Learning Center

When a Loved One Passes

Take steps to keep your financial house in order.

Few things are as traumatic as the death of a loved one. On top of the emotional loss, there comes a flood of paperwork as well as legal and financial changes that require immediate attention.

You can help smooth the process by making sure you know all the details of your financial picture and where important documents are stored. This may include bank, investment and retirement accounts, safe deposit boxes, vehicle titles, mortgage documents, wills, life & health insurance papers and social security information. Make sure both you and your partner know your financial advisors, accountants and attorneys.

No matter how well you plan, though, there will still be many details to go through if a loved one passes. Here are steps you can take to help keep your financial house in order.

Gather documents – You’ll need Social Security numbers, insurance policies, employer benefit booklets, car titles, and current statements for savings and retirement accounts. Also, get several copies of the death certificate. You’ll need them to close or change ownership of any bank accounts, investments and real estate. You’ll also need a death certificate to file a claim for life insurance, Social Security payments or veteran’s benefits.

Get expert help – Consult an attorney to help you determine what paperwork needs to be completed to transfer assets and pay taxes. You may also want to check with an accountant or investment advisor, depending on the size of the estate. Their assistance will be valuable as you navigate the rules, regulations and paperwork.

Don’t make any immediate major financial decisions – Most experts recommend you hold off on such decisions as selling your home, making gifts or changing investments. Some decisions may need to be made more quickly, though, for tax reasons.

Collect life insurance benefits – If you know there are life insurance policies but can’t find them, see if any checks were written to an insurance company. If you need further help, the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) has a website to help track down lost policies.

Check with current and past employers – Benefits owed may include:

  • Life insurance
  • Pension
  • Healthcare
  • Unpaid salary and bonuses
  • Accrued vacation and sick pay
  • Leftover funds in a medical flex spending account
  • Stock options

Social Security benefits – Your family may be entitled to survivor benefits. Help determining Social Security benefits is available online, by calling the Social Security Administration at 1-800-772-1213 or by contacting your local Social Security office.

Veteran’s benefits – If your loved one was in the military, there may be financial assistance available for funeral, burial plot or other expenses. Consult the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs website or call 1-800-827-1000.

Insurance – End health coverage for the deceased, but be sure coverage for dependents continues if needed. Change the names on auto, homeowners and any other insurance policies.

Notify financial institutions – Change ownership of joint bank accounts, insurance policies and credit cards.

Notify credit reporting agencies – To minimize the chance of identity theft, provide copies of the death certificate to the three major firms — Equifax, Experian and TransUnion — as soon as possible.

Finally, use caution with obituaries and social media. While you may want to post a fitting memorial, keep in mind that doing so could providing identity thieves with additional information.

While nothing can take away the pain of losing a loved one, with a little help, you can make the transition smoother and easier.