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6 Financial Steps to Take After a Loved One Dies

Apr 13, 2021 4 min read Deb Hipp

Key takeaways

  • Assess your new financial situation, factoring in expenses and survivor or life insurance benefits.
  • Change bank and credit accounts, and notify credit bureaus to prevent fraud.
  • Ensure you have enough life insurance to protect your family moving forward.

 

Few things are more devastating than the death of a loved one. The loss cuts deep, both emotionally and financially. Initially, you're just doing your best to plan the funeral or memorial service, hopefully with the help of family and friends. But once all the food and flowers are put away and visitors go home, a new reality sets in—along with many financial questions.

For example, "What accounts do I need to know about?" "Which documents do I need to close or change them?" And, if your loved one was your partner, "How will I support my household with only one income?"

 

 

Indeed, the to-do list may seem daunting, and you may be unsure where to even begin. Here are six steps to help you get started—and get your finances back in order.

 

  1. 1. Locate the will

    Whether you have a joint will or the deceased had their own will, locate the document and contact the attorney who prepared it for advice on your next move. If the will was done online or is some other DIY document, you may want to consult an estate attorney for the next steps. They can help you with probate, the legal process that officially recognizes the will and appoints an executor to administer the estate and distribute assets to the beneficiaries.

    If you aren't sure a will exists, search the person's important documents. If there's no will, a judge in probate court will appoint an administrator to ensure the estate is divided according to state law. Even so, an estate attorney is still the first person to check with, as they'll be able to advise you on how to proceed.

     

  2. 2. Get copies of the death certificate

    You'll need certified copies of the death certificate to switch or cancel the person's bank or credit accounts and to claim life insurance, retirement funds or pension benefits.

    Request at least 12 copies from the funeral home. If your spouse has died, make sure to also have certified copies of your marriage certificate on hand, as you'll need to prove you were married in order to to collect benefits such as a life insurance payout or funds from your spouse's retirement accounts.

     

  3. 3. Investigate available resources

    If your loved one had life insurance, contact the insurer(s) to begin the claims process. Then contact your loved one's employer for details on 401(k) or similar retirement accounts, or other employee benefits that may be available to surviving family members.

    Also, locate your loved one's Social Security number, and call the Social Security Administration Opens in new window to learn if you're eligible for survivor benefits. Similarly, if the person was in the military, contact the Department of Veterans Affairs Opens in new window to check whether you'll be able to receive benefits.

     

  4. 4. Collect financial documents

    Gather the person's important bank and credit account statements, loan documents, recurring monthly bills and retirement account information to determine what to change, cancel or pay.

    You'll also need to locate or update account passwords for online account access.

     

  5. 5. Assess your new financial reality

    If your household had two incomes, you may have less money to spend or contribute to savings, at least temporarily. If your loved one was a primary caregiver to dependents, the surviving family may have additional child care costs.

    Create a new monthly budget, factoring in expenses like child care and income from life insurance, retirement plans and survivor benefits. If you need help, consider meeting with a counselor at a nonprofit credit counseling agency. You may also want to consult with a financial professional for long-term and retirement planning for a future without a spouse.

     

  6. 6. Make changes to the necessary accounts

    Contact the three major credit bureaus—Equifax, Experian and TransUnion—to report the death, and ask for a "deceased" notation in the report so no one can take out credit in the deceased's name.

    If your loved one had credit cards or other loans in their name, contact the lenders to cancel the accounts. Get copies of their credit reports from those "Big Three" bureaus to learn what debts must be paid by the estate. If a bill or utility is solely under their name, contact the company to change it over to the appropriate party.

     

Don't let things linger

Avoid waiting too long to handle all of this. Moving forward after a loved one dies can be hard, but having both their finances and yours in order sooner rather than later will keep the estate's bills from piling up—and perhaps even your own if you're entitled to insurance or pension benefits. Resolving these issues now means one less stressor as you heal and move on with your life.

 

What you can do next

Once you've taken these steps to determine where you stand financially without your loved one or spouse, make sure you have enough life insurance to support those who depend on you—and a proper will to make things as easy as possible on your family in the event that you pass away.

Footnotes

Deb Hipp has been writing about personal finance topics for 25 years. Her work has appeared on sites and publications such as Debt.com, MSN.com, The Hartford's Extra Mile and Next Avenue.

 

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