Nothing is certain in life, except death and taxes – and there are ways around taxes. Death is the King of Sucks, especially when it claims a parent or close family member. The pain can be nearly unbearable. But a loved one’s death puts a lot of things in motion, so we have to keep moving forward -- physically, emotionally and financially.
If you are overseeing a parent’s estate, here are some money-related things you need to address in the wake of your loss:
Key Documents - This first step will make the rest a lot easier. Gather every significant piece of financial documentation that you can find – the will or trust, real estate deeds, car titles, bank and brokerage statements, tax returns, insurance policies, marriage and birth certificates, Social Security cards, stock certificates, et cetera. You may have to dig for this stuff but having it all in one place (and organized) is critical.
The Lawyer - If your parent had an attorney, contact her. She may have information or documentation you need. You may also want her counsel as the estate moves through the probate process. You should also check in with your loved one’s CPA and/or financial advisors to see what they might know.
Death Certificates - Get multiple originals or certified copies -- up to 36, according to some experts. Banks and other institutions often won’t accept a plain copy.
Bank Accounts - Close all checking and savings accounts. Place those funds in a new checking account dedicated to paying the costs of final arrangements and other estate expenses.
Credit Cards - Close all accounts held in only the name of the deceased, including gas and department store cards.
Investment Accounts - Identify all investment assets. If there is no immediate need for money to pay estate costs, leave the assets in place until time has passed and you have enough clarity to make thoughtful decisions.
Social Security - Notify them as soon as possible. There is a $255 survivor’s benefit to help with the funeral. More importantly, if your departed loved one’s monthly payments continue for too long, you will be required to make repayment and could face criminal charges. Do NOT deposit any Social Security checks that arrive after the death without talking to the Social Security Administration.
Veteran Benefits - Former service members are eligible for a death benefit of up to $7,000 to $10,000. You’ll need to contact the Veterans Administration to receive payment.
Safe Deposit Box - Inspect and inventory the contents. It might be a good idea to have more than one person present if you believe the box contains heirlooms or other items that might cause tension between family members. A court order may be required to open the box if it was opened only in the name of the deceased.
Insurance Policies - File your claim as soon as possible. If your loved one was employed at the time of their death, don’t forget to check whether they had life insurance through their employer. The insurance company may ask you to choose whether to take a lump sum or a series of payments over time. Your decision will obviously depend on your family’s unique set of circumstances.
In addition to purchased life insurance policies, there may be benefits paid by credit card companies and fraternal organizations, such as the Lions Club or Elks.
There’s an important, if uncomfortable, lesson here for all of us – especially those with aging parents. It’s vitally important for families to be organized and prepared for the ugly eventuality of death or mental disability.
Work with your parents to collect and organize their paperwork. Ask them to list their assets, including life insurance policies. Make sure you know where to find the will. Same with passwords to their online banking and other financial portals. If necessary, have them add a second name to the safety deposit box, so it can be accessed quickly.
It’s unsettling and time-consuming. But it will make your life just a little easier during a very rough time. And your loved one would want that for you.