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After the Funeral

After the Funeral

 

Immediate Need

 

  • Handle care of dependents and pets.
  • Call the person’s employer, if he or she was working. Request info about benefits and any pay due. Ask whether there was a life-insurance policy through the company.
  • Ask a friend or relative to keep an eye on the person’s home, answer the phone, collect mail, throw food out, and water plants.
  • Obtain death certificates (usually from the funeral home). Get multiple copies; you’ll need them for financial institutions, government agencies, and insurers.
    • Take the will to the appropriate county or city office to have it accepted for probate.
    • If necessary, the estate’s executor should open a bank account for the deceased’s estate.



To Do After the Funeral

 

Get duplicate death certificates. You may need a dozen certified death records to complete upcoming tasks, though some will require less expensive copies. Your funeral director may help you handle this or you can order them from the vital statistics office in the state where the death occurred or from the city hall or other local records office. Each certified record will cost approximately $12 to $20.



Obtain Letters Testamentary or Letters of Administration

 

Before you can reach out to institutions that a deceased person was doing business with, you'll have to provide those companies with proof that you have a right to wrap up the deceased's financial affairs.

The proof you need is in the form of documents called letters testamentary, or letters of administration.

If you retain an attorney (more info on that below), he or she can secure these documents for you and help you navigate probate court, among other things. For those who decide to go it alone, here's how you get the letters testamentary.

If the person who passed away had a will and you are the executor of the estate, you can obtain letters testamentary from the local courthouse or city hall in the county where the deceased was living when he or she died.

You must take the official will to the court, along with a certified death certificate, and file a probate petition.

Once the court opens a probate file and validates the will, it gives you the authority (via the letters testamentary) to carry out the duties required to settle the estate and act on behalf of the deceased, in accordance with the person's will. (As with death certificates, be sure to get multiple certified copies of letters testamentary).

If no will was left behind, the court can issue letters of administration to a surviving spouse or next of kin after a death certificate has been supplied. In this instance, the person to whom letters of administration are issued is deemed the administrator of the estate.

Send thank-you notes. From the contact list that you acquired earlier, send thank-you notes and acknowledgements. Consider delegating this task to a family member.



Most of the below listed will need an original or copy of the Death Certificate to complete these tasks:

 

Notify local Social Security office. Typically the funeral director will notify Social Security of your loved one's death. If not, call 1-800-772-1213 or contact your local office. If your loved one was receiving benefits, they must stop because overpayments will require complicated repayment. Even a payment received for the month of death may need to be returned. If the deceased has a surviving spouse or dependents, ask about their eligibility for increased personal benefits and about a one-time payment of $255 to the survivor.

Handle Medicare. If your loved one received Medicare, Social Security will inform the program of the death. If the deceased had been enrolled in Medicare Prescription Drug Coverage (Part D), Medicare Advantage plan or had a Medigap policy, contact these plans at the phone numbers provided on each plan membership card to cancel the insurance.

Look into employment benefits. If the deceased was working, contact the employer for information about pension plan, credit unions and union death benefits. You will need a death certificate for each claim.

Stop health insurance. Notify the health insurance company or the deceased's employer. End coverage for the deceased, but be sure coverage for any dependents continues if needed.

Notify life insurance companies. If your loved one had life insurance, appropriate claim forms will need to be filed. You will need to provide the policy numbers and a death certificate. If the deceased was listed as a beneficiary on a policy, arrange to have the name removed.

Terminate other insurance policies. Contact the providers. That could include homeowner's, automobile and so forth. Claim forms will require a copy of the death certificate.

Make a list of important bills (mortgage payments). Share the list with the executor or estate administrator so that bills can be paid promptly.

Contact financial advisers, stockbrokers, etc. Determine the beneficiary listed on these accounts. Depending on the type of asset, the beneficiary may get access to the account or benefit by simply filling out appropriate forms and providing a copy of the death certificate. If that's the case, the executor wouldn't need to be involved. If there are complications, the executor could be called upon to help out.

Notify mortgage companies and banks. It helps if your loved one left a list of accounts, including online passwords. Take a death certificate to the bank for assistance. Change ownership of joint bank accounts. Did the deceased have a safe deposit box? If a password or key isn't available, the executor would most likely need a court order to open and inventory the safe deposit box. Most probate courts have administrative rules about steps to access the box of any decedent.

Close credit card accounts. For each account, call the customer service phone number on the credit card, monthly statement or issuer's website. Let the agent know that you would like to close the account of a deceased relative. Upon request, submit a copy of the death certificate by fax or email. If that's not possible, send the document by registered mail with return receipt requested. Once the company receives the certificate, it will close the account as of the date of death. If an agent doesn't offer to waive interest or fees after that date, be sure to ask. Keep records of the accounts you close and notify the executor of the estate about outstanding debts.

Notify credit reporting agencies. To minimize the chance of identity theft, provide copies of the death certificate to the three major firms — Equifax, Experian and TransUnion — as soon as possible so the account is flagged. Four to six weeks later, check the deceased's credit history to ensure no fraudulent accounts have been opened.

Cancel driver's license. Clearing the driver's license record will remove the deceased's name from the records of the department of motor vehicles and help prevent identity theft. Contact the state department of motor vehicle for exact instructions. You may have to visit a customer-service center or mail documentation. Either way, you'll need a copy of the death certificate.

