How Will You Cope? Managing Finances After a Death

The loss of a loved one is stressful in so many ways. It can be overwhelming to make plans and manage all the details that demand your attention. It’s important, though, that you don’t overlook the financial tasks that must be dealt with.

  • Where should you begin? First, you’ll need multiple copies of the death certificate for your loved one’s insurance company, financial institutes, and any other party who requests it. You’ll likely need at least 10 copies, but it might be prudent to get more.
  • Contact the person’s employer to provide notification of the death. Inquire as to whether there is a life insurance policy, ask the name of the company that administers the retirement plan, and find out whether benefits coverage will continue for family members.
  • Be sure you have all the pertinent financial documents. This can be complicated, especially if your loved one didn’t keep organized records. You’ll need:
    • Bank and investment accounts
    • Retirement accounts
    • Mortgage and other loan statements
    • Insurance policies
    • Tax returns
    • Bills — including services, utilities, credit cards and property tax
  • Make sure you have letters testamentary, or letters of administration. These documents provide proof that you have the right to handle the financial affairs of the person who has died. You can hire an attorney to procure these for you, or you can obtain them from the local courthouse or city hall. You’ll need to bring along the official will and a certified death certificate. If the person died without a will, the court can issue these documents to the next of kin.
  • Consult an attorney who can help make sure you’ve got all your bases covered. It can be hard for a family member to act as executor, not just because they may lack an understanding of legal matters, but also because emotional involvement can complicate the situation. Look for an attorney who exclusively works with wills, trusts and estates, and who is board-certified.
  • Notify everyone who needs to know. Beyond friends, family and the person’s employer, you’ll need to notify:
    • Social Security Administration
    • Insurance companies
    • Credit bureaus
    • Credit card companies
    • Post office
    • Utility companies
    • Creditors
  • Be prepared to file taxes. The year after a person dies, a final tax return must be filed. Collect all the information you need to handle that, bearing in mind that in some cases, if the estate is significant, you’ll also need to file an estate tax return.
  • Cancel memberships and subscriptions, and pay final bills. If the person was married, transfer things like utilities and water bills into the spouse’s name. In some states, you’ll also be required to transfer home ownership, so make sure to research the laws in your state. Pay all final bills, and protect against financial fraud by being careful with the information you release publicly.
  • Shred documents. When you’re sorting your loved one’s documents, don’t throw them in the trash where they can become a magnet for identity theft.

It can be overwhelming to handle all these necessary tasks, but you can save your loved ones from some of this stress by preplanning. An important part of planning for your final arrangements is putting your affairs in order. Keep documents and information easily accessible, and preplan for your final services to alleviate stress on your family during an already difficult time.  Chapel of the Chimes Oakland’s free preplanning guide will help – request yours here.

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