While death is inevitable, we are rarely prepared for the grief and sense of loss we experience when a loved one dies. While trying to process the death emotionally, we can be overwhelmed by the enormous list of tasks required to put the deceased’s financial affairs in order.
To simplify the process, we have compiled a financial “to-do” list to build some order around this otherwise difficult and tumultuous time. Typically, the person named executor of the decedent’s estate will be the one to handle these tasks.
- Obtain a legal pronouncement of death – this is a form completed by a medical professional, which will differ depending on the related county or state, which includes the time and circumstances of the death. If your loved one passes away outside of a medical facility, you can call 911, and they will advise you on how to get a legal pronouncement of death. The issuance of a death certificate follows after the pronouncement of death. The death certificate is an official government document which includes details about the death circumstances.
- Contact a mortuary or funeral home – if the deceased has not selected one in advance, you will need to choose one. Provide them with the pronouncement of death, and they will help you make arrangements. If the estate is subject to probate, the executor or personal representative will need to obtain a letter of testamentary – a court order that gives them legal authority over a decedent’s estate. (This may also be called letter of authority or a letter of appointment.)
- Order 15-20 copies of the death certificate from the mortuary or funeral home – the death certificate will be necessary to administer the estate, stop and/or start benefits, and close accounts.
- Contact the deceased’s advisors – including the deceased’s attorney, financial advisor, and accountant to inform them of the death and discuss next steps.
- Contact the deceased’s employer – either the deceased’s manager and/or employer’s human resources department and inform them of the death and identify the point of contact for the deceased’s estate.
- Gather information – collect information regarding the deceased’s financial affairs, including:
- Check and savings accounts
- Investment accounts (retirement, brokerage & annuities)
- Pension account information
- Life insurance policies
- Deeds for other property and assets
- Estate Planning documents (and identify the estate executor, if any)
- Credit card accounts
In addition, the executor should work with the deceased’s estate attorney to inventory the deceased’s assets and prepare a net worth statement for the deceased as of the date of death.
- Contact the deceased’s life insurance agent – gather information about the policy beneficiaries and how to collect benefits. Proceeds from a life insurance policy might create some liquidity while the estate is settled.
- Contact the Social Security Administration – to notify them of the deceased’s passing and stop benefit payments and, if applicable, understand who might be eligible for survivor benefits, i.e., a surviving spouse or minor child. Also, check with the funeral home, as they often will make this contact on your behalf.
- Contact creditors – including credit card companies, car leasing or loan companies, student loan providers, mortgage holders, etc. and report deceased’s death and share information on debt payment obligations with the estate’s executor.
- Stop pension and annuity payments – identify and notify pension and annuity providers to stop future payments or redirect payments to the surviving annuitant.
- Stop recurring expenses – review credit card invoices and bank statements to identify and stop recurring charges (i.e., subscriptions), prescriptions, memberships, and other miscellaneous discretionary expenses.
- Contact credit agencies – report the deceased’s death to all three credit agencies to ensure that the deceased’s credit history is frozen to prevent fraud.
- Cancel identity cards and voter registration – including the deceased’s driver’s license and passport to prevent identity theft.
- Distribute retirement accounts – work with the deceased’s financial advisor to distribute assets in retirement accounts to the named beneficiaries and to review whether required minimum distributions need to be completed.
- Obtain estate employer identification number (EIN) – the estate executor should work with the deceased’s attorney to obtain an EIN from the Internal Revenue Service. The executor will use the EIN to set up bank accounts for the estate to fund expenses associated with settling the estate.
- Update titling on joint assets – contact the appropriate parties to change the account titling on jointly held assets, i.e., house, cars, boats.
- Close email and social media accounts – delete social media accounts or memorialize the accounts and shut down email accounts to ensure that the accounts are not subject to fraud.
- File a federal estate tax return – if the deceased has a taxable estate, the executor will need to work with the deceased’s estate attorney to file an estate tax return within nine months after the date of death. In addition, the estate attorney can advise if a final tax return must be filed on behalf of the deceased.
This extensive list of tasks can and should be completed with the deceased’s team of advisors – financial advisor, estate attorney, and accountant. At HTG, we can be a valuable resource for our clients in their times of need and serve as a partner for you and your family as you navigate difficult times.