Managing affairs after the death of a loved one is no small task.
Your loved one has died.
You are grieving.
People keep asking you questions and are wanting you to make major financial decisions.
You do not have answers.
In fact, you do not know where to start.
According to a recent Business Insider article titled “How to manage a loved one’s finances after they die,” this is not uncommon.
What can you do?
Find out who is in charge.
Someone needs to serve as the executor for the estate of a deceased loved one.
Did the decedent create a last will and testament or perhaps a revocable living trust?
If yes, an executor or trustee will be named in the document, depending on the estate plan.
Customarily, the executor or trustee is the surviving spouse or a family member who lives nearby.
If there is no will (i.e., the decedent died “intestate”), then a judge will need to appoint an administrator for the estate.
Do not delay.
Grief can be paralyzing after the death of a loved one.
Executing an estate may feel like a betrayal.
You may not want to accept the loss.
However, if you wait to take action, you will place the estate at greater risk for scammers or miss important filing deadlines.
Get more death certificates than seems necessary.
Request at least a dozen certified copies.
This will save you the time and frustration of contacting your state department of vital statistics for more copies every time one is required.
Many business and accounts will require a certified death certificate to access assets or terminate services.
Do you really need an certified original copy?
In some states, it is illegal to photocopy a death certificate.
Notify agencies and business.
Start with the Social Security Administration.
Call them and send a followup email as well.
You will want to stop the benefits from being sent because returning them could take up a lot of your time.
If a pension or VA benefits were being received, you should provide appropriate notice of the death.
You will also need to notify credit card companies, banks, and insurance companies to prevent fraudulent activity.
Protect the physical property.
Change the locks on the home.
Inventory everything and take pictures to catalogue the contents of the home.
Consider removing anything of value and placing the items in a secure location.
Maintain the home so it will retain its value.
Pay the bills and taxes.
There may be utility or medical bills to pay.
Be sure to review and pay bills.
A final income tax return must be filed and payments should be paid from the estate.
Review beneficiary designations.
Certain assets bypass probate and are distributed via beneficiary designations after the death of a loved one.
Joint accounts will also pass directly to the surviving owner or owners.
Although the executor is not responsible for distribution funds, the executor should report the death of the decedent to any relevant financial institutions.
Consider getting help.
Administering an estate is not a small undertaking.
On average, the process extends from six months to two years.
An experienced estate planning attorney can provide guidance when it comes to winding up an estate.
The more comprehensive and detailed the estate plan on the front end, the more efficient the administration on the back end.
If you have not “taken care of business” when it comes to your own estate planning, there is no time like the present.
Reference: Business Insider (May 2, 2020) “How to manage a loved one’s finances after they die”