Steps to Take When a Loved One Dies

Posted on: January 29th, 2016

The death of a loved one is often met with a period of grief and adjustment. Determining what must be done to wind up the decedent’s financial affairs can be overwhelming, especially during this time.  The following are some steps that should be considered when a loved one dies:

Final Arrangements.  The most immediate task that must be dealt with is that of making the final arrangements and notifying others of the death.  Your loved one may have left specific written funeral/burial or final disposition instructions with a list of people to be notified.  You should contact the funeral home to discuss funeral arrangements and inquire whether any preplanning was done by the decedent, including whether any prepayments were made.  The funeral director can help with placement of the obituary in a local newspaper.

Who is in Charge?  Usually, one person supervises the tasks of settling an estate.  If your loved one had a Will or Trust, these documents will specify who will serve as executor or trustee.  The person named will be responsible for settling the estate, including locating assets, paying creditors, and distributing assets.

Notify Organ Bank/Hospital.  The decedent may have signed a donor card regarding tissue, organ or body donations.  The organ bank or the donee medical school should be contacted immediately after death.  Individuals often carry their donor cards in their wallets or purses.  Such information may also be incorporated in their driver’s license. You can also check the following website: www.

Locate the Will.  The decedent’s attorney should be contacted to coordinate the probate process or determine if probate is required or not.   The original Will may be in a safe-deposit box or in the decedent’s home.  If there is no Will, the property will be distributed according to state law.

Obtain the Certified Death Certificate.  You can obtain death certificates through the funeral home or the local office of vital statistics.  Many agencies and companies only accept certified death certificates, so you may want to obtain several, depending on decedent’s assets.

Income. If your loved one was receiving income from somewhere, whether an employer, a pension, the Social Security Administration, etc., the payor must be notified of the death.

Notify Employer(s).  Notify the appropriate department of the decedent’s current and past employers in case there are any death benefits or continuing medical benefits for dependents.  The estate may be entitled to life insurance proceeds, retirement plan contributions, accrued vacation and sick pay time, unpaid commissions, disability income, etc.

Notify Insurance Companies.   Determine what forms must be completed to obtain insurance benefits.  If you think the individual had a life insurance policy but you are unable to locate it, contact the agent who sold the policy or try using an online insurance policy locator service, which may charge a fee to help locate a lost policy.

If the decedent owned a retirement account, such as an annuity, IRA, 401(k), or other retirement accounts, the contract should be carefully reviewed to ensure that any amounts payable to a beneficiary or the decedent’s estate are collected.  If a beneficiary is entitled to a distribution or payments, the account administrator should be notified to transfer payments to that individual. There can be minimum distribution requirements and tax consequences based upon how and to whom the proceeds of a retirement account are paid, including the final payment due the decedent in the year of his/her death.

Contact the Department of Veterans Affairs.  If the decedent was a veteran, the survivor may be entitled to certain monetary benefits and burial assistance.

Contact the Decedent’s Financial Advisor.  The decedent’s financial advisor can help determine what investments your loved one owned and their value on the date of death.  The financial advisor can also help with the transfer of accounts held in decedent’s name.

The above is a non-exhaustive guide of initial steps to take when a loved one dies – additional action may be required based upon the kind of property owned by the decedent and how the property was titled, as well as other circumstances of the decedent.  An attorney experienced in probate and estate planning will be able to help guide you through this process.

You can help simplify this process and eliminate stress for your loved ones upon your death by communicating with your family and professional advisors to insure that the necessary documents are in place, assets are titled appropriately, and beneficiary designations are up to date.


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