The passing of a loved one is one of the most challenging and emotional times that we endure. Not only are you trying to cope with the overwhelming grief that follows, but there are also time sensitive financial obligations that need to be addressed. If your loved one created an asset inventory or “what if” list with all the relevant information, then many of the items mentioned below might be organized for you. If not, I have pulled together a checklist of items that you should address in the first few months.
Collect documentation needed
Collecting and organizing the documentation needed after one’s passing can be an arduous task. Some documents may be easier to find than others so I would encourage you to ask for assistance or support from those around you during this stage. Below is a list of items you will need to gather:
- Certified copies of the death certificate
- Marriage license
- Social security numbers
- Birth certificates
- Estate planning documents (will and trusts)
- Insurance policies (life, disability, long-term care, health, home, auto, umbrella, etc.)
- Investment account statements, stock certificates and bonds
- Bank account statements
- Employee benefits
- Tax returns
- Bill statements (credit cards, utilities, loans/ leases, etc.)
Who you should be contacting:
- Social Security– Typically, the funeral director will notify Social Security of your loved one’s passing. If they were receiving benefits, the benefits will cease so you will need to speak to your local Social Security office and see if there are any outstanding payments owed. You should also inquire to see what benefits you may be eligible for.
- Human Resources– It is important to contact your loved one’s previous employers to ensure you receive any benefits you may be entitled to. These could include 401(k) or 403(b) plans, life insurance or continuation of health insurance coverage for you and your family. If your spouse or loved one was still working or receiving a pension, there are likely payments due to you as well.
- Estate planning attorney– Not only will the estate planning attorney review any trusts and wills, but they will work with other professionals in order to facilitate the distribution of the estate. You may also want to update your powers of attorney, healthcare proxies and other documents in the months to follow.
- Financial Advisor– Your financial advisor will help guide you through the process and steps that need to be taken when a loved one has passed. This includes the transferring of any assets held with the advisor, provide recommendations for taking social security and pension benefits, help you create a new income planning strategy and reevaluate your financial plan.
- Accountant– Due to the complication of potential estate taxes, I recommend working with a tax professional. You will need to still file income taxes for your loved one by the normal filing date of the next year.
- Insurance providers- If there is a life insurance policy or annuity contract in place with you as the beneficiary, you will need to contact the provider. You will also need to get in touch with the insurance provider of your home and auto policies to update the names on the policy. If you have a personal life insurance policy or annuity, this would also be a good time to update your beneficiaries if needed.
Change the Titling of Accounts and Assets
In addition to the list above, you may also need to change the titling on bank accounts, credit cards, utility providers, subscription or membership providers. The titling of your home, automobiles or any other tangible assets that you have may need to be reviewed as well. Taking a look at your balance sheet or asset inventory will help ensure that you haven’t missed any items of the list.
There are many other financial considerations that will need to be addressed over the following months but while some of these matters are time sensitive, others can wait. My colleague Chrissy Canapari previously wrote a blog on Words of Advice for Widows where she discusses the importance of not making such decisions right away. Life after a loved one has passed can be an overwhelming journey. By following the steps above and asking for help from those around you, you may be able to make a challenging time a little easier to endure.
The information contained in this post is not intended as investment, tax or legal advice. StrategicPoint Investment Advisors assumes no responsibility for any action or inaction resulting from the contents herein. Megan’s opinions and comments expressed on this site are her own and may not accurately reflect those of the firm. Third party content does not reflect the view of the firm and is not reviewed for completeness or accuracy. It is provided for ease of reference.