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Arranging an Estate: A Survivor’s Checklist
When a loved one dies, family members are often confused about what needs to be done, how soon it needs to be done, and in what order. After the emotional aspects of the loss of a loved one begin to subside, the task of organizing the deceased’s financial matters faces the remaining family members.
To help you organize estate and financial matters after a loved one’s death, it is helpful to have a list of things to do and worksheets indicating the location of documents that will be needed to probate the estate or terminate a trust. This Survivor’s Guide is provided to help you begin that effort. You should not rely on it solely, but use it as a guide while working with your attorney to ensure that everything receives the attention it deserves.
Immediate Action to be Taken
- First and foremost, take care of yourself! A death is emotionally wrenching, so lean on family, friends, your attorney, or others for any help needed, so you are not overwhelmed.
- Notify immediate family members, close relatives and friends.
- Notify the attending physician, if appropriate. Follow up with organ donations, if appropriate.
- Arrange for care of any minors or other dependents that require support. Don’t forget pets.
- Secure the residence, vehicles, business office, etc., to protect and preserve the decedent’s assets.
- Make funeral arrangements. Check the will or separate instructions for any funeral or burial wishes. Contact funeral home to arrange for mortuary, cemetery, burial or cremation, as appropriate. With the help of funeral home and family, arrange for obituary in paper if desired.
- If desired, contact decedent’s clergyperson before final funeral arrangements are made.
- Contact decedent’s attorney or your attorney to assist with process and to meet regarding estate matters. Secure the original will to deliver to the attorney or file with the probate court.
Action to be Taken After the Funeral
- In preparation for meeting with attorney, locate will, any codicils, or trust documents. Collect copies of insurance policies, latest financial statement, location and account numbers for bank statements, birth certificate, marriage license, Social Security number, Veterans Affairs number and record, list of employer fringe benefits and tax returns from the last three years.
- Order certified copies of death certificates (minimum of six) from funeral director.
- Begin investigating social security benefits, union death benefits, veteran’s burial allowance, benefits of any fraternal or other organizations.
- Advise personal representative (executor) of estate, if known.
- Have Post Office hold or re-direct mail.
- Cancel or re-direct newspapers, subscriptions, and other home deliveries.
- Arrange for any perishable food, plants, disposables.
- Contact banks to verify status of checking, savings and safety deposit box.
- Notify anyone who had powers of attorney that their powers are terminated upon the death.
- Do NOT pay any debts of the decedent or change title to assets or names on accounts until you have reviewed matters with attorney to ensure no adverse tax consequences or loss of elections!
- Notify casualty insurance broker to obtain current information on casualty and homeowner insurance as necessary. Make sure home, vehicles, personal property have continuing insurance.
- Locate current documentation for securities, accounts, pension plans, businesses, real estate, and other assets to begin working on an inventory with your attorney and the transfer of assets as required by the will, state law or account documents.
- Contact insurance company, agent or adviser (local office) and obtain death claim form.
- Complete form and return it along with a certified copy of death certificate and policy.
- Notify local Social Security office of death; also any other government agency from which benefits were received (e.g., Medical Assistance).
- Apply to nearest Social Security office in person and bring: Social Security number of deceased, certified copy of death certificate, and proof of relationship (marriage license, birth certificate).
- Follow up if benefits are not received within 60 days.
- Contact the employer of the deceased’s employee benefits department and request a written verification of death benefits payable and how paid, accrued vacation pay, final wages still owed, retirement plan benefits, deferred compensation, medical reimbursements, or employer-provided life insurance.
- Provide employee benefits department with adequate number of certified death certificates and any other documentation required.
- Investigate veterans burial allowance and other benefits. Inquire in person (local office) as to eligibility.
- Deliver required documentation: birth certificate, Social Security number, death certificate, and Veterans Affairs records.
Safe Deposit Box
- Locate all safe deposit boxes. Arrange with executor or attorney to inventory contents.
- Determine whether contents, if any, may be removed with receipt.
Filing of Tax Returns
- Arrange with attorney for the proper and timely filing of all appropriate tax returns: U.S. Estate Tax Return – Form 706, state inheritance tax return, inheritance or estate tax returns for other states where applicable (property holdings), fiduciary income tax return – Form 1041, individual income tax return, and estate accounting.
- Collect individual tax returns for previous three years, and keep and deliver all tax documents to your attorney, including W-2s, 1099s, cancelled checks for contributions or estimated tax payments, etc.