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Your Financial Well-Being

Helping Hands
Helping Hands
Colored Pencil on Black Paper by a Cancer Patient

The initial hours and days after the death of a loved one will be hectic and confusing. During this difficult time, its important to gather around you the people you trust to help manage the details. Funeral directors are a valuable resource for information; by law, they cannot charge a fee for information services. Learn what options are available to you for cemeteries, memorial services or anatomical donation. Use this information to decide what's best for you and your family.

The following information is intended to help guide you through the financial matters that require your attention following a family member's death. Not everything on this list will apply in your situation, but use it as a guide to gather the items you may need for future planning. Although it will be difficult to focus on these matters, ask those you trust to help you handle them to ensure your family's future well-being.

Within the First Days

  • Locate a copy of the will. The will usually names the executor or the person responsible for carrying out the terms of the will. If no executor is named or a will is not available, seek legal counsel.
  • Look for a letter of instruction from the deceased, which is sometimes kept with the will.
  • Look for records of funeral arrangements.
  • Obtain death certificates from your funeral director or county health department. You will need as many as 12 certified copies, which can be ordered from the county clerks office. A certified death certificate may be required when you apply for benefits.
  • Locate any cemetery plot deed(s) that may have been purchased.
  • Locate any safe deposit boxes and keys.
  • If the deceased was a veteran, locate any Veteran Administration paperwork including discharge papers, benefit information and claim numbers. There may be some financial assistance with funeral, burial plot or other death benefits.
During this difficult time, its important to gather around you the people you trust to help manage the details.

Within the First Month

  • Contact a lawyer or accountant if you think you will need help with the financial or legal aspects of settling the estate.
  • Determine whether probate is necessary for dealing with the estate. Probate procedures can be complex, depending on the size of the estate and the claims against it, so an attorney may be helpful.
  • Locate important papers and certificates within the first month, including:
    • Trust papers
    • Birth certificates of the deceased, spouse and dependents, which are available at either the state or county public records offices where the person was born.
    • Marriage certificate, which is available from the county clerk where the marriage license was issued
    • Social security numbers of the deceased, spouse and dependents. Contact your Social Security office to find out if you are eligible for new benefits. Social Security benefits are not automatically paid out after death. You must apply for these benefits
    • Armed service discharge papers
    • Divorce/separation papers
    • Drivers license number
    • Bank/credit union statements and account numbers for savings/checking account(s)
    • Tax forms and W-2 statements from previous years
    • Credit card statements and account numbers
  • Locate insurance and benefit documents, including:
    • Medical insurance papers and policy number(s)
    • Life insurance papers and policy number(s)
    • Car insurance papers and policy number(s)
    • Car title(s) and car registration certificate(s)
    • Homeowners or renters insurance and policy number(s)
    • Make a list of assets:
      • property or real estate deed(s)
      • mortgage papers
      • retirement funds or annuity papers, other pension funds
      • IRA's
      • Keoughs
      • stocks and/or bond certificates and statements
      • appraisal papers for valuables
    • Labor union, fraternal or professional organization benefit papers, Veterans Affairs benefits and claim numbers
  • Write a formal letter to your family member's employer, union or any other professional organizations connected with your loved one. Many of these organizations have insurance policies from which you may receive benefits. Organizations may need a statement of claim and a death certificate before a surviving spouse can receive benefits.
  • Notify insurance companies in writing of his or her death.
  • Inquire about any 401(k), pension or company stock benefits.
    • Change name on stocks and bonds.
  • Notify Medicare of death and change in status.
  • Arrange for family medical benefits to continue.
  • Consolidate or close bank and credit union accounts.
  • Change or cancel services
    • Cancel the deceaseds drivers license.
    • Stop newspaper and magazine subscriptions.
    • Contact utility companies to alter or discontinue service.
    • Contact U.S. Postal Service, if necessary, to forward mail.
    • Contact phone, cable and internet providers to disconnect services.

Within the First Six Months You Should

  • Obtain all hospital and medical bills incurred and file insurance papers that have not been filed by the hospital and physicians.
  • Locate loan papers and account numbers for outstanding loans and those owed to you.
  • See a tax accountant or tax lawyer. You will need to file tax returns for the person who died. Federal law requires that an estate tax return be filed within nine months of the death in many cases. Since tax laws are always being revised, it is important to seek out expert advice to determine your full tax liability.

Within the First Year

  • If you are the surviving spouse, determine your annual income, which consists of your salary, benefits and income-producing assets. This will include investments and savings.
  • Create an annual budget.

This guide was made possible by financial support.

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