If your loved one was a veteran, you may be eligible for
burial and memorial benefits. Call 1-800-827-1000 to find the nearest VA
Duplicate copies of marriage and birth certificates are
available at the county clerk's office where the marriage and births occurred.
Veterans and the next of kin of deceased veterans can submit an online request for separation documents and other service personnel records via eVetRecs, a service available through the National Archives at archives.gov.
If there is no one authorized to open your loved one's
safe-deposit box, petition the probate court for an order to open.
Do not be hasty when settling your loved one's estate.
Important decisions need to be made regarding distributions, which must be made
in compliance with the will and applicable laws. Seek an experienced estate
planning attorney for advice.
If your family member didn't already make final
arrangements or leave final instructions, go to www.funerals.org for some
helpful information about funerals, burials, and memorial services.
Death of a Family Member Checklist
Losing a loved one can be a difficult experience. Yet,
during this time, you must complete a variety of tasks and make important
financial decisions. You may need to make final arrangements, notify various
businesses and government agencies, settle the individual's estate, and provide
for your own financial security. The following checklist may help guide you
through the matters that must be attended to upon the death of a family member.
Some of the following tasks may have to be completed
by the estate's executor.
- Upon the death of your loved one, call close family
members, friends, and clergy first because you'll need their emotional support.
- Arrange the funeral, burial or cremation, and memorial
service. Hopefully, your loved one will have made arrangements ahead of time.
Look among his or her papers for a letter of instruction containing final
wishes. Such instructions may also be stated in his or her will or other estate
planning documents. Arrange any cultural rituals, and make any anatomical
- Notify family and friends of the final arrangements.
- Alert your loved one's place of work, union, and
professional organizations, and any organizations where he or she may have
- Contact your own employer and arrange for bereavement
- Place an obituary in the local paper.
- Obtain certified copies of the death certificate. The
family doctor or medical examiner should provide you with the death certificate
within 24 hours of the death. The funeral home should complete the form and
file it with the state. Get several certified copies (photocopies may not be
accepted); you will need them when applying for benefits and settling the
- Review your family member's financial affairs, and look
for estate planning documents, such as a will and trusts, and other relevant
documents, such as deeds and titles. Also locate any marriage certificate,
birth or adoption certificates of children, and military discharge papers,
which you may need to apply for benefits. These documents may be found in a
safe-deposit box, or your loved one's attorney may have copies.
- Report the death to Social Security by calling
1-800-772-1213. If your loved one was receiving benefits via direct deposit,
request that the bank return funds received for the month of death and
thereafter to Social Security. Do not cash any Social Security checks received
by mail. Return all checks to Social Security as soon as possible. Surviving
spouses and other family members may be eligible for a $255 lump-sum death
benefit and/or survivor benefits. Go to ssa.gov for more information.
- Make a list of assets. Put safeguards in
place to protect any property. Make sure mortgage and insurance payments
continue to be made while the estate is being settled.
- Arrange to retrieve your loved one's belongings from his
or her workplace. Collect any salary, vacation, or sick pay owed to your loved
one, and be sure to ask about continuing health insurance coverage and
potential survivor's benefits for a spouse or children. Unions and professional
organizations may also offer death benefits. If the death was work-related, the
estate or beneficiaries may be entitled to worker's compensation
- Contact past employers regarding pension plans, and
contact any IRA custodians or trustees. Review designated beneficiaries and
post-death distribution options.
- Locate insurance policies. The policies could include
individual and group life insurance, mortgage insurance, auto credit life
insurance, accidental death and dismemberment, credit card insurance, and
annuities. Contact all insurance companies to file claims.
- Contact all credit card companies and let them know of the
death. Cancel all cards unless you're named on the account and wish to retain
- Retitle jointly held assets, such as bank accounts,
automobiles, stocks and bonds, and real estate.
- If your loved one owned, controlled, or was a principal in a
business, check to see if there are any buy-sell agreements under which his or
her interest must be sold.
Within 3 to 9 months after death
- File the will with the appropriate probate court. If real
estate was owned out of state, file ancillary probate in that state also. If
there is no will, contact the probate court for instructions, or contact a
probate attorney for assistance.
- Notify creditors by mail and by placing a
notice in the newspaper. Claims must be made within the statute of limitations,
which varies from state to state (30 days from actual notice is common). Insist
upon proof of all claims.
- A federal estate tax return may need to be filed within 9
months of death. State laws vary, but state estate tax and/or inheritance tax
returns may also need to be filed. Federal and state income taxes are due for
the year of death on the normal filing date, unless an extension is requested.
If there are trusts, separate income tax returns may need to be filed. You may
want to seek the advice of a tax professional.
Within 9 to 12 months after death
- Update your own estate plan if your loved one was a beneficiary or appointed as an agent, trustee, or guardian.
- Update beneficiary designations on your retirement plans,
including IRAs, and transfer-on-death accounts on which the your loved one was named
- Reevaluate your budget, and short-term and long-term
- Reevaluate your insurance needs, and update beneficiary
designations on insurance policies on which your loved one was the named
- Reevaluate investment options.