Death is a trying, emotional issue that everyone encounters eventually. The death of a loved one can be especially taxing on a person’s psyche. Suddenly, a unique person is forever gone from the world. Sadly, when a human being dies, the survivors face a gauntlet of legal matters to attend to, even as they deal with grief, sadness, shock, and all the other crushing emotions. For some of these tasks, a close relative or friend can assist and see them resolved. Others require the attention of the executor or administrator of the estate, who is charged with carrying out the terms of the will.
Immediately After Death…
At this point, some people are shocked at the abrupt death of someone who had been so lively a day before. Others are experiencing some form of relief after watching their loved one suffer for so long. Despite these intense and difficult emotions, there is work to be done. Set about finding the will, and then…
- Notifying society of the death is an important place to start. Inform the family doctor of the development.
- Notify the health insurance company or employer in order to end coverage to the deceased and continuing coverage for others on the policy.
- Notify the Social Security office if the deceased was receiving Social Security payments.
- If there is a will, contact the executor so they can obtain the probate.
- If there is no will, elect someone to deal with the deceased’s affairs and contact the Probate Registry in order to apply for letters of administration.
- Check the will for special requests, and begin the funeral arrangements.
- Determine if the deceased bought a burial plot at the cemetery. You might desire to buy an adjacent plot for yourself and the family to ensure everyone is buried together.
- Make a list of friends and family who should be contacted. Allow your immediately available friends and family to help you make the list and contact those nominated.
- Write and submit an obituary to the local newspaper. Specify if you prefer charitable donations in lieu of flowers, and nominate the organization, if so. The obituary serves as a notice to society, including creditors, of the deceased’s passing.
- Is the deceased a veteran? If so, he or she might be eligible for free burial at a national cemetery. Even if you choose to bury somewhere else, you might remain eligible to receive payments for funeral and burial expenses. Other benefits from Veterans Affairs might include a ceremonial American flag, headstone, and presidential memorial certificate. Contact Veterans Affairs at 1-800-827-1000 or at http://www.cem.va.gov/bbene/benvba.asp.
- Record everyone’s donations, flowers, and cards. Keep a guestbook at the funeral, and keep receipts for all travel expenses, which may be tax deductible.
- Ask for 15-20 copies of the death certificate, as this document is important in administering estates.
- Ask a neighbor to watch your house during the funeral, as unsavory folk in the past have used newspapers to find people gone from their homes for funerals.
- Cancel all business arrangements the deceased scheduled.
In the Following Days and Weeks…
Settling an estate doesn’t happen overnight. However, one should start getting things in order soon. A death will leave a lot of legal and economic inertia, and loose ends need to be resolved.
- Have a meeting with an accountant to discuss matters of estate taxes and filing a tax return for the year of death. Hold on to bank statements that name the account balance on the date of death, as this is necessary for the tax return.
- Return all credit cards with a certified copy of the deceased’s death certificate, or contact the credit card company if you wish to explore other options.
- Arrange to have all joint bank accounts, stocks, and bonds transferred into your name. Contact the Trust Department, your bank, or your stockbroker.
- Ensure that important bills like mortgage payments and medical bills continue to be paid.
- Contact the deceased’s employer, and determine if any 401(k), pension, or other benefits are available to you.
- Cancel the deceased’s prescriptions, cable television, newspaper delivery, phone service, etc. Obtain copies of all of the deceased’s outstanding bills.
- Obtain an up-to-date copy of the deceased’s credit report. Notify all three credit reporting agencies of the death.
- File claims with life insurance companies, and file any remaining claims for health insurance or Medicare.
- Inform in writing all creditors of the death.
Months After and Going Forward…
At this point, the death is not something new. The hole in the world the deceased once filled is now slowly closing. Life is going on without the deceased. It is time to tie all loose ends and begin moving on. It does not do to let these issues linger and cause further hardship. Attend to them sooner, and you won’t have to deal with them later.
- Ensure you are on your right emotional feet. Don’t be afraid to see a counselor if you feel the need.
- Ensure all debts to the estate are collected. Ensure that estate property is properly insured.
- Lay claim to all appropriate care and real estate titles.
Death is never an easy thing to deal with, and with all the legal responsibility it entails, it can be simply overwhelming to an unfortunate spouse or child. However, one must attend to these legal responsibilities if society is to retain order around the dying process. By ensuring the right parties are notified, society’s resources can be more efficiently administered, and social services can run appropriately.
If one can keep up with legal duties, the process will be as painless as possible. Survivors won’t have to deal with repayments to the IRS or the hounding of creditors coming after someone beyond their ability to collect from. Keeping on top of these will, in the long run, reward the survivor with some much needed peace.
Updated: January 1, 2014