A Checklist for a Challenging Time

Given the long-term nature of many of our client relationships, we naturally work with clients during both the good times and the challenging times of their lives. The loss of a loved one is one of the most difficult times we all go through, requiring the fortitude to focus on what our society and government requires of us, at a time of heightened emotion and grieving. Following a general checklist might be a useful resource should you experience the loss of a loved one. Of course, your estate planning attorney should direct you with specifics that are tailored to the decedent’s planning documents and the jurisdiction involved; however, we believe there is value in knowing, in a broad sense, what some of these steps might be.

1. At Time of Death – Funeral Arrangements and Notification of Advisors

If the death occurred in a hospital, nursing home or assisted living facility, the medical or facility staff will coordinate with a mortuary or funeral home of your choice for transport of the body. If the death occurred at home, most states require a qualified medical professional to make the official pronouncement of death. Call the decedent’s physician or the county coroner’s office. You will also need to arrange for transport of the body according to the coroner’s instructions to the mortuary of choice.

If the deceased had funeral/burial plans, these should be followed. If not, the Personal Representative (also called Executor/Executrix or Administrator, depending on the state) should make the arrangements.

If you are the Personal Representative (PR), you will need to consult with the decedent’s advisors including attorney, accountant, portfolio manager and other advisors before distributing assets or notifying any government agencies (such as Social Security) or banking, insurance, credit card or financial service firms. However, the PR should begin to safeguard assets and property. Do not remove or distribute any property before opening the estate or being named successor trustee. Contact these trusted advisors within the first couple of days after death.

A note to Personal Representatives: You will probably end up paying for some (or a lot) of expenses related to the death out of your own pocket. Save the receipts as these expenses will be reimbursed out of the decedent’s estate or trusts.

2. The First Week After Death – Secure Home and Locate Important Documents

Complete the funeral and burial arrangements. This may include transfer to another location, memorial services, etc.

Obtain Death Certificates. The most common way of obtaining death certificates is through the funeral home. You may need more than you think (one for every institution where the decedent had accounts). You can get more later through the county where the death occurred but it is easier to get them from the funeral home. Information needed for a death certificate may include the following for the decedent:

  • First, middle, and last name (possibly maiden name if applicable)
  • Home address
  • Social Security number
  • Date of birth
  • Date of death
  • Age
  • Gender
  • Race/Ethnicity
  • Marital status
  • Spouse’s first and last name (if applicable)
  • Highest level of education
  • Place of birth
  • Mother and father’s names
  • Military service information if applicable

 

Secure the decedent’s home if he/she lived alone. This could include arranging for mail to be forwarded to the PR, having pets cared for, removing perishables, and securing vehicles, electronic devices, etc. If the PR lives far away from the decedent, arrange for a trusted individual to check on the home regularly.

Secure the decedent’s digital assets (e.g., social media, email accounts, etc.) and beware of incoming emails with bills – some will eventually be fraudulent, some will be legitimate (see Beware of Unethical Actors).

Locate Decedent’s Will and/or Trust Documents. These are often in a safe deposit box or safe, but the decedent’s attorney may have a copy as well. If you believe they are in a safe deposit box, an heir or beneficiary can ask the bank to open the box to search for a will or burial instructions.

Locate Important Documents.

  • Funeral or burial plans
  • Safe deposit rental invoices and keys
  • Credit card, utility, phone, insurance, HOA, and any other statements that need to be paid on a timely basis
  • Life insurance policies
  • Bank account statements and checkbooks
  • Financial (brokerage) account statements
  • Pension or retirement account statements
  • Income tax returns (if you cannot find them, the decedent’s accountant should have copies)
  • Deeds and/or mortgage statements
  • Military records if applicable
  • Marriage, birth, death, and divorce certificates

 

3. Within a Month Of Death – File Claims and Notify Key Organizations/Agencies

Meet with attorney, accountant, and financial advisor. If necessary, the attorney will help obtain letters testamentary for the PR/Executor, issued by the court, which will give the PR authority to administer the estate (such as accessing safe deposit boxes, transferring titles to cars, houses, etc.).

File life insurance claims.

File any outstanding medical insurance/Medicare claims.

Cancel credit cards, prescriptions, newspapers and magazines, etc. (but check the statements to see what recurring charges, such as HOA fees, insurance payments, etc. are tied to the credit cards – these will need to be paid out of an estate or trust account until the assets are disposed of).

Contact all three credit monitoring services, Equifax, TransUnion and Experian, and obtain copies of deceased’s credit reports – they will want copies of death certificates/death notices.

Contact Department of Motor Vehicles to cancel driver’s license.

Contact Social Security/Medicare if these agencies have been making payments to the decedent (If payments were made after death, the PR can easily refund these – it happens all the time).

Contact Registrar of Voters to cancel voter registration.

Beware of Unethical Actors
Once an obituary or death notice is published, unsavory characters often appear by mail, phone, email or even in person to take advantage of grieving families. Be on the lookout for telephone and mail solicitations. Invoices may appear that are fraudulent. Offers to assist with Social Security and Medicare are usually ruses designed to take advantage of the situation.

For more information, please feel free to reach us at contactus@sbhic.com or (800) 836-4265.

This information has been prepared solely for informational purposes and is not intended to provide and should not be relied upon for accounting, legal, tax, or investment advice. The factual statements herein have been taken from sources we believe to be reliable, but such statements are made without any representation as to accuracy or completeness. These materials are subject to change, completion, or amendment from time to time without notice, and Segall Bryant & Hamill is not under any obligation to keep you advised of such changes. This document and its contents are proprietary to Segall Bryant & Hamill, and no part of this document or its subject matter should be reproduced, disseminated, or disclosed without the written consent of Segall Bryant & Hamill. Any unauthorized use is prohibited.

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