A Checklist of Things to Do After a Loved One Passes

  1. Contact a funeral home and make arrangements. Don't forget to consider veterans arrangements if applicable. Ask them to help you get additional copies of the death certificate. You Almost always need more copies than you think. On average, six to 10 copies of the death certificate are needed.
  2. Call your attorney.There are many legal matters that may need to be addressed, and your attorney can tell you which ones apply to you.
  3. Contact Social Security Your Social Security benefits may change after a spouses passing, so you'll need to notify them ASAP.
  4. Review/cancel their health insurance. If your insurance is provided by a former employer you will need to contact them.
  5. Contact your spouse's pension company if applicable.Depending on the pension plan option originally selected by your spouse, you may be eligible to receive benefit payments.
  6. Notify the life insurance company and file a claim.This is typically a very easy process, so don't put this one off for later. The sooner you get the funds, the better to help.
  7. If your spouse was a veteran, contact the Department of Veterans Affairs. Checking with the VA will help yuou see if there are any benefits payable to you.
  8. Notify your financial institutions. This includes banks (change account names), credit cards (remove spouse or close accounts), mortgage companies, insurance companies and all other important bills (change into your name only).
  9. Contact your CPA. You will want to discuss all of the issues unique to this tax year. This is a great time to retain a CPA if you've been doing this yourself. Now is not the time to go it alone.
  10. Contact your financial advisor. You will need to change account titles, file beneficiary paperwork for IRAs, 401k(s), etc.
  11. Retitle any assets. Any assets (real estate, cars, etc.) in your spouse's name should be retitled in your own name. For cars, you will need to go to your local Department of Motorvehicles (DMV) with a copy of the death certificate and the title. To transfer real estate, it depends on how the title was held.
  12. Prepare and probate the estate. In New Jersey, for example, if the estate doesn't qualify for simplified procedures, then the assets have to go through probate, which is handled by a court. The named executor will need to go to the surrogate's court to request to be formally appointed. If no one was named in the will or the person named is not able/willing to serve, the court will appoint an "administrator". The executor/administrator then has to handle the estate assets, any debt/taxes, and distributing property. Your CPA or attorney can often help with this whole process.
  13. Update your own estate plan. If your spouse was your beneficiary, then you will need to update all of your accounts, insurance policies, estate documents, etc. in order to reflect your new beneficiaries.

3 Things You Should NOT Do After Someone Passes

  1. Don't make big dicisions that you are not required to make. You don't need to decide to keep or sell your house right away. You need time to adjust to your new situation, and snap decisions could be regrettable ones without a "clear head".
  2. Don't make major purchases. This is a time when people often spend more than usual. Sometimes it is from lack of focus on finances and sometimes it is from trying to live life to the fullest after experiencing it's brevity up close. Either way, now is a very important time to keep an eye on your finances, and to not let them get away from you.
  3. Don't be quick to give away money, or things. Often, we see clients giving away larger gifts to children after a spouse passes, including their own deceased spouse's possessions. First, you need to fully understand your new financial situation before you can adequately assess whether these gifts make sense. Giving away a dead loved one's possessions needs to be well thought out. If not, family rifts may occur, becuase your loved one my have had conversations with others regarding the passing on of specific possessions that you might not be aware of.

It is important to have a checklist to follow during this difficult time in order to keep a bad situation from becoming worse. We hope this helps! -T. Eric Reich