Call Social Security and Other Organizations
Notify Social Security of the death. If your loved one was covered, the spouse or dependents may be eligible for certain payments or benefits. Also call any unions, professional, or service organizations your loved one belonged to. He or she may have had life insurance or other benefits through these organizations.
Gather Important Papers
Of course, the first thing you may be looking for when someone dies is the will or trust. But remember to gather other important papers, such as deeds, business agreements, tax returns, bank accounts, earnings statements, birth and marriage certificates, military discharge papers, Social Security Number, vehicle registration, loan payment books, bills, and any other important papers pertaining to your loved one’s affairs. You’ll need these to file a final tax return and settle the estate; you may want to consult an accountant.
Executing the Will
If you were named the executor of your loved one’s will, you’ve got more work to do. First, you’ll need to file a probate case with the court. Although an attorney isn’t required in most states, you’ll probably want to hire one who is experienced in probate. You may choose to hire the lawyer who prepared the will, but that isn’t necessary.
Depending on the specifics of the estate, probate can be complicated and lengthy. As executor, you’ll be responsible for carrying out your loved one’s wishes according to the will, paying creditors, and balancing the estate. There’s no standard amount of time a probate lasts, but some states are initiating laws to expedite the process.
Dying Intestate – Without A Will
If someone dies without a will – dying intestate – the court will appoint an administrator. If you are appointed administrator, your responsibilities will be similar to those of an executor: distributing assets, paying creditors, and balancing the estate.
Accessing Bank Accounts
If you have a joint account with the deceased you may be able to conduct business as usual, depending upon how the account was opened. Otherwise, normally only the will’s executor or administrator can access the account after providing the required paperwork to the bank. Call or visit the bank to find out what is required.
Wrapping up your loved one’s affairs can be tedious and stressful. Find the guidance you can trust to help you work out the details, such as a funeral director, accountant, attorney, grief counselor, and/or clergy to help you manage the legal, financial, and emotional issues a death can bring.
- “The Mourning Handbook: The Most Comprehensive Resource Offering Both Practical and Compassionate Advice on Coping with All Aspects of Death and Dying” by Helen Fitzgerald
- “I Wasn’t Ready to Say Goodbye: Surviving, Coping and Healing After the Sudden Death of a Loved One” by Brook Noel and Pamela D. Blair
- “How to Go On Living When Someone You Love Dies” by Therese A. Rando, Ph.D.
- “What to Do When a Loved One Dies: a practical and compassionate guide to dealing with death on life’s terms” by Eva Shaw (Dickens Press, 1994).
- “Step by Step: Your Guide to Making Practical Decisions When a Loved One Dies” by Ellen Shaw, (Quality Life Resources, 2001).AARP, www.aarp.org