If you are visiting our beneficiary assistance page, we are so sorry you are here. We know that this is a sad and stressful time for you, but hope this information will help make the task easier. There are a lot of decisions to be made at this time, so be sure to seek the counsel of a trusted advisor to help you with the process. Think about which tasks you can hand off to those who are ready to help.

Where do I start?

There are a few tasks that you must take care of immediately, such as funeral arrangements, and some tasks that can wait until after the funeral. It will be helpful to have these documents at hand to complete a lot of the final arrangements:

  • Death certificates (at least a dozen)
    You will need to get at least a dozen certified copies of the death certificate. These are available from the funeral director or the county health department. This legal document is needed to finalize almost every aspect of your loved one’s affairs.
    Note: A photocopy is not enough because it lacks the raised registrar’s seal that makes the certificate valid.
  • Social Security card
  • Marriage certificate (available from the county clerk where the marriage license was issued)
  • Birth certificate
  • Birth certificates for any children (available at either the state or county public records office where the person was born)
  • Insurance policies
  • Deeds and titles to property (including real estate, stocks, bonds, bank accounts, deeds, personal property)
  • Automobile title and registration papers
  • Stock certificates
  • Bank passbooks
  • Honorable discharge papers for a veteran and/or VA claim number.
    If you cannot find a copy, contact the National Personnel Records Center by mail at 1 Archives Dr., St. Louis, Missouri 63138 or by phone at 314-801-0800.
  • Recent income tax forms and W-2 forms
  • Loan and installment payment books and contracts

Planning the funeral

If your loved one did not make previous arrangements, then you will need to bring together key family members and find a funeral director who will guide you through this planning process. Some things to consider:

  • What were the deceased wishes?
  • What can you afford?
  • What’s realistic?
  • What will help the family the most?

An average cost of a funeral is $7,000 to $10,000. 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.


Checklist of things to do

  • Consult your lawyer

    You will need legal advice regarding probating the deceased will. Probate is the court-supervised process of paying the deceased’s debts and distributing the estate to the 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 property will be distributed. The court will appoint a personal representative to handle the deceased’s affairs.

  • Contact employer

    Do this promptly. Most people are covered by group insurance where they work. Ask about the benefit due you and how to file a claim. Also 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.

  • Locate important papers

    Search in safe-deposit boxes, briefcases, strongboxes, home and office desks, lockers, safes, etc.

  • Contact life insurance companies

    Ask for claim forms and instructions on how to file for life insurance benefits. There is no immediate need for a lump sum payment. You need time to analyze your financial situation and seek advice from your financial advisors. 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 by the company (drawing interest), with the understanding that you can withdraw any amount at any time. Ask about other settlement options that may be available.

  • Notify Social Security

    You must apply for Social Security benefits. They are not paid automatically. If the deceased had paid into Social Security for at least 40 quarters, the death benefit  (which is $255 for burial expenses) and survivor benefits may be available. Call 1-800-772-1213 to apply for survivor’s benefits.

  • Gather the deceased’s current bills and notify creditors

  • Notify banks where deceased had accounts

Sources for possible additional benefits

  • Employer
    Ask about pension fund benefits, accrued vacation and sick pay, terminal pay allowances, gratuity payments, service recognition awards, unpaid commissions, disability income, and credit union balances.
  • Former employer
  • Credit life insurance
    Some loans, mortgages, and credit cards are covered by credit life insurance which pay off account balances.
  • Health insurance company
  • Fraternal and civic organizations
  • U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs (DVA)
If the deceased was receiving monthly payments, notify the DVA of 
the death. If the deceased was a veteran who received an honorable discharge, 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 children of disabled veterans may also be entitled to a lump sum death benefit, or monthly payments for educational assistance and medical care. The funeral director’s request is usually sufficient to alert the DVA insurance division, which then sends out a claim form. To contact the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, call 1-800-669-8477.

Other reminders

  • Update property, auto, and life insurance policies to reflect changes in ownership.
  • Obtain a new title for the deceased’s auto. Contact your state motor vehicle department.
  • Change beneficiary designations on life insurance policies where the deceased was the named beneficiary.
  • Change beneficiaries on pension and retirement plans. Change names on bank accounts and investment accounts.