What to do When a Relative Dies
This MFS planning checklist may help make this emotional time a little easier.
After the funeral
Down the road
By the Numbers
There are tasks that family members will need to take care of very soon after the relative’s death.
After the funeral
There are several financial matters that need to be taken care of when a relative dies. However, you may not need to take these steps immediately. You and your family will need time to grieve. Most financial advisors recommend that you do not make any changes in or long-term decisions about finances for at least six months to a year after your loved one’s death. But there are some issues that have to be dealt with within legal time periods. Here are some of the initial steps that may need to be taken.
– copies of the decedent’s death certificate (You can get these from the funeral director, and it is a good idea to get at least 10 to 20 copies.)
– a copy of the decedent’s birth certificate (and your marriage license if the decedent is your spouse)
– financial statements, including those from banks, brokerage houses and insurance agencies
– other financial documents, including tax forms from prior years, unpaid credit card and utility bills and mortgage payments
– the decedent’s Social Security number, and Veterans Affairs identification number, if applicable
Steps you may need to take
Determine how to arrange for any income you may be getting from the decedent’s retirement plan benefits, union survivor benefits, Social Security, veterans’ benefits or life insurance policies.
If the decedent was receiving Social Security benefits, notify the Social Security Administration promptly. If you are the spouse of the decedent, you will need to go to your local Social Security office in person. Bring the decedent’s Social Security number, death certificate (a certified copy) and proof of relationship (such as a marriage license and the decedent’s birth certificate).
A spouse or any minor children who were living with the decedent at the time of death receive a one-time Social Security payment. A widow or widower can also receive monthly benefits generally beginning at age 60, or at any age if he or she is caring for an eligible minor (under age 16 or disabled). Unmarried minor children (under age 18, or 19 if they are still attending high school) receive monthly Social Security benefits. If you are divorced from the decedent after a marriage of at least 10 years, you may be eligible for Social Security payments.
Call the Social Security Administration at 1-800-772-1213 Monday through Friday from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Eastern time for more information on benefits for which you may be eligible.
Call the Department of Veterans Affairs at 1-800-827-1000 to find the office nearest you. You should go to the office in person and bring the decedent’s birth certificate, Social Security number, death certificate and Veterans Affairs records. Benefits going to a spouse and heirs may include pension payments and financial aid for education costs.
If you are the beneficiary under an insurance policy, contact the insurance company or agent to obtain the death claim forms you will need to complete and submit. With the forms, you will need to include a certified copy of the death certificate.
If you are the beneficiary of any retirement or pension plan of the decedent, call the employee benefits department of the company that sponsors the plan and determine what your payment options are and what paperwork the plan requires you to submit.
Down the road
The probate process can be lengthy, sometimes stretching to two to three years or longer. In some instances, however, probate may be avoided completely, such as when an estate consists of trust assets. The executor should be able to anticipate how long the settlement of the estate will take.
There is no quick fix for the grief and stress experienced after the death of a loved one. Survivors are often counselled to put off making any extraordinary changes in their lives — such as moving, reinvesting assets or selling the family home — too soon after a loss. Making important decisions immediately could mean having regrets later. Instead, it may be best to take time to grieve and heal from one of life’s inevitable, but most traumatic, experiences.
National Funeral Directors Association
The NFDA’s Funeral Service Help Line gives consumers information they need to plan a funeral.
601 E Street NW
Washington, DC 20049
AARP is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization dedicated to helping older Americans achieve lives of independence, dignity and purpose. AARP‘s website has online publications and links for funeral planning information.
Funeral Consumers Alliance
33 Patchen Rd.
South Burlington, VT 05403
FCA is a consumer organization that provides information about alternatives for funeral or nonfuneral dispositions. It encourages advanced planning and cost efficiency.
Selected Independent Funeral Homes
500 Lake Cook Rd., Suite 205
Deerfield, IL 60015
Selected Independent Funeral Homes is a national association of funeral firms. Membership is by invitation only and conditioned upon the commitment of each firm to comply with the association’s Code of Good Funeral Practice. Consumers may view a variety of publications in the site’s Smart Consumer Information section.
Federal Trade Commission
The FTC offers a consumer guide to funerals. Click the “Money & Credit” tab, then select “Shopping & Saving” from the menu on the left, then “Shopping for Funeral Services” under the Specific Products and Services section.
This material should be used as helpful hints only. Each person’s situation is different. You should consult your investment professional or other relevant professional before making any decisions.
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Contact your financial advisor for more information or visit mfs.com.
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