When a loved one dies, administrative details are usually the furthest thing from your mind. But, there is a lot to be done, from planning a funeral to making important notifications. Some of these tasks will typically be carried out by the personal representative, while others may be left to one or more family members.
The first step will typically be to make arrangements for the deceased’s remains. If your loved one passes away in a hospital, nursing home, or similar facility, the administration will usually assist you with this step. If a family member dies at home, contacting a local funeral director is typically the first step.
Making Notifications When a Loved One Dies
In addition to family members and close friends, you will want to notify:
- The Social Security Administration (SSA)
- The Veteran’s Administration (VA), if the deceased was a veteran
- The deceased’s bank
- Credit card companies, mortgage providers, and others with open accounts
- Insurance companies, including medical, automobile, and life insurance providers
- The deceased’s employer, if he or she was employed
- Providers of services, such as:
- Telephone and Internet
- Cable television
Of course, each person has different accounts and obligations, and the precise notification list will vary depending on the deceased’s circumstances. This list is simply a starting point, identifying the types of organizations, businesses and individuals who may require notification.
It is also important to note that the handling of different services and policies may be different. For example, you may discontinue the deceased’s cable television service or cell phone service immediately or very shortly after his death. However, it may be necessary to maintain utility services such as water and electricity in the short-term, especially in the winter.
Similarly, while you will need to notify the deceased’s automobile insurance carrier, you will likely need an extension of coverage to allow the estate time to transfer the vehicle to an heir or sell it. Notification doesn’t necessarily mean immediate cancelation, but don’t assume that you can drive the vehicle on the deceased’s policy.
Protecting Heirs and Securing Property When a Loved One Dies
Unfortunately, predators may take advantage of your loss, recognizing that during this difficult time the deceased’s home may be vacant, and loved ones may be confused and vulnerable. Two of the most important steps you should take to protect yourself safeguard property are:
- Secure the home where the deceased lived. Your loved one’s public obituary likely lists the time and place of the wake, memorial, and/or funeral services. That’s an advertisement to the unscrupulous that all family members will likely be away during that time. If the deceased lived alone, the property may be vacant immediately following the death, but still filled with valuables and mementos.
- Beware of fraudulent activity. One common scam involves calling close relatives of the recently deceased and claiming the right to collect on a debt. Under most circumstances, surviving family members are not responsible for the deceased’s debts—even if there is a legitimate debt, which is far from certain. Any creditor claims should be processed through the estate and thoroughly vetted.
Identity theft is also a risk many people never consider. While you may think identity theft doesn’t matter, since your loved one won’t be using his or her credit rating anymore, it can actually wreak havoc with an estate. If a thief takes out credit cards or loans in the deceased’s name, those debts could become claims against the estate. Untangling those claims may be costly and time-consuming, depleting estate assets and increasing administration time.
Coordinate with Family Members and Knowledgeable Professionals
Family members trying to help can cause complication and confusion. Work with the closest relatives to agree on who will handle which tasks, and consult the estate’s attorney to determine which must be managed by the personal representative of the estate. The exact steps to be taken and notifications required will vary depending on the deceased’s property, obligations, and living situation. So, it is in your best interest to get guidance as soon as possible when a loved one dies.