Dealing with the death of a loved one is already incredibly difficult. It is then compounded by the added responsibility of closing out one’s financial affairs. As a result, it can be valuable to have a checklist to help remind us of key money-related tasks that can’t be ignored.
Get duplicate death certificates.
There is a reason why this is first on the list. You may need a dozen certified death records to complete the tasks that follow. The funeral director may help you handle this or you can order them from the vital statistics office in the state where the death occurred, or from the city hall or other local records office. Each certified record will cost about $15.
Look into employment benefits.
If your loved one was working, contact the employer about pension plans, 401(k) plans and death benefits, if any. Sadly, I’ve had to help many family members whose loved one had no beneficiary listed or a former spouse, compounding the pain of the loss. If your loved one paid health insurance premiums through work, the employer will notify the health insurance company. If not, you should.
Notify insurance companies.
If your loved one had life insurance, you’ll need to file a claim form and a death certificate. Sometimes the paperwork can seem intimidating and ask tax questions or require you to open an account before receiving your inheritance. Consult with your tax or financial advisor, as many can help with paperwork to help minimize errors and delays caused by mistakes. If the deceased was listed as an owner or beneficiary on a policy, have the name removed and be sure to update your account beneficiaries if the deceased was your beneficiary. Also, notify the companies that provided homeowner’s and automobile insurance.
Meet with a probate attorney.
The executor should choose the attorney. Make sure he or she does plenty of due diligence to find an experienced attorney. It’s rare, but on occasion the estate is in “good order” and assets are in trusts or directly to beneficiaries, and there are few to no assets to go through the probate process.
Gather all bills.
The executor will need these so they can be paid promptly.
Contact the financial advisor, if any.
You’ll want to know the beneficiaries listed on investment accounts, if any. We encourage clients to request TOD forms from financial firms so that the assets that don’t typically have a beneficiary listed will have one. Depending on the type of asset, the beneficiary may get access to the benefits simply by filling out appropriate forms and providing a copy of the death certificate. If not, the executor may need to intervene.
Go to the credit union and/or bank.
It helps if your loved one left a list of accounts and passwords. Take a death certificate with you either way. Change ownership of joint bank accounts. If your loved one had a safe deposit box and you don’t have the key, the executor probably will need a court order to access the box.
Close credit card accounts.
Be careful on debts. Many heirs or family members mistakenly believe they are personally liable for debts of the deceased. This often is not the case, so be sure to discuss outstanding debts with the executor and an estate attorney before writing checks. Also, don’t be afraid to ask credit card issuers to waive interest or fees; many will be happy to receive any payment from the deceased estate.
Notify credit reporting agencies.
To minimize the chance of identity theft, provide copies of the death certificate to the three major firms—Equifaxm Experian and TransUnion—as soon as possible. Four to six weeks later, check the deceased’s credit history to ensure no fraudulent accounts have been opened.
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 vary. For instance, Google Mail (Gmail) will ask you to provide a death certificate and other detailed information.
Contact a tax preparer.
If you know who the deceased used to prepare his or her taxes, it may make sense to have the final estate return prepared. The preparer will tell you which documents are needed to complete the final tax return.
This certainly doesn’t cover everything that an executor or family member will need to address, but it’s a start in the right direction. Relying on professional advice at a stressful time may help avoid costly mistakes.