When a loved one passes away, it often is an emotional and chaotic time.
It’s also a time when you might be called upon to make a number of weighty financial decisions.
Would you know what to do if you found yourself in that situation? If you’re not certain — or would just like to make sure you’re not overlooking something important — the following suggestions could prove helpful:
1. Establish your authority. Even if you are the sole surviving family member, you will need to prove that you have legal standing to make financial decisions. Check the will to see if you have been named executor, and/or ask the court to provide a letter certifying your status.
2. Get multiple copies of the death certificate. Having 10–20 copies of the death certificate will make other steps easier, such as dealing with financial institutions. In many cases, the funeral home will be able to provide them. Also, you might be able to order them online via downloadable forms, or you might have to visit the county clerk’s office in the deceased’s locale.
3. Get in touch with current or former employers. Check to see if your loved one was owed any back pay or bonuses, deferred any income or had accrued any unused vacation or sick time. Also, find out about any pensions, group life insurance or health benefits that might have been in force.
4. Contact insurance companies, agencies and financial institutions. To help prevent unnecessary complications or fraud, be sure to notify the Social Security Administration and the U.S. Postal Service about your loved one’s passing. Also, contact any banks, credit card companies or utility companies the deceased might have done business with and cancel or transfer accounts as needed.
5. Submit a life insurance claim. If your loved one was protected by life insurance, request a claim form and submit it, along with a copy of the death certificate. Since life insurance proceeds typically are processed outside the probate system, this might be the only money you and any surviving members of your family receive for some time. What’s more, the death benefit usually is free from federal income taxes.
Recovering from the loss of a loved one isn’t easy, especially if you are the one who has to make the difficult financial decisions. Hopefully, taking these steps will reduce some of the stress and help you to move on through the grieving process as quickly as possible.
Claire Damgaard Damgaard is an agent with New York Life Insurance Co. in Dubuque. To learn more, call 563-581-5702.