The death of a spouse, parent, child or other loved one is a very difficult experience. During the hours and days after the death, there are many decisions that must be made. If you must make major decisions during your first weeks of bereavement, be sure to seek the counsel of a trusted advisor.
One of the first decisions will be regarding the funeral. The funeral director will guide the family through the planning process of the funeral. Under the "Funeral Rule" of the Federal Trade Commission, funeral homes are required to provide you with price information over the phone and with a complete price list of your options. Also they should provide you with an itemized statement of all the services you select and their fees, before you sign an agreement.
The funeral director may require that a portion of the death benefit from the deceased's life insurance policy be assigned to the funeral home. The beneficiary will be asked to sign an assignment form, which will guarantee that the funeral expense will be paid from the death benefit. Funerals typically cost around $5,000 to $8,000.
Immediately following the funeral, there will be several important financial details that will require your attention. You will need to obtain at least a dozen certified copies of the death certificate. These are available from the funeral director or county health department. This legal document is needed to finalize almost every aspect of your loved one's affairs.
NOTE - A photocopy will not suffice because it lacks the raised registrar's seal that makes it valid.
Other Documents That May Be Needed:
- Marriage Certificate - Available from the county clerk where the marriage license was issued.
- Birth Certificates (for the deceased and any dependent children) - Available at either the state or county public records offices where the person was born.
- Social Security Numbers - for the deceased, spouse, and dependent children
- Original Will
- List of Property - A complete list of what the deceased owned including real estate, stocks, bonds, bank accounts, deeds, and personal property.
- Recent income tax returns
- Discharge papers - If the deceased was a veteran, you will need a copy of the discharge certificate. If you cannot find a copy, contact National Personnel Records Center, 9700 Page Boulevard, St. Louis, Missouri, 63132-5200. Send it to the attention of the branch in which the deceased served.
CHECKLIST OF THINGS TO DO:
Consult a lawyer - When a loved one dies, you will need legal advice regarding probating the deceased's will, as well as other legal issues that will arise. Probate is the court-supervised process of paying the deceased's debts and distributing the estate to the rightful beneficiaries.
Jointly owned property, property in trust, and assets with a designated beneficiary (life insurance, 401(k), pensions) do not go through the probate process.
If the deceased did not have a will, state laws will determine how the deceased's assets and property will be distributed to family members. The court will appoint a personal representative to handle the deceased's affairs.
Contact Employer - Be sure to immediately notify the deceased's Employer.
Most people are covered by group insurance where they work. Ask about the benefit due you and how to file a claim.
Locate important papers - Hopefully, the deceased will have prepared a record of all important documents. If not, search for important documents in safe-deposit boxes, briefcases, strongboxes, home and office desks, lockers, safes, etc.
NOTE - Do not discard official-looking documents such as insurance policies, even if you think they have lapsed. The life insurance policy may still be in force, even though the policyowner may have stopped paying the premiums.
Contact Life Insurance Company(s). Ask for claim forms and instructions on how to file for life insurance proceeds.
The benefit can be paid to you in several ways. There is no immediate need for a lump sum payment. Do not make decisions in haste. To avoid making an immediate decision, tell the insurance company that you will need a certain amount now and ask that the remaining amount be held with the company under an interest option, with the understanding that you can withdraw any amount at any time. Discuss with the company representative other settlement options that may be available.
By delaying payment of the full amount, you will be able to take time to analyze your financial situation and seek advice from your financial advisors.
Notify Social Security - If the deceased had paid into Social Security for at least 40 quarters, two types of benefits are possible:
Death benefit - $255 for burial expenses is available to eligible spouses or dependent children. The survivor can complete the necessary form at the local Social Security office, or the funeral director may complete the application and apply the payment directly to the funeral bill.
Survivor's benefit - A variety of benefits are available depending on the age and relationship of any survivors. You may be eligible for benefits if you match any of these circumstances:
- Spouse age 60 or older
- Disabled surviving spouse age 50 or older
- Spouse under 60 who cares for dependent children under 16 or disabled children
- Children of the deceased under the age of 18 or who are disabled.
To make an appointment with the nearest Social Security office to inquire about benefits and eligibility, call 1-800-772-1213. To apply for survivor's benefits, you will need to have birth, death, and marriage certificates, Social Security numbers, and a copy of the deceased's recent federal income tax return. You must apply for Social Security benefits. Benefits are not automatic.
Gather the deceased's current bills and notify creditors.
Notify banks where deceased had accounts.
Submit outstanding medical claims to the proper insurer.
Sources For Possible Additional Benefits:
- Employer - Ask about pension fund benefits, accrued vacation and sick pay, terminal pay allowances, gratuity payments (tips), service recognition awards, unpaid commissions, disability income, and credit union balances.
- Former Employers
- Credit Life Insurance - Some loans, mortgages, and credit cards, are covered by credit life insurance, which pays off account balances. Call the creditor to confirm coverage and inquire how to claim the policy benefits.
- Health Insurance Company
- U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (1-800-669-8477)
- If the deceased was receiving monthly payments, you will need to notify the VA of the death. If the deceased was a veteran who received a discharge other than dishonorable, survivors may get $300 toward funeral expenses and $150 for burial costs. Burial in a national cemetery is free to a veteran, spouse, and dependent children. Veterans are also eligible for a headstone or grave marker.
The surviving spouse and dependent children of disabled veterans may also be entitled to a lump sum death benefit, monthly payments, such as educational assistance and medical care.
The funeral director's request is usually sufficient to alert the DVA insurance division, which automatically send out a claims form. If the funeral director does not contact the DVA, you should contact U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, P.O. Box 42954, Philadelphia, PA 19101, 1-800-669-8477.
Fraternal and Civic Organizations, etc
Civil Service Commission - Applications for benefits, accompanied by a certified copy of the death certificate, may be filed at the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, Retirement Operations Center, P.O. Box 45, Boyers, PA 16017-0045, or call 202-606-0500 or toll free at 1-888-767-6738.
All property and casualty insurance policies must be updated to reflect changes in ownership.
Obtain a new title for the deceased's auto. Contact your state motor vehicle department for the proper procedure.
Change beneficiary designations on policies where the deceased was the named beneficiary. Also change beneficiaries on pension and retirement plans.
Change names on bank accounts and investment accounts.