Planning the future for your loved ones


What to Do Within a Few Weeks

Now that you have said goodbye to your loved one, it is time to acknowledge those who have helped and begin to settle your loved one’s affairs. Like before, it all starts with the paperwork. For example, while arranging permanent custody for dependents and a home for any pets are priorities, you may need to refer to the will to know who that will be.

Finances may be a priority and you will want to begin tasks that will ultimately provide income, such as settling your loved one’s estate, notifying life insurance companies, and looking into employee benefits from your loved one’s job. Likewise, you may need to contact the Social Security office to stop benefits for your loved one that you would have to pay back.

Other than that, there is no specific order to these tasks.

Deal with documents

Look for important documents and paperwork

You should know where they are stored ahead of time, but common places include home safes or strong boxes, safe deposit boxes in a bank, stored digitally on a computer or the cloud, file cabinets, or even a cardboard box. You must also find the things necessary to access the information:

  • Usernames and passwords for any online accounts, including email accounts, financial records, social media accounts, retail sites, such as Amazon, etc.;
  • Passwords to computers, cell phones, and other electronic devices;
  • A list of safety deposit boxes, where to find keys, and names of authorized users; and/or
  • Combinations to safes.

In order to make and pay for funeral, burial, and/or cremation plans, you have probably looked at the last will and testament, advance directives, and other documents. However, now you will be looking for all the paperwork that will be needed to settle the estate. The list is long, but your loved one may not have all of them.

Locate documents for payable on death accounts and transfer on death deeds, which are already owned by the beneficiaries and are no longer part of your loved one’s estate or subject to the probate process.

You should locate any other trust documents in preparation for transferring them to the beneficiaries and contact the trustee, if it is not you.

At this point you will be getting ready to start the probate process and be looking at the instructions in your loved one’s will for distributing their estate.

  • If you are not the executor, contact them before proceeding.
  • In most cases your loved one’s will is already filed with the probate court
  • If there is no will, you may need to contact your local probate court if they are not already aware; they will tell you how to proceed from there.

You or the executor will be seeking any and all documents needed to identify any assets you can use to cover current costs and to calculate the value of your loved one’s estate.

Insurance policies may become an important source of income and should be located and settled. Other policies that cannot be settled may no longer be needed and can be discontinued.

The premium payment records are an important part of the necessary information. You need to determine if they are active and if there is money owed to get the settlement. Your loved one may have any of these policies:

  • Life insurance;
  • Accidental life insurance;
  • Disability insurance;
  • Employers or pension insurance;
  • Veterans’ insurance;
  • Funeral insurance or other death-related benefit plans;
  • Mortgage and/or credit insurance;
  • Credit card insurance;
  • Property insurance, such as homeowners/renters insurance, car insurance, etc.;
  • Workers’ compensation insurance; and/or
  • Health insurance, such as Medicare or Medicaid, “Medigap” insurance, private health insurance, dental, and Long Term Care insurance. There may be medical expenses that are owed.

You will need any deeds, titles, promissory notes, etc. to help determine the value of the estate and transfer them to the beneficiaries. Major ones include:

  • Real Estate Property deeds (including any recent appraisals);
  • Mortgage documents (including promissory notes or loan agreements);
  • Other promissory note or loan agreements (including loans from your loved ones);
  • Vehicle titles and registrations, such as cars, boats, snowmobiles, motorcycles, RVs, or heavy equipment; and/or
  • Membership certificates.

Financial accounts will be needed to help determine the value of the estate. Information should include the most recent statements and the list of beneficiaries, if any, including:

  • Bank accounts – checking, savings, CD’s, etc.;
  • Investment/brokerage accounts, IRA’s, 401-K’s, etc.;
  • Stocks and bonds;
  • Annuities;
  • Credit and debit card accounts;
  • Stock certificates;
  • Bearer bonds;
  • Brokerage statements; and/or
  • Prenuptial agreement.

There may be a whole host of other financial records to find and add to the estate value.

  • Any unpaid bills or indicators of other debts or IOUs;
  • Survivor annuity benefit papers;
  • Employer/retirement benefit (pension) plans, pension/profit-sharing plans, etc.;
  • Veterans’ benefit records;
  • Disability payment documents (State, Veterans’, etc.);
  • Income statements for the current year (Social Security, pension, IRA’s, annuities, employment wages, and other income records);
  • IRS income tax returns (for the current and previous year) and IRS gift tax returns (if any, for all years);
  • Property tax records and statements;
  • Business interests held, financial statements and agreements, contracts, etc.;
  • Loan papers;
  • Copies of recent credit reports from Equifax, Experian and TransUnion; and/or
  • Other – investment records, etc.

Many other legal documents may be needed for identification, validation, or authorization when settling their estate, including:

  • Social Security card (or number);
  • Birth certificates (of all family members);
  • Marriage license or certificate;
  • Military service papers, including discharge records;
  • Domestic Partnership Registration;
  • Court documents for adoptions and divorce (including any property settlement agreements, name changes, prenuptial agreements, etc.);
  • Community Property Agreements;
  • Driver’s license; and/or
  • Passport, citizenship, immigration and/or alien registration papers.

Executors and legal professional will need access to personal information to settle the estate, including:

  • Names and contact information of closest family and friends with a stake in the estate;
  • Names and contact information of all lawyers, accountants, doctors, etc.; and/or
  • Family Tree, if available (especially if there is no will).

Send thank-you notes

  • From the contact list that you acquired earlier and sign-in books from any visitation/viewing, send thank-you notes and acknowledgements. 
  • Consider delegating this task to a family member.

Order several copies of the death certificate

  • You’ll likely need anywhere between five and 12 copies (but possibly more), depending on the accounts that your loved one had open and other assets, such as insurance policies, property, benefits, wages, payable on death accounts, and transfer on death deeds.
  • Your funeral director may be able to help you order them for a fee.
  • You can order them from the vital statistics office in the state where the death occurred, the local Department of Health office, or from the city hall or other local records office.
  • Each certified record will cost in the neighborhood of $10 or $30.


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