Losing a loved one is an incredibly emotional and challenging experience. Amidst the grief, there is a mountain of practical tasks and paperwork that must be managed. Bio-One can help with cleaning your loved one’s home and securing their belongings, but there are a number tasks the family must tend to close out your loved ones life.
The process of closing out a person's life can take months, even years, to complete. In this guide, we'll walk you through the essential steps to navigate this intricate journey.
**Immediate Actions After a Loved One's Passing**
- Get a legal pronouncement of death: This is a critical first step in obtaining a death certificate, which is essential for many legal and financial matters. if your relative died at home, especially if the death was unexpected, you’ll need to get a medical professional to declare them dead. To do this, call 911 soon after your loved one passes and have them transported to an emergency room, where they can be declared dead and moved to a funeral home. If your family member died at home under hospice care, a hospice nurse can declare them dead. Without a declaration of death, you can’t plan a funeral, much less handle the deceased’s legal affairs.
- Learn about existing funeral and burial plans: If your loved one had specific wishes, it's essential to honor them. Otherwise, discuss funeral and memorial plans with family to make informed decisions.
- Secure the property: Protect your loved one's home and belongings to prevent theft or damage during this vulnerable time.
- Provide care for pets: Ensure that your loved one's pets are cared for until a permanent plan is in place.
**Within a Few Days of Death**
- Make funeral, burial, or cremation arrangements: Seek assistance from a funeral home and explore any available benefits, especially for veterans or members of organizations. If the person was in the military or belonged to a fraternal or religious group, contact the Veterans Administration or the specific organization to see if it offers burial benefits or funeral services. Benefits for veterans may include a military salute at the funeral or payment for a headstone or its engraving.
- Notify friends, family, and the employer: Informing people about the passing is not only a way to share the news but also to ensure that work-related matters are handled properly.
- Forward mail: Redirecting mail not only prevents property vulnerability but also helps identify necessary subscriptions, creditors, and accounts to be canceled or paid.
**Two Weeks After Death**
- Secure certified copies of death certificates: Get up to 10 copies of the death certificate. You’ll need death certificates to close bank and brokerage accounts, file insurance claims and register the death with government agencies, among other things. The funeral home you’re working with can get copies on your behalf, or you can order them from the vital statistics office in the state in which the person died.
- Find the will and the executor: Locate the will and determine who will manage the estate's settlement, often known as the executor or personal agent.
- Meet with a trusts and estates attorney: While not always required, having an attorney can simplify the process, especially for larger estates.
- Contact a CPA: If your loved one had an accountant, or even if not, it's crucial to handle tax matters correctly.
- Take the will to probate: The probate process ensures debts are paid and assets are distributed according to the will.
- Make an inventory of all assets: List all assets, from bank accounts to personal property, to facilitate the settlement process.
- Track down additional assets: Sometimes assets can be challenging to locate, so be thorough in your search. Comb your family member’s tax returns, mail, email, brokerage and bank accounts, deeds and titles to find assets. Don’t leave any safe-deposit box or filing cabinet unopened.
- Make a list of bills: Ensure that necessary expenses like mortgage, taxes, and utilities are paid during the settlement process.
- Cancel no-longer-needed digital services: Cease services like cell phone plans and streaming subscriptions.
- Decide what to do with the passport: Determine whether to keep it as a memento, return it officially, or destroy it.
- Notify relevant parties:
- The Social Security Administration (SSA): If the deceased was receiving Social Security benefits, you need to stop the checks. Some family members may be eligible for death benefits from Social Security. Generally, funeral directors report deaths to the Social Security Administration, but ultimately, it’s the survivors’ responsibility to ensure the SSA is informed. Call the SSA at 1-800-772-1213 to report the death, or visit your local SSA office. The SSA will let Medicare know that your loved one died.
- Life insurance companies: You’ll need an original death certificate and policy numbers to make claims on any policies the deceased had.
- Long-term care (LTC) insurance companies: If your loved one had LTC insurance, regardless of whether they were receiving benefits, you’ll need to notify the insurer of the death.
- Banks, financial institutions: If you share a joint account with your deceased loved one, you’ll need to notify the bank that they’ve died. Most bank accounts carry automatic rights of survivorship, which means if your name is on the account, you have full access to the funds when your loved one dies. You become the sole owner on the date of your relative’s death. Most banks will require a death certificate to remove the relative from the account. If the deceased person was the sole owner of a bank account, the bank will release funds to the person named as beneficiary once it learns of the account holder’s death. Many banks let their customers name a beneficiary or set the account as Payable on Death (POD) or Transferable on Death (TOD) to another person. You’ll need to show the bank a death certificate to get the funds released. If the owner of the account didn’t name a beneficiary or POD, things get more complicated. The executor will be responsible for getting the funds to repay creditors, pay bills and divide funds according to the dead person’s will. You may need to open a special “estate of (the deceased’s name)” account for any income received after death.
- Financial advisers, stockbrokers: Determine the beneficiary listed on accounts. Depending on the type of asset, the beneficiary may get access to the account or benefit simply by filling out appropriate forms and providing a copy of the death certificate (no executor needed). While access to the money is straightforward, there are tax consequences to keep in mind. You will be responsible for paying any taxes earned by the account once your loved one dies. Keep in mind, the tax burden could be significant on a well-funded investment account.
- Credit agencies: To prevent identity theft, send copies of the death certificate to one of the three major credit bureaus: Equifax, Experian or TransUnion. You only need to tell one of them, and it will tell the others.
- Cancel the driver's license: Remove the deceased's name from records to prevent identity theft.
- Close or update credit card accounts: Handle credit card accounts to avoid any misuse.
- Terminate insurance policies: End coverage for home, auto, and health insurance policies.
- Delete or memorialize social media accounts: Decide whether to delete or create memorial accounts on social media platforms.
- Close email accounts: Prevent identity theft by closing the deceased's email accounts.
- Update voter registration: Notify relevant authorities to remove the deceased from voter registration rolls.
Handling these practical tasks can be overwhelming but remember that you don't have to go through this process alone. Reach out to friends, family, and professionals like Bio-One for support. And above all, take the time you need to grieve and heal.
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