So Many Decisions – Where to Start and Next Steps
Losing a loved one is an extraordinarily difficult experience. Yet, during this time, you must complete a variety of tasks and make important financial decisions. You may need to make final arrangements, notify various businesses and government agencies, settle the individual’s estate, and provide for your own financial security. The following checklist may help guide you through the matters that must be attended to upon the death of a family member.
Note: Some of the following tasks may have to be completed by the estate’s executor/executrix.
- Arrange your loved one’s funeral, burial or cremation, and memorial service.
- Notify family and friends of the final arrangements.
- If your loved one served in the military, contact the Veterans Administration to see what type of burial assistance may be available. The following website shows burial benefits for veterans: https://www.benefits.va.gov/compensation/claims-special-burial.asp
- Alert your loved one’s place of work, union, and professional organizations, and any organizations where he or she may have volunteered.
- Contact your own employer and arrange for bereavement leave.
- Obtain certified copies of the death certificate. The family doctor or medical examiner should provide you with the death certificate within 24 hours of the death. The funeral home should complete the form and file it with the state. Get several certified copies (photocopies may not be accepted) –you will need them when applying for benefits and settling the estate. It is recommended to request 10-15 certified copies of the death certificate to start with, you can order more in the future if you need them.
- Review your family member’s financial affairs, and look for estate planning documents, such as a will and trusts, and other relevant documents, such as deeds and titles. Also locate any marriage certificate, birth or adoption certificates of children, and military discharge papers, which you may need to apply for benefits. These documents may be found in a safe-deposit box, or the decedent’s attorney may have copies.
- Report your loved one’s death to Social Security. You will be eligible for a $255 lump-sum death benefit as well as survivor’s benefits. You can begin filing for these benefits at ssa.gov
- Make a list of your loved one’s assets. Put safeguards in place to protect any property. Make sure mortgage and insurance payments continue to be made while the estate is being settled.
- Arrange to retrieve your loved one’s belongings from his or her workplace. Collect any salary, vacation, or sick pay owed to your loved one, and be sure to ask about continuing health insurance coverage and potential survivor’s benefits for a spouse or children. Unions and professional organizations may also offer death benefits.
- Contact past employers regarding pension plans and contact any IRA custodians or trustees. Review designated beneficiaries and post-death distribution options.
- Locate insurance policies. The policies could include individual and group life insurance, mortgage insurance, auto credit life insurance, accidental death and dismemberment, credit card insurance, and annuities. Contact all insurance companies to file claims. If a life insurance claim is filed, a Form 712 should be requested from the life insurance company.
- Contact all credit card companies and let them know of the death. Cancel all cards unless you are named on the account and wish to retain the card. Do not close any accounts until any possible probate process has been completed.
- Re-title jointly held assets, such as bank accounts, automobiles, stocks and bonds, and real estate. Your estate attorney can assist with this.
- Consult your loved one’s letter of instructions/digital estate (if they created them) for contacts to be followed up with.
Do not be hasty when settling your loved one’s estate. Important decisions need to be made regarding distributions, which must be made in compliance with the will and applicable laws. Seek an experienced estate planning attorney for advice. You may also want to consult with www.funerals.org for some helpful information about funerals, burials, and memorial services.
Within 3 to 9 Months Following Passing
- If your loved one left a Will, the Executor will file the Will with the local probate court and complete additional documents in order to qualify and officially be appointed as the Executor. The Executor’s job is to collect assets that were in the decedent’s individual name, pay debts and expenses, and distribute the assets per the terms of the Will.
- Within one month of the Executor receiving the letters of testamentary, he or she must then publish a Notice to Creditors in the newspaper of the county in which the letters of testamentary or administration were issued. The executor must also file proof of the notice with the court. Please note that this public notification process is not sufficient for creditors that are known or should be known (i.e., possible final medical bills, etc…). The executor must give known creditors direct notice within two months of receiving the appointment.
- Within 60 days of the date that the Will is probated, the executor must give notice to all beneficiaries named in the will. The executor must then file an affidavit with the court that affirms that notification was given. The executor has 90 days to file the affidavit of notification.
