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What to Do When a Loved One Passes

Oct 05, 2017 2 min read Kevin Johnston

Key Takeaways

  • If you spread key tasks out over time, they’ll be easier to manage.
  • You may need both an attorney and an accountant to handle a will and other legal and tax matters.
  • Make sure you have all the documents you’ll need to manage your loved one’s estate and affairs.


After you lose a loved one, many things have to be taken care of. Of course, these come at a time when you are least likely to want to focus on finances, notifying people and making arrangements — but they do need to be done. Your wisest move is to make a list of tasks and people to contact, and spread them out over the coming weeks and months. This will relieve some of the pressure of feeling overwhelmed.

Let's look at some essential tasks, from the first week through the ninth month.


In the first week

Start by notifying all the members of your immediate family and relatives, along with friends. Don't forget to contact any appropriate clergy or spiritual counselor. Then alert financial professionals who may have had dealings with the deceased. This should include contacting the company that manages funeral benefits for the deceased, as well as investment advisors and insurers.

Next, make sure any dependents of the deceased will still have care, and immediately arrange for the care of any pets. Prepare an obituary and have it published, and begin arrangements with a funeral home.

It’s also important to start gathering documents, such as a will or trust, insurance policies and any document detailing the funeral wishes of the deceased. Ask for several copies of the death certificate. You may need these for various companies and organizations.


By the end of the first month

Get documentation that will allow you to make decisions on behalf of the deceased.

You may want to see to any loans, bills, tax accounts and any other ongoing financial obligations of the deceased. Even though some of these will be closed out, keep the accounts current for now. There may be money due from the deceased’s employer that can help pay these bills, so contact the relevant person or company about paychecks and benefits. If the deceased was a partner in business, contact them regarding ownership rights and amounts due. Contact any financial institutions that hold investment accounts in the deceased's name to find out if a beneficiary was named, and call or write to all relevant credit card companies and ask to close the accounts.

If there is a will or trust, you may want to consult an attorney for review. Also, you can bring the document to your local courthouse to find out what further action you will need to take.

You will need to notify the Social Security Administration, Medicare, Medicaid and possibly the Veteran’s Administration.

You may want to consider contacting an accountant to prepare final tax returns of the deceased's estate. Make sure to file those returns — it's required by law.

In two to four months

Cancel the driver's license of the deceased and change the names on all assets, including homes, vehicles and insurance policies. Also, write to your local Board of Elections to let them know your loved one has passed.

Complete an inventory of all of the deceased's assets and liabilities.


Within six to nine months

By about nine months, consider creating an investment strategy for any monies left by the deceased. A financial professional can assist you. Also, if you had named the deceased as a beneficiary in a will or insurance policy, check your accounts and make the necessary changes.


What you can do next

If you take your time and spread the tasks out, you'll find it much easier to handle the many things needed to take care of the deceased's final affairs. Consider getting professional help whenever possible, especially with investment management.



Kevin Johnston is a financial writer who writes about personal finance and investments, as well as financial management and planning. He has written for the New York Daily News, New York Post, San Francisco Chronicle and Houston Chronicle.


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