Things Which May Need Attention After A Loved One Dies

NOTE: This list is not all-inclusive, and each situation is unique. This is not intended to replace the guidance of an attorney or financial planner. If you have questions or need additional information, please contact a source related to your particular need: Social Security office, financial advisor, insurance company, or attorney.

  • The first thing that is suggested to survivors is to be sure to ask the funeral home for an appropriate amount of death certificates. If you need more later, there will be an additional charge. As a rule of thumb, usually 10-20 death certificates will suffice depending on whether the person had multiple bank accounts, stocks, bonds, etc. Anything that is titled such as homes, land, vehicles, etc. will require a certified death certificate to change the name on the title. You can also obtain additional copies later online at: vitalrec.com/tx.html or at your city hall.
  • The funeral home will notify the Social Security Office of the person’s death. If there is a remaining spouse or child under the age of 18, they’re entitled to a one-time death benefit. The funeral home will generally take assignment of a life insurance policy at the time of death so that the family doesn’t have to pay the funeral home for arrangements. The balance remaining will be refunded to the family. If there are multiple life insurance policies, the funeral home will normally assist you in getting those funds to you as well.
  • Birth certificates for the deceased and any dependent children will need to be located and provided to the Social Security Office. Copies are available at either the state or county public records offices where the person was born.
  • The funeral home should be able to help with letters the family needs written (ie: Medicaid Estate Recovery Program, insurance companies, etc.) They will also notify Vital Statistics of the person’s death.
  • Once the death certificate is received, if there is a will that needs to be probated, you may want to start that process since it can take up to 6 months or longer. Any banks, credit card companies with a balance and credit life on them, insurance companies, etc. will also need to be notified and will require a certified death certificate.
  • The Power of Attorney (POA) is null and void once the person has died. The will automatically replaces the POA and the administrator of the will, will have access to the deceased’s property. If there is no will, surviving children will need to complete letters of testamentary stating there are no other heirs.
  • Probate is the process of paying the deceased’s debts and distributing the estate to the rightful beneficiaries. This process begins with the court appointing someone to administer the estate. The will usually nominates the “executor.” If there is no will, the court will appoint a “personal representative,” usually a spouse or relative. This representative will need to pay a filing fee, inform interested parties, especially creditors, that the estate is being probated, make an inventory of assets, and dispose of the estate according to the will or state laws.

Depending on the size and complexity of the estate, legal assistance may be required. The probate estate does not include property where the deceased and someone else are listed as joint owners. Proceeds from a life insurance policy or individual retirement account (IRA), which are paid directly to a beneficiary, are also not subject to probate.

  • You will need a complete list of all property the deceased owned, including real estate, stocks, bonds, saving accounts, and personal property of the deceased. Land titles, stocks, certificates of deposit, and other financial papers may be stored in a safe deposit box or other secure contacting place.
  • If the person who died was a veteran, there is a one-time death benefit. They are also entitled to a headstone for their gravesite. If the veteran had a service-related disability, they may receive a higher one-time death benefit. If your loved one was a veteran, you may be able to get assistance with the funeral, burial plot, or other benefits. For information on benefits call the Veterans Administration at 1-800-827-1000. Also, the number for your local Veterans Agency is usually listed under Town Offices or under Federal Offices. A copy of a certificate or honorable (or other than dishonorable) discharge if the deceased was a veteran will need to be obtained if you don’t have one. You can either call the above phone # or write to National Personnel Record Center, 9700 Page Blvd., St. Louis, MO 63132-5200 branch of service for which your spouse served, if you cannot find a copy of the discharge.
  • In most cases these can be obtained from Massachusetts War Records, 617-727-2964. If your loved one was receiving Social Security benefits, notify your local Social Security office of the death, since these benefits will stop. Overpayments will result in a difficult process of repayment.  If you are a surviving spouse, ask about your eligibility for increased benefits. Also, check on benefits that any minor children may be entitled to receive. Be sure to have the social security numbers of the deceased, the spouse, and any dependent children. The Social Security number for the deceased can be found on the death certificate and old tax returns.
  • Contact the Health Insurance Company or employer regarding terminating coverage for the deceased while continuing coverage for others covered through the policy.
  • Either you or the funeral home can contact the insurance companies for all life insurance policies. You will need to provide the policy number and a certified copy of the death certificate and fill out a claim form.  If the deceased is listed as the beneficiary on any other policy, arrange to have the name replaced.
  • The deceased may have had several types of insurance policies. These could include: life insurance, mortgage or loan insurance, accident insurance, auto insurance, credit card insurance or insurance provided by the deceased’s employer.
  • If the deceased was working or retired, contact the employer for information on pension plans, credit unions and union death benefits. You will need a certified copy of the death certificate for each claim.
  • Return credit cards of the deceased with a certified copy of the death certificate, or notify the credit card company if you, as the survivor, want to retain use of the card.
  • Seek the advice of an accountant or tax advisor about filing the deceased’s tax return for the year of the death. Keep monthly bank statements on all individual and joint accounts that show the account balance on the day of death since you will need this information for the estate tax return.
  • The death of your spouse may cause significant changes in your financial circumstances. Here are some steps that should be considered to determine whether you should modify your own financial affairs.
  • A marriage certificate will be needed if the surviving spouse will be applying for benefits. Copies are available at the county clerk’s office where the marriage license was issued if you need to get one.
    1. You may need to consider whether the beneficiaries you have named on your own life insurance policies need to be changed now that your spouse has died. You should also consider if you need the same amount of life insurance and review your auto and home insurance policies for any necessary changes. If your medical insurance was provided by our spouse’s employer, you and any dependent children can continue to receive coverage for up to 36 months, provided you pay the premiums. Contact the company issuing the policy for more information or you may need to purchase your own medical insurance.
    2. In most states, if a safe deposit box was rented in only the name of the deceased, you will need to get a court order to open the box.  You may be limited in what you can take out of the box until after the will has been probated or an executor named.
    3. Your will may have passed property to your spouse. If so, it should be updated. Contact your attorney for assistance.
    4. The spouse of the deceased may file jointly for the year of the death. A spouse with dependent children may file jointly for two additional years. The IRS offers a booklet, publication #559, Information for Survivors, Executors and Administrators, which may be helpful. You can obtain this booklet by contacting your local IRS office. The phone number is listed under IRS in the government section of your directory
  • A marriage certificate will be needed if the surviving spouse will be applying for benefits. Copies are available at the county clerk’s office where the marriage license was issued if you need to get one.
  • Arrange to change any joint bank accounts into your name. If the deceased’s estate is in trust, check with the Trust Department or Customer Service at the bank.
  • If the deceased owned a car, transfer the automobile title into your name at the Secretary of State’s Office, or if the estate is probated, through Probate Court.
  • Arrange to change stocks and bonds into your name. Your bank or stockbroker will have the forms.
  • Make sure that important bills, such as mortgage payments, continue to be paid.

Documents you may need to complete the tasks:

  • Death certificates (10-20 certified copies)
  • Social Security Card
  • Marriage Certificate
  • Birth Certificate
  • Birth Certificate for each child, if applicable
  • Insurance policies
  • Deed and titles to property
  • Stock certificates
  • Bank books
  • Honorable Discharge Papers for a Veteran and/or V.A. claim number
  • Recent income tax forms and W-2 forms
  • Automobile title and registration papers
  • Loan and installment payment books and/or contracts

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