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Losing a Loved One

Few times in our lives are more devastating than the death of a loved one. As you feel your own life pausing as you grieve your loss, these pointers will help take care of your finances and those of your loved one.

The death of anyone especially close to us creates an interruption to the flow of our everyday lives. It takes time to recapture our sense of equilibrium, and our awareness of everyday tasks and responsibilities. How much time a person needs to regain personal and financial stability is as unique to an individual as their fingerprint.

Prior to death, the deceased may have shared information about their final wishes. They may have told you where their will is kept. You may have been provided passwords to retrieve financial information from their computer. All of these details are involved in settling the estate. Depending on whom has been appointed as executor in the deceased person's will, you may have the task of finalizing their financial affairs. Depending on the complexity of the estate, you may need to seek the assistance of an attorney.

Unless there is a living trust or all assets are held in joint tenancy, the estate will have to go through the probate process. A probate court hearing will determine final debts of the deceased. Based on the will, the legal title of property will also be determined and legally passed to the heirs. If the decedent has a will, the authenticity of the will is determined. If there is no will, then the property of your loved one will be distributed to the heirs according to state laws.

There are several financial details that need to be completed following a person's death. To be ready to follow through on the paperwork required, obtain several notarized copies of the death certificate. Here is a task list:

  • Contact the Social Security Administration (SSA) to inquire about any benefits the deceased may have been receiving or benefits that may be available to survivors of the deceased. Social Security Benefits cease with death, and any checks payable to the decedent that are received after their passing should be returned to the SSA. A one-time payment of $255 is made to the spouse, living beneficiary, or a child of the deceased. This payment is to help pay for funeral expenses. Dependent children and parents, or the spouse, may be eligible for survivorship benefits. To report a death to Social Security, call 1-800-772-1213. See the SSA article How Social Security Can Help You When A Family Member Dies.

  • Check with the deceased person's insurance carriers about the procedures for claiming life insurance benefits and removing the deceased one's name from automobile, homeowner's, and other policies.

  • Did the decedent share ownership of a car? The local Division of Motor Vehicles will require forms to be completed and a copy of the death certificate to remove the deceased person's name from the title and registration.

  • Contact the deceased's employer. Frequently, individuals carry a life insurance policy at their place of work and there may be benefits available.

  • Submit any medical expenses incurred at or prior to the death as claims to the appropriate insurance provider. Also include any outstanding medical bills that were paid.

  • Notify banks and creditors of the death. If the accounts were solely the possession of the deceased, they will be closed. If you shared these accounts, inquire how each institution prefers to remove the deceased's name from the account to give you sole ownership and responsibility. Frequently, financial institutions will require a letter stating your wishes with a notarized copy of the death certificate to verify the death of the account holder.

  • If the decedent ever served in the military, benefits may be available for the spouse and minor children. Contact the nearest Department of Veterans Affairs or call 800-827-1000 and ask for assistance.

  • Resolve any taxes that the decedent may owe. This may be a time that you want to consult a tax expert and let them walk you through the details that apply to your unique situation.

This list is a place to begin. As you begin to take care of these affairs, others will arise. As difficult as it may be to accept, the outside world will continue to make demands on grieving family members despite your inability to focus. This is not a time to neglect your financial responsibilities. Once your days become more normal again, you will be greatly relieved if you've paid attention to the financial details of your own life, too. The following list offers suggestions for how you can manage your life and your financial responsibilities during this difficult time:

  • Take care of yourself. The fundamental elements of everyday life go out the window when we lose a loved one. Attempt to maintain some sort of routine by eating regular meals, sleeping, and attending to your basic hygiene needs. Continue taking any prescribed medications. If you find yourself unable to sleep, or if you are experiencing other severe adjustment difficulties, visit your family physician just to be safe.

  • Find a support group. During this time of sorrow, you may not want to cope with new people or situations, but there is a great deal to be gained from a support group. Whether you find a group online, in the yellow pages, through your employer, from a local hospital or in your community, there is tremendous comfort in talking and sharing experiences with other people who understand.

  • Take a financial inventory of bills and other financial obligations. If you have never approached your finances as a line item on a checklist, this is a good time for that kind of attention to detail. Do you know when the next insurance premium is due? Is there a membership or registration that will lapse if you miss a payment?

  • Create a calendar to keep track of what needs to be done, as well as note key events that happen during this time period. A calendar can be the ideal solution for many people coping during stressful times. During the day when the simplest task feels overwhelming, a calendar can make tasks more manageable. Recording key events will also help you remember those details in coming months.

  • Avoid big money decisions. The world is full of people who have suggestions about how to spend your money, especially if they believe you've just received an inheritance check or a life insurance check. If you have important decisions to make about money, consider trusting a professional financial planner. Protect your money in a low-risk account like a money market account or savings account, or into savings bonds until you are better prepared to make plans for your future. Postpone any major decisions regarding money or investments for three to six months, at least.

  • Ask for help. In your circle of close friends, family, and even within your community, there is someone who would be more than willing to help you see that your banking is taken care of and your bills are paid. Even at this time when you feel alone, there is someone at a local church or in a grief and loss support group who will come to your aid. If you have the financial resources, you could even hire an accountant to help you through this trying time and remove these tasks from your plate.

If you are overwhelmed by the details of managing finances right now, don't stuff the bills into a drawer or let them pile up in the corner. Find someone who will help you find your way through the next few months until you are better able to cope. Your time to grieve is necessary for your health and for you.

Take control of your finances with our debt help tools. Use our calculators and budget planner to help you manage your money.


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