you to take after a loved one passes away.  You can use this as a guide as you progress through the steps. It is important to note that some of these action items are intended for the Personal Representative named in the decedent’s Last Will and Testament.  Remember, the Power of Attorney is no longer valid after death.

Last Rites – Burial or Cremation

After doing some of the more obvious things like notifying parties and arranging for care of pets and dependents, you’ll want to find out about existing funeral plans. Ideally, you would know your loved one’s burial/cremation plans ahead of time.  Look for your loved one’s existing Health Care Surrogate document and Living Will. If the person is still living, these documents authorize care decision making authority and end of life wishes. If they have passed, these same documents sometimes explicitly authorize burial or cremation authority and even if silent in the document, the named advocate under these documents are in the line of authorized persons to act for final arrangements.   If you cannot locate those documents, you’ll need to make some decisions like where to hold the service and whether to cremate or to bury. For reference, we have created a list of funeral homes in the area, along with other important contacts that you may need throughout this process, see here.

Gathering Information

We suggest forwarding mail, which is important for a couple different reasons. First, you do not want the mail to be piling up at an unoccupied home, signaling to other people that the property is unattended.  Secondly, sorting through the mail is key to finding out what subscriptions, creditors and assets are out there.  Checking online accounts and going through the mail will help paint a financial picture. To forward the mail, you will need to visit the post office and put in a forwarding order. You will need to bring proof that you are the Personal Representative or the Executor.  

As you begin to gather what is out there, make an actual inventory or list that shows both assets and bills/creditors. This will not only help you keep track of what is out there, but it will be extremely beneficial when meeting with a Trust/Estates attorney. An attorney will help you determine what needs to be paid now, and if a probate is needed. If a probate is needed, you will need to go a step further and figure out the date of death values of the assets. If a probate is not needed, the attorney can walk you through the Trust Administration or any other after-death steps.  Either way, try to locate the originals of the Will or Trust so that it can be reviewed with the attorney and filed with the court.

Death Certificates

We recommend ordering several certified copies of your loved one’s death certificate.   This is often done by the Funeral Home.  If you have not ordered them already, you can do so now at this link.

You may need anywhere from 2-10 copies. It really depends on the number of assets your loved one had. The death certificates will be needed when claiming insurance benefits, or for opening/closing new financial accounts. To be on the safe side, we recommend ordering 10 certified copies of the short form death certificates which do not list the cause of death. However, if your loved one had any life insurance policies, you may need to order a long form showing the cause of death. 

Notifying the World

Another thing that the Funeral Home will do on your behalf is contact Social Security to notify them of your loved one’s death.  If you are a spouse, you may be entitled to a death benefit from Social Security. If they were employed or receiving a retirement benefit you contact the employer to check on possible insurance or retirement benefits and to stop further pension payments. If there are death benefits available, the companies will send out the appropriate claim forms.  An attorney can assist you in completing the forms. Consider contacting a CPA to determine if a final tax return will need to be filed on the deceased’s behalf. In our list of who to contact, we have provided a few local CPA’s, see here. Lastly, canceling the deceased’s driver’s license and notifying the credit agencies are recommended to help prevent identity theft.

We hope this checklist will get you started. It is important to note this is not an exhaustive list and it is intended to be used a general guide. For more information, please do not hesitate to contact us at 239-939-4888 and we will help you navigate through each of these steps.

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