Cancel email and website accounts. It's a good idea to close social media and other online accounts to avoid fraud or identity theft. The procedures for each website will vary. For instance, Google Mail (Gmail) will ask you to provide a death certificate, a photocopy of your driver's license and other detailed information.

Cancel memberships in organizations. Reach out to sororities, fraternities, professional organizations, etc., the deceased belonged to and find out how to handle his/her membership status. Greek organizations may want to hold a special ceremony for your loved one.

Contact a tax preparer. A return will need to be filed for the individual, as well as for an estate return. Keep monthly bank statements on all individual and joint accounts that show the account balance on the day of death.

Notify the election board. According to a 2012 Pew Center report, almost 2 million people on voter registration rolls are dead.



Things to consider

 

Veterans’ Benefits
Call the Office of Veterans Affairs at 1-800-827-1000 to find the office nearest you. Benefits to a spouse and heirs may include pension payments and financial aid for education costs.


Safe Deposit Box
Determine whether or not decedent had a safe deposit box by contacting the banks where decedent had accounts. If you determine that the decedent had a safe deposit box, you will need to find the keys.


Estate Planning Documents
Find the will, all trusts, and any other estate planning documents. Usually these are kept in a safe deposit box (see above), in a home safe, or otherwise amongst the decedent’s important papers including insurance policies, contracts, bank statements, deeds, auto registration, etc.


✅ Inventory Assets
Ascertain the existence of the decedent’s assets and inventory them including the following:

  • Bank accounts
  • Stocks and bonds
  • Life Insurance policies
  • Retirement funds: IRA accounts, Annuities, 401K, Pension, and Profit Sharing
  • Real estate
  • Household goods, furniture and personal belongings as well as antiques, silver, jewelry, furs, stamp collections, or coin collections.
  • Business interests – determine whether decedent owned an interest in any business.


Receivables and Death Benefits
Investigate other benefits that may be available to the estate, including: social security and veterans’ benefits (see above), union death benefits, employee benefits such as accrued vacation pay, final wages, employee death benefits, reimbursements, refunds on insurance, canceled subscriptions, professional and trade associations, fraternity/sorority, school alumni, and automobile clubs. Unfortunately, government, employment, and membership organization benefits do not come automatically. You must apply for them within their timeframes.


Liabilities and Creditors
Ascertain the existence of the decedent’s liabilities and list them including the following: Mortgages, Other secured obligations, Current household bills, Expenses of last illness, and Funeral expenses, etc. IMPORTANT: Discuss any payments you make from or for the estate with an attorney. Considerable liability for the personal representative could result if these payments are not handled properly. Also, beware of swindlers who send phony bills and overcharge for services.


Proof of Payment of Expenses by Family and Executors
Be sure to get and keep bills, invoices, receipts, and canceled checks for payments of any and all expenses. The personal representative appointed will need to supply the probate court with proof of payment.


Papers and Mail of Decedent
Do not throw out any documents such as life insurance policies and certificates, even if the policyholder stopped paying premiums. The policy may still be in force. In addition, mail and letters may be needed to prove payment or ownership of assets later.


Protect Assets

  1. Be sure and keep the insurance going on the home and on any personal property so that these assets will be protected during the probate period.
  2. Secure valuable tangible property. This means anything you can touch, such as silverware, dishes, furniture, art work, etc. If property is passed around to family members before you have the opportunity to take an inventory, this will become a difficult, if not impossible, task. Also, there may have been specific provision for items of tangible property in the will.
  3. Have someone watch your home (and the decedent’s home) during services. Sadly, burglars have been known to read obituaries to find out when no one will be home.


Clip obituary notices
Some insurance companies require a dated newspaper announcement in order to process claims.


Taxes
There will be tax concerns including filing requirements, communicating with federal and state tax authorities, and observing deadlines. Due to the extensive subject matter, please consult an estates attorney for more information. However, certain relevant tax returns are:

  • Decedent’s Final Income Tax Return
  • Gift Tax Returns
  • Federal Estate Tax Return
  • Generation-skipping Transfer Tax Returns
  • State Inheritance and Estate Tax Returns
  • Fiduciary Tax Returns


Minor Children
If other parent of decedent’s children has died as well, and there are minor children, a guardian is usually nominated in the will. A guardianship is required for minor children who would be receiving cash and/or valuable property in accordance with the decedent’s will. Always check the will as to whom the decedent named as guardian and custodian for the minor children. This mainly applies to those situations where both the mother and father have died and the children are under 18 years of age.


Do not miss Deadlines
Upon the death of a person, the clock begins ticking on certain important legal deadlines imposed on family members, fiduciaries, and beneficiaries by federal and state authorities. For example, you should contact Social Security and the Veterans Administration right away because a delay in applying can result in the loss of some benefits.


Consult with an Attorney
An attorney will help you determine if probate is necessary, and if so, what type of probate is necessary in order to handle estate obligations, transfer the assets of the decedent to the persons named in the decedent’s will or trust, or the decedent’s legal heirs. The attorney will take the first steps to initiate the probate process with the filing of the necessary court papers.

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