Upon the death of a loved one, great emotional sadness sets in as family and friends support each other during this time of loss. After finding a firm emotional foundation, it is time to address the task of administering the estate set up by the deceased.
Included below is a brief list of the actions which you or your Personal Representative and Trustee should take immediately upon death. (Many of these actions may similarly be required in the event of incapacity). This is not intended as an exhaustive or detailed explanation of all actions which should be taken. Rather, it is for use as a checklist to help the appointed representatives step in and handle as expeditiously as possible those items which demand immediate attention.
- Consider advising any surviving family member who is alone to telephone a friend who can share the next few hours. Shock and trauma due to the death of a relative can take unexpected forms.
- Notify a funeral director and clergy, and make an appointment to discuss funeral arrangements. For our clients, consult the “Location List” and the “Estate Planning Letter” sections in your Portfolio for the names and phone numbers of the appropriate parties and any special requests of the decedent. Request several copies of decedent’s death certificate, which you’ll need for his or her employer, life insurance companies, and/or decedent’s attorney for legal procedures.
- Contact by phone and notify the immediate family, close friends, business colleagues and employer (for our clients, see “Location List” section for persons to contact).
- Arrange for care for members of the immediate family, including appropriate child care, having people at the decedent’s house, etc.
- Locate the decedent’s important papers. For our clients, consult the “Location List” section in your Portfolio. Gather as many of the decedent’s papers as possible, and continue to do so for the next few weeks.
- Contact our office for your consultation or notify the attorney who will be handling the decedent’s affairs. Make an appointment immediately because a tax return may be due within nine (9) months of death. This meeting is important to review decedent’s estate planning documents and to discuss state and federal death taxes that may be payable. The attorney will also determine the extent to which it is necessary or advisable to open a probate estate. (In the event of incapacity, the attorney may suggest additional steps which should be taken for estate planning purposes, particularly if death is imminent.)
- Once you have talked to an attorney, then you can telephone decedent’s employee benefits office with the following information: name, Social Security number, date of death (or incapacity); whether the death (or incapacity) was due to accident or illness; and your name and address. Do not claim any benefits until you have consulted with an attorney.
- If decedent was eligible for Medicare, notify the local program office and provide the same information as in Step # 7.
- Once you have talked to an attorney, then you can notify life, accident or disability insurers of decedent’s death or disability. Give the same information as in Step # 7, and ask what further information is needed to begin processing your claim. Do not claim any benefits until you have consulted with an attorney.
- Notify the decedent’s Social Security office of the death. Claims may be expedited if a surviving family member goes in person to the nearest office to investigate making a claim for survivor’s benefits. Look for the address under U.S. Government in the phone book.
- If decedent was ever in the military service, notify the Veterans’ Administration. Surviving relatives may be eligible for death or disability benefits.
- Record in a small ledger all money you or the immediate family spends. These figures may be needed for tax returns.
- Remember that a surviving family member may be in a highly emotional state. Therefore, they should avoid entering contracts for anything, and avoid spending or lending large sums of money. For our clients, consult the section of the Portfolio entitled “Other Documents” before proceeding further.
- DO NOT CHANGE THE TITLE OF ANY ASSETS! This can create unnecessary problems for you. Please contact our office for a consultation before starting this process.