Financial Steps After the Death of a Loved One

Learn about the financial steps you needed to settle the affairs of a loved one after their passing.

It’s hard to think about finances when you’re grappling with the death of a loved one. There are, however, important steps to take when it comes to settling affairs after someone passes. As you’re able, here are the financial steps to take when a loved one dies.

1. Gather important documents.

Before you can begin to settle a loved one’s estate, you’ll need a death certificate. This is necessary for filing a life insurance claim, accessing financial accounts, and more.

In most states, death certificates must be filed within 72 hours of death. This certificate is usually sent by the funeral director or medical professional to the state’s vital records department. Asking the funeral home for a copy of the death certificate is the fastest route; otherwise, you can put in a request with your state’s vital statistics department, but that may take a few weeks for processing. Request multiple certified copies of the death certificate, for instances where an electronic copy is not accepted.

Next, locate the will or other documents that outline the deceased’s wishes. Determine the executor or secure a legal representative to begin the probate process.

 

Documents to Gather

It’s helpful to round up the following documents as you settle a loved one’s affairs.

  • Death certificate
  • Birth certificate
  • Social security card
  • Marriage certificate
  • Will/Trust paperwork
  • Life insurance policy
  • Tax returns
  • Bank statements
  • Investment statements
  • Pension/retirement plan statements
  • Loan statements: car, personal, other
  • Credit card statements
  • Mortgage statement
  • Vehicle titles
  • Insurance statements: home, life, health
  • Military service records

 

2. Start the probate process.

Whether or not your loved one had a will, you’ll need to start probate. Probate is the court-supervised process of dispersing a deceased person’s assets to their beneficiaries. If there is a legal will, the executor named in the will is tasked with filing the will in probate court. In the absence of a will, someone appointed by the court will begin the process.

The probate process varies by state but follows the same general steps.

  • Validation of the will: The court verifies that the will is valid.
  • Appointing a fiduciary: This is the executor, if a will exists, or an administrator appointed by the court in the absence of a will.
  • Identifying and valuing assets: The executor locates all the deceased’s property, belongings, and other assets, and determines their value.
  • Paying debts and taxes: The estate pays any outstanding debts for the deceased and makes their final tax filing.
  • Distributing assets: Any remaining assets are distributed to beneficiaries according to the will, or if there is no will, according to state law.
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3. Notify the right institutions.

Review the deceased’s bank statements, retirement accounts, and insurance policies, and notify them about your loved one’s passing. These institutions may be able to give you a better understanding of the individual’s financial situation. You’ll need a death certificate to close accounts solely in the deceased’s name, or to update beneficiaries on a joint account. Some assets may pass to beneficiaries without a will if the account owner previously set up transfer on death or payable on death instructions. If these instructions are in place, the financial institution can give you more details on the process.

Don’t forget about retirement accounts or pensions. If your loved one was receiving these or similar benefits, contact the plan administrator to see if payments will be discontinued or if there is a beneficiary who is eligible for survivor’s benefits. If they were employed, contact their workplace’s human resources department.

You’ll also need to update their name on any bills and utilities.

 

4. File insurance claims.

Reach out to your loved one’s insurance companies to receive and file necessary claim forms on policies. You’ll need to provide a death certificate and a policy number to get the process going.

Whether or not the deceased had a traditional life insurance policy in place, there are other sources of life insurance to check, including:

  • Group life insurance: Many workplaces offer group life insurance as a workplace benefit.
  • Credit card coverage: Some credit cards offer accidental death insurance benefits.
  • Travel insurance: Some travel insurance includes accidental death coverage.
  • Veterans benefits: The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has life insurance programs for veterans and service members.
  • Association benefits: Fraternal orders and other professional associations may have life insurance benefits for members.

 

While you’re contacting insurance companies, remove the deceased from any other policies, including home and car policies, renter’s insurance, and health insurance.

 

5. Reach out to government agencies.

Contact the Social Security Administration to report a death—the funeral director may include this in their duties, but it’s good to double-check. If your spouse received SSA benefits, these are not paid out for the month of their death and will need to be returned if previously issued. Ask about a one-time death benefit for surviving spouses, or find out if you and any dependent children are eligible for ongoing monthly survivor benefits.

If applicable, contact Medicare or Veterans Affairs to stop payments or get details on survivor benefits.

Call your state department of motor vehicles to cancel their license and voter registration, and reach out to the post office if the deceased’s mail needs to be forwarded to another address.

 

6. Update credit reporting agencies.

To prevent identity theft, contact any one of the three major credit reporting agencies—Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion—and notify them of the death. When one bureau receives a notice of death, it will notify the other two. If you’re notifying a bureau as the spouse of the deceased or a legal representative, you’ll need the death certificate along with the deceased’s legal name, Social Security number, date of birth, and date of death. You’ll also need your name, mailing address, and a copy of your official ID.

This is a good time to double-check reports for any inaccuracies or unknown debts to settle. Going forward, periodically check their credit report for any fraudulent activities.

 

7. Deactivate social media accounts.

Another way to prevent identity theft is to check on your loved one’s social media accounts. Take inventory of their digital footprint, and decide if you want to monitor, deactivate, or delete their social media accounts. Make sure you’re familiar with each platform's rules and don’t delete any account content or information that you may want to access later.

Decide how you want to deal with their email and other online accounts.

 

8. Change or close memberships and other accounts.

Review the deceased’s mail, email, and bank statements for memberships, subscriptions, and other recurring bills that need to be paid, canceled, or transferred into another name.

 

9. Make a new budget.

If your spouse passes away, that could have a big impact on your monthly budget. Make a new budget—even if you know it will change again once probate is complete. Get an idea of the income and expenses you face in the immediate future, and make a plan to make it all work.

When you are able, it may be wise to review your long-term financial goals and adjust them as needed.

If dealing with financial details feels overwhelming, reach out to a trusted professional for help navigating this process. Lean on your loved ones for support, and take things one day at a time.

Disclaimer

While we hope you find this content useful, it is only intended to serve as a starting point. Your next step is to speak with a qualified, licensed professional who can provide advice tailored to your individual circumstances. Nothing in this article, nor in any associated resources, should be construed as financial or legal advice. Furthermore, while we have made good faith efforts to ensure that the information presented was correct as of the date the content was prepared, we are unable to guarantee that it remains accurate today.

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