Download the complete PDF here: How to Manage Your Loved One’s Finance’s After They’re Gone
When you lose someone you love, it’s very common to become overwhelmed with feelings of grief, sadness, anger, regret and a host of other emotions. With all of these emotions swirling around in your life, one of the most difficult things to do is to sit down and use reason and logic to attend to your loved one’s affairs after they’ve passed away. In the midst of all the emotional intensity, it’s often difficult to determine what to do next in terms of the deceased’s estate.
Unfortunately, whether you want it to or not, life moves forward and you must ensure that all of your loved one’s personal, professional and financial business is wrapped up so that no one can take advantage of your family member’s death. If you are the spouse, parent, sibling or child of the person who has passed away, there’s a good chance that you have been named executor of their estate, so it’s up to you to make certain all of their affairs are in order. Of course, you don’t have to go it alone and you can ask for the support of your friends and family, but as the executor, it ultimately comes down to you. So, how do you determine where to begin when handling a late loved one’s financial matters?
Step One: Gather Paperwork
First things first — gather important paperwork. You will need to have copies of the death certificate in order to access certain documents from institutions or companies, so make sure you at least have that as well as any executor of estate paperwork (naming you as executor). Also keep handy a copy of the deceased’s social security card and current driver’s license or state-issued identification.
You might find it useful to use a folder or binder for all the gathered paperwork. You will most likely be referencing back to it for the next few months and a little organization goes a long way. For good measure, designate a spot on your desk or in your home for this folder or binder. This way, you can direct your spouse, sibling, or other family member to its location in case you’re not available when a critical document is needed.
A checklist of important documents
Below is a list of documents you will need to have on hand:
- Certified copies of the death certificate
- Will and any executor of estate paperwork
- 401K, IRAs, mutual funds, pensions paperwork
- Most recent credit cards statements
- Any loan documents (student loans, car loans)
- Insurance policies (life, homeowner, health, disability, automobile)
- Most recent checking and savings account statements or account numbers (including CDs and money-market accounts)
- Last mortgage statement or name of mortgage company
- Last two years’ tax returns
- Marriage and birth certificates (of the deceased’s spouse and children)
- An up-to-date credit report of the deceased
- Photocopies of your loved one’s driver’s license or photo ID
- Copies of their social security card
Locating Important Documents
That list can seem daunting, and during this traumatic event it can be difficult to remember where everything is. So, here are some places to look for the needed paperwork:
- Wallet – check for photo ID, insurance cards, and credit cards
- Desk – be sure to check every drawer
- Filing cabinet – go through every folder
- Safe, safe boxes, safe deposit boxes – remember to look in them as well (most people will make copies of important documents and place them in there)
- Employer records – see if you can get copies of the deceased’s life insurance policy or retirement paperwork
- Ask parents – you’ll be surprised at how many parents still retain or are given important documents by their children for safe keeping
The Importance of Electronic Documentation:
In this day and age where much of our business is handled online and through emails, simply having a paper copy of the documents above might not be enough. We recommend scanning all of the documents above and saving them in a folder on your computer that you can access at any time when you’re on the phone with a lender, online service provider or ecommerce site. Having instant access to digital copies of your loved one’s paperwork will speed up the process on numerous account notifications, plus, digital folders are a lot harder to lose than a hard copy folder.
If you discover you are missing some information, ASK. Too often in times of shock and grief, we forget that things can be easier if we just ask. Very frequently, close friends, other family members and even a previous employer are all too happy to help ease the burden of dealing with a loved one’s death by helping you locate documents or giving you access to paperwork that you may not have originally had.
If you have questions during this process, you can always contact a CPA or an estate attorney for a consultation. They are well accustomed to helping clients manage estate-related issues and can likely help you find answers to keep you on track during this process.
Once you’ve gathered all the appropriate paperwork and documentation on your late loved one’s life, then the process of notifying government agencies and financial institutions of the deceased’s passing. Depending on how well your loved one had put their affairs in order before they passed away, this can be a fairly quick and easy process, or it could be one that takes several months and a lot of leg work.
Step Two: Notifications and Account Maintenance
The first people to notify are government institutions. Why? With identify theft and fraud being a very real concern, notifying government agencies first helps prevent having to deal with fraud issues later. You also need to know where to send mail or tax information, how to apply for military death benefits, or collect Social Security survivor’s death benefits (if eligible).