- The Executor will need to file an accounting at least once a year and at the conclusion of the probate process. The accounting will show all income coming into the probate estate (such as, interest, dividends, refunds), all expenses paid from the probate estate and the distribution of all assets per the terms of the Will. For the assets we manage, we can likely generate a custom report in our portal to cover this requirement.
- If your loved one had a trust prepared, there will be a trustee. A trustee has a job similar to the Executor in that the Trustee will collect assets owned by the Trust and delivered to the Trustee from the Executor, pay debts and expenses, and distribute the assets per the terms of the Trust. However, the Trustee is not subject to the following requirements that the Executor is through the formal probate process.
- It is recommended that a federal estate tax return be filed. This is a requirement if the decedent’s assets exceed $11.7M; however, even if the decedent’s assets were under that amount, there are benefits that can be carried over to a surviving spouse – if your loved one was married – with an election made on the estate tax return. Normally the estate tax return is due within 9 months of death and a 6-month extension is permitted. If your loved one was a resident of a state that had state specific estate taxes, then additional tax forms may need to be filed. There are no state estate taxes in Texas, so if your loved one is a residence of Texas, a state estate tax return need not be filed. This does not exempt your loved one’s estate from the federal estate tax mentioned above though.
- The income taxes will still need to be filed in the year that they pass. All income up to the date of death will need to be reported and the appropriate tax return will need to be filed. Consult with your CPA regarding how the filing will be done.
- For the estate/trust administration, the following information will be needed:
- Copies of all bank and investment statements covering the decedent’s date of death for individual and joint assets. For joint accounts, a copy of the bank signature card is required.
- Copies of all vehicle and boat titles with additional information (mileage, etc…) in order to allow a valuation to be made. If any of these items will be sold shortly after death, the sales price can be used.
- Fair Market Value appraisals should be made of all real estate as of your loved one’s date of passing unless the real estate will be sold within a reasonable time frame.
- Fair Market Value appraisals should be obtained for all closely held business interests as of the decedent’s date of death unless such interests will be shortly liquidated.
- All insurances (house and car) and household bills in your loved one’s name should be transferred into a spouse’s name if the deceased was married.
- All subscriptions or insurances in your loved one’s name should be cancelled. If there are refunds received in his or her name, those checks should be deposited into the estate account.
- If the decedent had a storage unit, speak to the managing body to understand whether the individual had given you access to the unit. If you wish to keep using the unit, switch the billing information to your new financial information to ensure the building and its contents remain untouched. If the storage unit and its contents have been addressed in the decedent’s will, disregard these instructions.
WITHIN 9 TO 12 MONTHS FOLLOWING PASSING
- Update your own estate plan if your loved one was a beneficiary or appointed as an agent, trustee, or guardian.
- Update beneficiary designations on your retirement plans, including IRAs, and transfer-on-death accounts on which the decedent was named beneficiary.
- Reevaluate your budget, and short-term and long-term finances.
- Reevaluate your insurance needs, and update beneficiary designations on insurance policies on which the decedent was the named beneficiary.
- Reevaluate investment options. Consider adjusting any accounts that will be managed on behalf of your family to your time horizon, that of your children, and your risk profile.
- Veteran’s Funeral Benefits – https://funerals.org/?consumers=veterans-funeral-burial-benefits
- Funeral Reference – Funeral Consumers Alliance (FCA) – funerals.org
- Texas Chapter of the FCA – https://www.fcactx.org/
- Organ and Body Donation – https://funerals.org/?consumers=body-organ-donation-gift-science/
- Four Step Funeral Planning – https://funerals.org/?consumers=four-step-funeral-planning
- Common Funeral Myths – https://funerals.org/?consumers=common-funeral-myths
- How to Choose a Funeral Home – https://www.everplans.com/articles/how-to-choose-a-funeral-home
- How to Read a Funeral Home Price List – https://funerals.org/how-to-read-a-general-price-list/