Estate Planning Checklist: What to do When a Loved One Passes
Nov 15, 2016
Coping with the death of a loved one can be emotionally exhausting. In addition to the pain of the grieving process, there are a lot of logistics involved in managing your loved one’s estate, particularly if you are their spouse or have been appointed executor of their estate.
To make the process a bit easier, we’ve created a checklist of the most important financial and legal steps every executor should take after a loved one dies. While this checklist is not all inclusive, it may save you precious time, money and energy.
1. Request multiple copies of the death certificate
Request several certified copies of the death certificate from your local vital statistics office. You’ll need to provide these certified copies to financial institutions, government agencies, creditors, unions, membership groups and other organizations before they will discuss your loved one’s financial affairs with you, or give an executor access to the decedent’s assets.
2. Get letters testamentary or letters of administration
Letters testamentary or letters of administration prove the identity of the decedent’s executor.
If the decedent had a will, you can obtain letters testamentary from the local courthouse or city hall in the county where the deceased was living when he or she died. As with death certificates, you’ll want multiple certified copies. To get them, take the original, signed will to the court, along with a certified death certificate, and file a probate petition.
If there is no will, the court can issue letters of administration to a surviving spouse or next of kin who provides a death certificate. The person to whom letters of administration are issued is named the administrator of the estate.
3. Gather important documents
Collect or order the following documents to determine the deceased person’s assets and debts and to allow the executor to submit claims for benefits and cash payments that may be due to beneficiaries and heirs:
- Death certificate(s)
- Will or trust
- All insurance policies (life, homeowners, health, disability, auto, etc.)
- Last credit card statements
- Investment and retirement accounts such as IRAs, 401(k) plans, mutual funds, pensions, etc.
- Last checking and savings account statements (including CDs and money market accounts)
- Last mortgage statement
- Last two years’ tax returns
- Marriage and birth certificates (of the decedent’s spouse and children)
- An up-to-date credit report for the deceased
4. Notify financial institutions, government agencies, and others
A few key entities include:
- Social Security Administration
- The decedent’s employer
- Insurance companies
- Credit bureaus
- Credit card companies
- U.S. Post Office
- Utility companies
5. Cancel or transfer accounts, memberships, and subscriptions
Cancel all of the decedent’s subscriptions, memberships, and services, along with credit card, insurance, and financial accounts that will be inactive. If the decedent was married, transfer the power, electricity, and water bills that may be in his or her name to the surviving spouse.
6. Apply for benefits due to survivors
For all kinds of insurance policies, find out whether insurance premiums were paid on the accounts. File a claim form, with a certified copy of the death certificate, with each life insurance company with which the decedent had life insurance.
Determine whether survivors are owed pension benefits or income from the decedent’s employer. Employers may pay out 401(k) funds, along with unused vacation time, holiday time, or bonuses already earned.
7. Pay final bills and taxes
Pay any outstanding liabilities: utility bills, mortgage, credit card bills, car loans, etc. While paying the final bills for someone who has died, don’t forget about things like property taxes or income taxes that may be due.
Coping with the death of a loved one can be overwhelming. There are plenty of steps to take in the wake of a loved one’s passing, and it can be difficult to know where to begin. Even though this list of action items is not comprehensive, it may serve as a strong starting point.
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