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Wills and estate planning

What to do after a loved one dies

Whether it's a spouse or parent, there is no easy way to handle the passing of a loved one.

In addition to the emotional distress, the additional financial, legal and logistical pressures can feel overwhelming. However, having an idea of what to do during this difficult time can be helpful.

Here is a list and timeline to consider after a loved one dies.

One to three days after death

In the aftermath of a death, making decisions will probably be difficult. You might want to consider asking for help or contacting an attorney as you complete these important tasks:

  • Make logistical arrangements. One of the first phone calls you should make after a death is to the funeral home, which can get you started working through how to plan a funeral. In addition to helping you carry out your deceased loved one's wishes, the funeral home may be able to help you place an obituary announcement in the newspaper and online, acquire a death certificate and notify the Social Security Administration.In addition, you will want to pick up your loved one's mail and, if they had pets, make sure they are taken care of. Keep in mind when making arrangements that if you or family and friends have to travel for the funeral, certain airlines may offer discounted bereavement rates.

  • Collect important documents. Next, you will want to start collecting important documents, such as a will and any burial plan documents or instructions. If no instructions were left about what your loved one wanted in the event of his or her death, you'll need to inquire about your state's intestacy laws.

  • Manage immediate financial details. If you and your loved one shared a bank account, you can move funds from a joint-owned savings or checking account into an account in your name once you've provided a copy of the death certificate. In addition, if he or she was still working, contact your loved one's employer (current or former, if retired) and ask about:

One to 10 days after death

After the funeral, your focus will likely return to financial and legal matters. If you are the surviving spouse, you will likely be handling much of this.

If you have lost a parent, you will want to bring together your siblings and other key family members to work through the details, especially if there is no will. You or your loved one's lawyer or financial advisor can help with next steps - this is especially helpful if you are the spouse and were not the one who handled the finances in your marriage.

  • Secure documents. You will want to have 10 to 15 certified copies of the death certificate (which your funeral director can get for you). You will also want to start collecting valuable documents, such as:

    • Safety deposit box agreement and keys

    • Social Security card or number

    • Trust agreements

    • Nuptial agreements

    • Life insurance policies or statements

    • Pension, IRA or retirement statements

    • Motor vehicle titles

    • Mortgage and title policies, and deeds of trust

    • Leases

    • Loans

    • Income tax returns for several years

  • Work with a qualified attorney. It's a good idea to have a qualified attorney if probate is required. An attorney can also notify beneficiaries if probate is needed and initiate proceedings.

  • Contact the appropriate parties. You will want to notify people and organizations about the death of your loved one (in addition to family and friends) who might include:

    • Business associates (attorneys, accountants, bankers, insurance professionals, investment advisors and business partners)

    • Physicians

    • Utilities (cell phone, internet and cable companies)

    • U.S. Postal Service

    • Subscription services (magazines, newspapers, streaming services)

  • Start the claims process. Your loved one's life insurance company should be contacted as soon as possible following the death of the insured to begin the claims and payout process.

One to nine months after death

Settling an estate can be one of the most challenging aspects of handling a loved one's death. Here is what to consider that will help settle your loved one's estate and keep your own estate organized:

  • Estate documents: Review and update your own will and beneficiary information, which may change based on who has died, especially if the person was your spouse.

  • Death benefit proceeds: If you are a named beneficiary on any retirement plans or life insurance policies you'll need to review any options you may have for payment.

  • Health insurance: If it's a spouse who has died, you may have had health coverage through his or her company. If so, be sure to contact his or her employer or health insurance plan.

  • Life and disability insurance: You may now be your family's primary provider and want to consider a life insurance policy.

  • Complete the estate settlement: You may need to consult a tax advisor about potential state or federal taxes or to find out if the court requires a final statement summarizing the estate's income and expenses. Remember, in probate cases, it can take over a year to settle the estate.

Finally, know that grieving the loss of a loved one is highly personal and everyone experiences it differently. Learn more with our grief and mourning resources.


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All Learning Center articles are general summaries that can be used when considering your financial future at various life stages. The information presented is for educational purposes and is meant to supplement other information specific to your situation. It is not intended as investment advice and does not necessarily represent the opinion of Protective Life or its subsidiaries.

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