What Happens When a Loved One Dies?

What Happens When a Loved One Dies?

Whether a loved one’s passing is unexpected or not, dealing with the death can be extremely stressful. Aside from the funeral, mortuary services and hosting a gathering of relatives, an important part of this event is knowing what should be done as far as that person’s finances.

Multiple Copies of the Death Certificate

If you happen to be the executor or executrix of the decedent, it is critical that you obtain certified copies of the death certificate as soon as possible. You will need several copies — 20 copies are not too many. Banks, the state and federal governments, creditors, insurance companies and many others will not even give you the time of day to discuss your loved one’s financial affairs until you are able to produce a death certificate. Do not underestimate the importance and the necessity of getting these copies right away.

Other Important Documents

Experts say that one of the most arduous tasks in tying up the financial affairs of someone who has passed away is collecting the various pieces of documentation that should be retained routinely. If the decedent has not done a good job of keeping records, it can be like searching for needles in haystacks — a real frustration. It is best to create a list of all your assets, accounts and property while still alive, and keep it safe. Let your spouse or other trusted person know where the list is kept. When you pass, the executor of the estate will have an easier time organizing the assets and settling matters more efficiently. Some of these important documents include:

the ultra-important copies of the death certificate;
will and trust documents;
life, health and other insurance policies;
recent credit card statements;
investment accounts and pensions;
checking and other financial account statements;
recent mortgage statements;
the past two years’ tax returns;
all relevant marriage and birth certificates; and
an up-to-date credit report.

Obtain Letters Testamentary or Letters of Administration

You will need proof that you have authority to deal with the decedent’s financial affairs prior to contacting the institutions with which the decedent was doing business: you need letters testamentary or letters of administration. An estate planning attorney can handle obtaining these documents and assist with probate. When probate is opened, the will is validated, and the court gives the authority (via the letters testamentary) to settle the estate and act on behalf of the decedent, as specified in the will. Again, get multiple certified copies.
If there is no will, the court can issue letters of administration to a surviving spouse or next of kin after a death certificate has been produced. This individual likely will be the administrator of the estate.

Make Notifications

Notify these organizations of your loved one’s death:

the Social Security Administration;
his or her employer;
insurance companies;
credit bureaus and credit card companies;
the post office; and
Cancel subscriptions, memberships and credit cards right away. You should transfer any utilities, such as the water or cable, to the surviving spouse.

Speak to an Experienced Estate Planning Attorney

One thing that will reduce stress is to seek the advice of a qualified estate planning attorney. He or she can simplify the process of settling an estate and avoid any issues. Retain an attorney who practices in estate planning and trusts – doing so may relieve some of the stress of going through this process. An estate planning attorney will offer guidance and support to help save you time and energy and give you greater piece of mind.