Resources for managing financial matters after an unexpected death
After the loss of a loved one, you will be forced to make dozens of decisions, including getting a grip on finances as quickly as possible. Here’s a helpful list of resources you should tap into.
Losing someone you love is difficult enough. Then come all the many logistics and loose ends, piggybacking on top of your grief. Among them, tying up a lifetime of finances – a necessary, yet potentially overwhelming process.
Know this is a path many others have travelled before you, and it’s lined with experts and entities ready to help. Set out on it one step at a time. And loop in all available resources along the way to best avoid adding stress to this already challenging time.
Immediate steps after an unexpected death of a loved one
Your first clear-cut action: securing the death certificate. In most cases, the funeral home you’re working with will obtain certified copies on your behalf. Typical wait time is roughly 10 days after your loved one has passed. However, extenuating circumstances, such as an autopsy or investigation, can tack on weeks, or even months.
You’ll need more than one copy of the death certificate. The actual amount depends on the number of account holders you’ll need to reach out to. This can include cemeteries and crematoriums, and companies holding your loved one’s life insurance, mortgage, bank accounts, credit cards and other assets. Each will each likely require a unique copy.
Start with your best guess – you can always order more. Do-it-yourself processes, requirements and costs vary from state to state, or even county to county.
Pull paperwork together
As you’re waiting for the certificates to arrive, start gathering all insurance, bills and financial statements that you run across. Put each account’s paperwork into its own folder. And list notes about things such as date of contact, representative name, confirmation numbers and follow-up required. Stash them together in a safe, yet easily accessible dedicated drawer or portable file.
Create one master file as well for the general information you’ll need as you tie things up. This can include a running to-contact list, copy of your ID (for frequent identity verifications) and the certified death certificates.
Financial resources to help with an unexpected death of a loved one
When you’re ready, begin reaching out to these key resources for informed support as you work through your files:
Banks and other financial institutions
Make initial contact with the banks and other financial institutions where each account is held. Let them know of your loved one’s passing and inquire about next steps.
Probate (aka trust or estate) attorney
Probate is the official process of wrapping up the deceased’s estate, including paying all debts and properly distributing all assets. Hoeft encourages those who are dealing with a loved one’s estate to at least consult with a probate attorney, ASAP.
A good attorney can help evaluate needs and secure proper documentation to show your legal authority to act on your loved one’s behalf.
The need to actually hire one – or enter into the complicated and time-consuming probate process at all – varies. This can depend on the number of accounts, money amount, beneficiaries, existence of a properly-filed will and your state’s unique policies.
Get referrals from friends and go into your appointment armed with all your account paperwork. Also beneficial is being armed with little internet research. All will help to get your specific questions answered.
U.S. Postal Service
If your loved one lived at an address different from your own, you’ll want to redirect all mail to you. This will help avoid a mail pile-up, which can also invite theft. And you’ll be able to collect the bills and statements to file away and follow up on.
When USPS passes that address change info on to businesses that have a relationship with your loved one, holders of accounts conducted solely online typically send out a physical change-of-address verification. This, according to Hoeft, will help your discovery process.
The USPS requires that you fill out a form in person at a local post office. Be sure to bring valid proof that you’re authorized to make this change on your loved one’s behalf.
The Data & Marketing Association maintains a Deceased Do Not Contact physical address and email list. You can add your loved one to this as well.
Social Security Administration
Typically, the funeral director will contact Social Security on your behalf. You will need to provide your loved one’s Social Security number. Make sure this happens, or do it yourself, ASAP, by contacting Social Security directly. Family members may be eligible for immediate benefits.
Also worth noting: any benefits paid to the deceased during the month the death occurred will need to be returned.
Qualified tax accountant
Once your loved one’s estate is wrapped up, there may be final property, income, estate and/or estate income taxes due. A trustworthy accountant will make sure you know exactly what needs to be filed, and when. He or she can also counsel you on rounding up the information you need, such as tax statements and earnings info.
Find out what you need to know about managing the finances of a loved one who has passed away.