Contact Government Agencies
Here is a list of institutions to contact:
- Department of Motor Vehicles (you will need to look up and contact the local DMV office that issued the deceased’s state-issued ID)
- Department of Veteran Affairs 800-827-1000
- Social Security Administration 800-772-1213
- Internal Revenue Service 800-829-1040
- United States Postal Service 800-275-8777
Contact Financial Institutions
Next you need to gain access to financial accounts by contacting banking/financial institutions. In order to gain access to any of the banking and financial account, you will have to submit a copy of the death certificate, proof of executor status in the estate documentation, and additional documents as required by the financial institution. This applies to:
- Savings and checking accounts (including safe deposit boxes and online accounts)
- Investment or retirement accounts (stocks, mutual funds, 401Ks, IRAs, pension plans)
- Loans (mortgage, car, student, personal)
For anything that has to do with credit, you need to contact each individual creditor and credit reporting bureau to prevent fraud, resolve any outstanding balances, and close accounts. This includes:
- Credit card companies
- Business or department store creditors (Sears, Target, Macy’s)
- Credit reporting bureaus: Experian (888-397-3742), Equifax (888-766-0008), TransUnion (800-888-4213)
For utility or service providers, you have the option of either informing them using an online form or contacting them by phone:
- Utility companies ( gas, electric, water, sewage)
- Service companies (internet, cable, cell) *It is recommended that you DO NOT turn off cell service until you are able forward emails, contacts, and even record voice messages from your loved one’s smartphone.
We always recommend speaking directly to someone at all of these agencies as websites aren’t always user-friendly and a single call could save you lost time trying to find what you need online.
We also highly recommend speaking directly with a representative at the following types of agencies. This helps ensure that important paperwork gets forwarded to you and your call is documented in a timely fashion in their internal systems:
- Former or current employers (for important tax information like W2 or 1099)
- Insurance companies (life, health, car)
- Living arrangements (apartment, roommates, dorm)
While it is definitely easiest to talk to a live person in all of these cases, you want to make sure that you get confirmation of account closures or changes to the account in writing. Having documentation that you’ve handled this aspect of your loved one’s life will not only help you keep track of what you have finished and what accounts still remain open, but it is a nice bit of insurance in case one or more of the companies don’t follow through on the closures or changes to the account. When you have it in writing, they can’t refute your word.
Keeping Track of Communication
Of course, you’ll want to keep track of the people and places you’ve contacted. Here are tips to help you keep track of everything:
- Dedicate a spiral bound notebook to keep track of this process.
- For each institution you contact, write on the top of the page the name of the institution, contact information (phone numbers and email address) and mailing address.
- On each line, note the date you contacted them, who you spoke with, notes on what was discussed or what was needed, and special information (different phone number to call) and a confirmation number if applicable.
- Ask specifically how long it will take for them to respond to your request or confirm their records so you know when to follow up.
- Keep a running list on dates of contact or dates when you send out information. This will help you keep track and remember what you did and who you spoke to. When you call again, skip a line and write the information on another line. This will help keep your records clean and uncluttered.
- Keep this notebook with documents in its designated spot.
- Remember to write legibly and in pencil.
Do not be afraid to ask the person you speak with to repeat the information. If you encounter a situation in which you feel you are being given less than acceptable service, remind them that is a difficult process, that you have lost someone dear to you, and you would appreciate them being patient with you.
If you find yourself becoming flustered during a phone call, take a deep breath and let the person know you just need a moment to collect yourself. If you remind them you are in a difficult place, they will most likely understand. Take frequent breaks in between calls and emails. Be gentle with yourself and give yourself time to grieve as well.
You’ve made the phone calls and many of the necessary tasks are now in process. Hopefully, you’re finding time to breathe – and grieve – and not placing undue pressure on yourself to get everything done immediately. While it’s important to prioritize the resolution of a loved one’s financial life, it’s most important to take your time and move at your own pace in order to ensure that everything is managed in an orderly way.
Once you’ve gathered all of the proper documentation and notified the authorities in both the government and financial institutions, it’s time to begin the process of closing your loved one’s accounts. In this day of online enrollment for just about any service, this can be a fairly daunting task.
The Importance of Cell Phones:
It’s for this reason that we strongly recommend that you do not turn off service to your loved one’s cell phone until it’s absolutely necessary. If they have a smart phone, you’ll likely be able to access their email, social media account and several mobile billing apps as well. You’ll be able to access emails with information about bills that they may not get a paper copy for in the mail; you will also be able to reset passwords for online accounts when you can confirm the password request change through the email on their phone. You’ll also have access to voicemail, so that you can listen to and return any calls from business accounts, billing companies or friends that call to send their regards.
Step Three: Closing or Transferring Accounts
Chances are that your loved one enjoyed streaming their favorite TV show on their iPad or working out at their local gym. This part of the financial guide will help you to close or transfer those accounts. Keep in mind that you may need to have copies of the death certificate and proof of your executor rights in order to close or transfer some accounts.
