The loss of a loved one is never easy to accept. The time immediately following a loved one’s passing is filled with grief and strong emotions. Understandably, it can be difficult to focus on the practical tasks that need to be handled as a result of the loss. If, however, you are the person designated to handle those tasks, you may need some help to ensure that important steps are not overlooked or forgotten. To help you get through the time period immediately following the passing of your loved one without missing a step, you may need a “to do” list.
Although no two situations are the same when it comes to the passing of a loved one, the following common steps may help ensure that important tasks are not overlooked during the emotional time period that follows that passing.
- The hours immediately following the loss of a loved one can be traumatic for family members and close friends. Everyone should have someone with them to help them through the initial period of shock and grief. Pay close attention to those who are particularly vulnerable, including a spouse, children, and older loved ones with health conditions.
- Check for estate planning documents to see if the deceased left behind funeral and burial instructions or plans. If you come across a Last Will and Testament, or other important documents, set them aside in a file as you will need them soon.
- Decide on a funeral home if plans were not made ahead of time by the deceased. Make an appointment to discuss the service. Include clergy at the meeting if possible.
- Notify family members, friends, an employer, and business associates who have not yet been made aware of the passing.
- Obtain several certified copies of the decedent’s death certificate from the state’s vital records agency.
- Look through the file you started during step #2. If you have not yet located a Will, take another look through the decedent’s files, check with family members, and contact the decedent’s attorney to see if one was executed. Also, be on the lookout for a trust agreement, life insurance policies, retirement account documents, and any other legal documents that you think might be needed. If a Will is located, check to see who the deceased appointed as the “Personal Representative” in that Will. Likewise, if a trust agreement is located, check to see who was appointed as the “Trustee” in that agreement.
- Make an appointment with an experienced estate planning attorney. If a Will and/or trust agreement was located, the individual(s) appointed as Personal Representative and/or Trustee should plan to attend the meeting with the attorney. The attorney will begin the Probate of the Will or commence the Trust Administration. The remaining action items are specifically intended for the individual(s) appointed as Personal Representative and/or Trustee.
- Make sure you have the deceased’s full legal name, social security number, and date of death handy along with the certified copies of the death certificate for the next few items.
- Contact the Social Security Administration and find out what steps you need to take to formally report the decedent’s death and apply for any death benefits.
- Contact the human resources or employee benefits department at the decedent’s employer, if applicable, and find out what you need to do to apply for any benefits from them.
- If you located any life insurance policies, locate the beneficiaries of the policy. Have one of them contact the company. For legal reasons, they will likely refuse to provide information to anyone other than a beneficiary. Find out what information they need to process the claim. Ask about a partial payment to help with expenses.
- If the deceased ever served in the military, contact the Veterans Administration to ask about benefits for a surviving spouse and/or dependents.
- Be sure to keep receipts and write down expenses as they may be included in the Probate expenses and/or deductible on the estate tax return.
- Do not remove assets, change the title to assets, or sell assets, even if you believe you are the beneficiary, without first consulting an experienced estate planning attorney. Doing any of the above could have unintended tax consequences.
- Warn members of the immediate family not to make any major decisions nor sign anything relating to estate assets until they have had some time to get past the initial stage of grieving and consulted with an attorney.
There is a very good chance that your ability to think clearly will be impaired during the time period immediately following the loss of a loved one. To help ensure that your impaired thinking does not result in important tasks being overlooked, it may help to keep this list handy. Just as it will be important to lean on family and friends during such a difficult time, you should also depend on an experienced estate planning attorney to help you handle the legal aspects of your loved one’s passing.