Steps to Take After the Death of a Loved One

Death and Taxes. We all know they are both inevitable, but as a society, we only talk about one. We prepare months in advance for the annual income tax filing deadline. We hire accountants, make charitable gifts and file extensions. We even talk to our children and students about tax withholdings in preparation for their first jobs. Why don’t we put the same effort into death?

We don’t share our experiences of the death of a loved one with others in hopes they can learn from us. We don’t have reporters reminding us of the importance of documentation when opening an estate. Most of us don’t even ask our parents or friends what type of funeral service they want. It is high time we change all that. Death happens. It may be a little easier to get through the administrative aspects if we are prepared. This guide includes a timeline of tasks that need to be handled when someone you care about dies.

Actions to be taken before death, if possible:

First and foremost, notify immediate family and friends. Let them use the phone tree and spread the word. You may also need to arrange care for pets, dependent children, and the surviving spouse. Preparing an obituary is morose, but it is also a great time to reflect on the life of your loved one. You can also preplan funeral and burial/cremation arrangements.

Actions to be taken in the first few days after death:

If the death is sudden or your loved one did not want to think about anything ahead of time, you may be scrambling to get those earlier tasks accomplished now. Attending the funeral can provide a space for grieving as well as celebrating your loved one’s life. You need to keep all receipts, as there may be reimbursements available from life insurance, the VA, or the estate. Secure an unoccupied residence, cancel home deliveries, and notify the Post Office to change mailing address or to hold mail.

Actions to be taken after you receive the death certificate:

It can take up to a couple weeks to get the death certificate. You will want to order several copies, because you will need these to close accounts. While you are waiting you will want to notify the Social Security Administration and any other providers of income or benefits including the Veteran’s Administration and any Pension providers.  Finally it is time to locate the original Will. Make a list of the contents of safe deposit box – at least 2 people should be at box opening. Notify Life Insurance Companies, Financial Planner/Broker,  and Medical Insurance Company about the death. You also need to notify regular insurance agent about fire, theft, and public liability insurance policies.

Actions to be taken when you are ready:

There is a time limit for some proceedings, but for the most part you have several months before you need to review and analyze the Will and/or Trust with an attorney. This is also a good time to update your estate planning documents to remove any deceased agents or beneficiaries. You should also transfer title of joint tenancy assets to remove the deceased. You may need to file for Probate and appointment of Personal Representative if there are assets in the estate. You should work with an accountant to prepare final tax returns.