Closing Media Subscriptions
For media subscriptions (magazines, newspapers, gaming memberships, Netflix), you can contact their membership/subscription department and request to cancel services. Typically, you can cancel services without issue, but they may request a copy of the death certificate. As stated earlier, this is when having digital copies of your loved one’s paperwork can come in handy.
If your loved one belonged to a gym, you will need to contact their customer service or accounts department and let them know directly. This will prevent any more monthly recurring charges from occurring. In most cases, you will need to provide the death certificate and fill out a form.
Closing Social Media/Email Accounts
Each social media platform (Facebook, Twitter) has policies and procedures on how to close an account or turn it into a memorial page. Email accounts may prove to be the most difficult. In most cases, email services providers (Yahoo, Gmail) will not release username and password information, so make sure you know those in advance. At the very least, do not shut down their cell service, so you can access any social media or email accounts they have linked to their smart phones.
For utilities (electric, water, gas, internet or cable), contact the service provider directly. They will need a copy of the death certificate, proof of your relationship or executor rights, and the account information. If the loved one was your spouse and you wish to continue the service, you need to transfer the primary holder name from your spouse to yourself. Most utility providers have a simple process for transferring the name on your services.
For cell phone service, do not turn cell service off until you forward emails, record messages, and take screenshots of any information you want to save. Most people have smart phones that are linked to social media accounts, email, and bill paying services. In fact, you may choose not to turn off service at all (and that’s okay).
Managing Tax Records
Benjamin Franklin said it best when he mused that nothing was certain except death and taxes. Unfortunately, life proves this to be true. Depending on the type of work your loved one did, you may receive a W2 or 1099 to file come tax time. To make sure you don’t have problems with the IRS, contact a trusted CPA or tax/estate attorney to handle any taxes your loved one might have owed. Make sure you hire someone who is sensitive to your situation and who will handle it in a professional and caring manner. Once those returns are complete, be sure to keep the tax returns in a safe place for reference.
Finally, keep most of these financial records for at least seven years (especially the tax returns). You can store them in a banker’s box or in a heavy-duty expanding accordion file.
Once you’ve closed your loved one’s accounts and taken care of paying off any outstanding debts, there are matters that don’t necessarily fall under their financial institutions, but they must be taken care of in order to cover the cost of the funeral and burial or cremation. Benefits such as social security death benefits and life insurance policies will help you carry the burden of these costs.
Step Four: Claiming Death Benefits
Filing an SSA Death Benefits Claim
If you are the spouse or child of the deceased, you may be eligible for SSA death benefits. The Social Security Administration provides $255 (at the time of this writing) as a special lump sum death payment. The average price for a funeral is $6,560 and the average cost of cremation is $3,725, so every little bit helps when paying for your loved one’s funeral. You must apply within two years of the date of death, and you need to contact your local SSA office to initiate the process. In some cases, as in the cases of the death of a parent with young children, Social Security benefits can be transferrable. It’s best to inquire directly with the Social Security Administration.
Filing a Life Insurance Claim
Next, you need to gather all the life insurance policies, contact the customer service phone number, and request their forms to submit your life insurance claim. You’ll definitely need a copy of the death certificate. If you are named the beneficiary, you may be asked to provide your own social security number along with a copy of your photo identification.
Getting Military Death Benefits
For those with loved ones who served the armed forces, our military death benefits guide can help you figure out which paperwork you need to file. As previously discussed, you need to make sure you keep these documents (along with all your other important paperwork) organized and in a safe place.
Be sure to pay off any final bills (such as their last electric bill or medical expenses incurred) with the money received from your loved one’s estate. Keep an organized record of all the receipts and final payment confirmations.
During this process, it’s very important to remember to take things at your own pace. We’ve created this document to help you get and stay organized and to give you a starting point when it comes to handling your loved one’s final affairs. You’re not in this alone. You have many people that love you and would be more than willing to help you with the aspects of this death that they are able to handle for you.
When a loved one dies, we understand that the sudden mountain of paperwork that gets placed squarely in your lap can be utterly overwhelming, but if you try and break it down into these steps, we think that you’ll find the entire process to be much more manageable.
Ensuring that you have all the necessary documentation (especially the certificate of death, state issue ID and social security card) both as a hard copy and a digital file as stored in one place will help to speed along the process of notifying the appropriate government and financial institutions of your loved one’s death. The same paperwork will also come in handy when you’re working to close all of the various accounts that they had, whether they were subscriptions, monthly memberships or annual dues. Finally, when filing claims for death benefits or life insurance, you will need to provide much of the same paperwork as you did when you were closing accounts.
Death is never easy. It is, however, an unfortunate part of life. We hope that this guide helps you find some semblance of peace during this otherwise chaotic time in life.
Une Belle Vie Contact Information
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