After a Death

When death occurs for whatever reason, whether it is expected or unexpected, family and friends will struggle with what to do. No matter how organized calm, or deliberate the people left behind are, there can be confusion about priorities. The following contains simple steps to help you determine the minimum that needs to be done.

The following is an excerpt from our book “When You’re Not There”.

The First Three Days

  • Look in the deceased’s insert in the back of this book to determine if funeral plans or other types of services have been made. If there are no prearranged plans, you will need to make some. Consult with a funeral director, church pastor, rabbi, other clergy, or family members for help.
  • Write the obituary (see the deceased’s insert for personal information and to see if an obituary has already been written). If one has not been written, review Chapter 3 for ideas on how to write an obituary.

The First Week

  • Stop any direct deposits such as Social Security or pensions so the estate will not have to pay interest on money that will need to be returned. You may be required to provide the financial institution a copy of the death certificate. Sometimes these institutions will accept a faxed copy.

The First Two Weeks

  • Locate the will and notify the executor or personal representative (who is named in the will). You may want to consult with the attorney who prepared the will, but that is not necessary. The estate process is easier if you work with an attorney. The important thing is to find an attorney who you trust.
  • Contact life insurance companies about how to file a claim.
  • Notify all brokerage firms of the date of death so the account balances can be determined correctly for the estate total. It is also necessary to have these firms record the exact date of death and the exact amount in the accounts.
  • Notify all banks and credit card companies. Be sure to tell these companies if the accounts or credit cards are jointly held. If they are joint accounts and if they are to be kept open, simply request that the information be transferred solely to the joint owner’s name.
  • If the deceased had a credit card that earned air miles, contact the airline. A spouse has three months to request that the mileage be transferred to his or her account. As rules change, a person other than a spouse may be able to apply, but you will need to at least call and ask. If this request is not made, these miles will be lost. Call the credit card company or the airline for the proper procedure to transfer these miles. It may be necessary to send a letter with a copy of the death certificate. The frequent flyer numbers should be listed in the insert in the back, in the section on credit cards.
  • Determine the value of the physical property that the decedent owned at the time of his or her death. You can use a recent tax assessment to determine this, but the tax assessment may be less than the property is worth. It may be in your best interest to get the most current value using a real estate appraiser. Contact an attorney for the best advice on how to make the determination of the value of this property.
  • Check on special pensions and Social Security payments. If a person with children under the age of 18 died in a work-related accident, some family members may be eligible for special pensions from the state in which the death occurred. The family might also be eligible for help from Social Security. An estate attorney can be a big help in knowing who to ask, and what to ask for.
  • Notify the three credit bureaus about the death to prevent future fraud that could complicate settling the estate.
  • Do not close any account until any autopayments have been identified, particularly any associated with life insurance policies and potential survivor benefits.