There are no rules about when you should “get back to normal” or “move on” after a loved one dies. Everyone deals with grief differently. But there are many financial and legal tasks that will require your immediate attention, and sometimes dealing with menial tasks can help you move through the grieving process.
Here are some things that will need to be done:
- Gather important information, such as the deceased’s Social Security number, birth certificate, marriage certificate, divorce decree, and military discharge papers.
- Locate the deceased person’s original “wet-ink” Will (and Trust, if applicable).
- Obtain at least 10 copies of the death certificate. In Florida, we have both short-form (no cause of death listed) and long-form death certificates. Generally, only life insurance companies require the long-forms in case there’s a suicide, workplace death, or something else that voids the policy. Everyone else will require a short-form due to privacy laws. So, request a long-form for each life insurance policy and lots of short-forms for everything else.
- Inform the Social Security office about the death (if the funeral home didn’t) and file a Social Security benefits claim form to qualify for the death benefit. Surviving spouses will also want to find out what will happen to their benefits due to the death of their spouse.
- Notify the deceased person’s supplemental Medicare insurance plan of the death of the insured (Social Security will notify Medicare and Florida Medicaid, but not any supplemental health insurance companies).
- Find the titles and registrations for all automobiles. If there’s a loan, find the loan documents. If leased, find the lease contract.
- Print out up-to-date statements for all bank, brokerage and retirement accounts.
- Find all evidence of debts and their balances – loans, credit cards, mortgages, medical bills, etc.
- Find the beneficiary forms for all insurance policies, IRAs, 401(k)s, bank accounts, annuities, and investment accounts.
- Deposit the deceased’s original Will (if there is one) with the Probate Court in the county of the deceased person’s residence, even if no probate is expected. Make a copy first because the clerk will keep the original. In Florida, there’s generally no charge to deposit a Will.
- File a death claim with the deceased’s life insurance company, if applicable.
- Request, complete, and submit paperwork for any accounts that named you as a beneficiary.
- Contact the Employer’s Benefits department about survivorship pension, health insurance, unpaid salary and life insurance benefits, if applicable.
- Change the name on the utilities, if applicable.
- If the deceased person was a party to an ongoing lawsuit, or the beneficiary of a probate that hasn’t yet settled, gather all the pertinent paperwork.
- Prepare a preliminary monthly budget and income summary.
- Contact an experienced estate planning or probate attorney to determine whether a probate and/or trust administration will be needed. While trust administration is much less onerous than probate, Florida does have some legal requirements for trustees after a person dies.
Be aware that anyone convicted of a felony – anywhere, anytime – cannot serve as a Personal Representative (known as an Executor in other states) in a probate under Florida law.
Hold off for a bit before you retitle any joint accounts into your name only – random checks made payable to the deceased can appear for a few weeks after death as things settle out and you’ll want to be able to deposit them.
Contact your financial advisor about transferring any inherited IRAs into your name and taking out a required minimum distribution (RMD), if applicable. New beneficiaries should also be named and title for any real estate previously held jointly with the deceased should be updated (your estate planning attorney can assist you with that).
And don’t forget about taxes. A final income tax return may need to be filed, and if the deceased person was very wealthy, you may also need to file a federal estate tax return within nine months of death.
You don’t need to go it alone. Contact an experienced estate planning/estate administration lawyer for help.
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