How Can I Move On after a Loved One Dies?

Grieving has no time limit. But sometimes doing tasks can help you move through the grieving process.

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.

Other articles you may find interesting: 

How Family Dysfunction Can Wreck Your Estate Plan

Why is This Probate Taking So Long?

***Want to learn more about how to protect your family from the government, lawsuits, accidental disinheritance, or nursing homes? Click THIS LINK to book a seat at one of our upcoming fun and educational workshops.***

Death Quest: The Morbid Scavenger Hunt

In this video, Cindy discusses the sad, frustrating process most people have to go through after a loved one dies.

Other articles/videos you may find interesting:

Bad Things Happen to Young People, Too

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***Want to learn more about how to protect your family from the government, lawsuits, accidental disinheritance, or nursing homes? Click THIS LINK to book a seat at one of our upcoming fun and educational workshops.***

Dying Alone and Forgotten

Dying, End-of-life
If you have no family members willing and able to help you when you need it most, you’ll have to rely on strangers.

This is a difficult article to write, but it’s too important not to. Nothing in this article is intended as criticism – it’s merely a fact-based look at what can happen when certain choice are made or circumstances happen.

We estate planning and elder law attorneys preach preparation all the time. “Make sure you have your legal documents in order,” “Let your kids know what you want,” “Simplify and organize your life to make things easier when you’re not around.” But, more and more often, I come across people who want to do these things, but hit a roadblock because they have no one they can rely on to help them if they become incapacitated or die.

In some cases, it’s due to circumstances beyond their control. Perhaps they couldn’t have children, or their spouse and children predeceased them. Perhaps they were a childless only child and have no siblings, nieces or nephews. Or maybe they’ve outlived their siblings and friends. Maybe their only child is a homeless drug addict.

In other cases, it’s due to choices they made during their lives. Many people are choose not to marry, and/or not to have children. Sometimes people become estranged from their family members or even disown their children for a multitude of reasons.

Whatever the cause, the result is the same – you will likely end up alone, with strangers handling your money and your health care decisions, and deciding how and where you’ll live.

When you have no family willing and able (physically and financially) to take on the responsibilities of caring for you if you become ill or suffer from dementia, and no one to administer your estate when you die, the government will find someone and pay them a certain amount of money per hour with your money. If you have no money, the state government will pay that person a very minimal fee. Unfortunately, because we’re in a very senior-dense area, most of these professional guardians have many people they’re paid to look after.

If you have some assets (generally $500,000 or more), you can take some steps now to prevent guardianship over your finances and maintain some professional control over your assets. Search for  “trust companies” in your area and start reaching out to them to find out how they work, what their fees are, etc. Your local bank or investment firm may also have a trust company you can look into.

Proactively finding someone to make your health care decisions is quite a bit harder. It’s such a personal thing. Trust companies, attorneys, banks, etc. won’t take on that responsibility. Search for “care manager” or “geriatric care manager” in your area and reach out to them. Some will allow you to name them or their firm in your legal documents, and others can help you find someone to name.

As you can see, none of these options are pleasant or optimal. If there’s any way to mend fences with children or other family members, please seriously consider doing so. Don’t choose to die alone and forgotten.

Other articles you may find interesting:

Long-Term Care: Plan Before It’s Too Late

Unique Veterans Benefits in Your State – 2020

Would you like to learn more about estate planning, elder law, asset protection planning, probate, and Medicaid planning in an informal, no-obligation setting?

To sign up for one of our free, educational workshops CLICK HERE.

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In this video, Cindy discusses how co-ownership of real estate can affect your estate plan.

Other articles/videos you may find interesting:

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***Want to learn more about how to protect your family from the government, lawsuits, accidental disinheritance, or nursing homes? Click THIS LINK to book a seat at one of our upcoming fun and educational workshops.***

Deciding Who to Name as Your Personal Representative

Personal Representative named in Will
Choosing the right person to be your Personal Representative named in your Will is an important decision.

If you have a Will, someone has to administer it – gather all of your assets and debts, work with lawyers and the courts, take care of your property until it can be sold or distributed, and eventually distribute it to the people you named in your Will. That person is your Personal Representative (called an Executor in some states).

Who should you name to take on this enormous burden and responsibility? Well, in Florida, the absolute minimum requirements are that the person be at least 18 years old, a Florida resident as of your date of death or a family member, and not be a convicted felon. Otherwise, they cannot be appointed.

So, who can you name? You can name a family member who lives anywhere in the U.S. (it’s possible, in theory, to have a foreign PR, but it’s extremely costly and awkward and many probate lawyers won’t handle such a probate), a friend who lives in Florida, a business associate who lives in Florida, a Florida attorney or CPA, a professional fiduciary located in Florida, or a corporate trustee (such as a Florida trust company or bank).

What characteristics should this person or entity have? They will have a legal fiduciary duty to handle your estate (your “stuff”) according to your wishes, so they should be trustworthy, honest, dependable, organized, fair, have common sense, and, if possible, live close by so they can easily control and manage your property.

Being appointed as a Personal Representative is a time-consuming and sometimes frustrating job. So the person you name should have plenty of free time as well as the health and stamina to put in lots of hours, read and understand legal documents, hire professionals, deal with family questions and conflicts, and potentially travel frequently if they don’t live close to your property.

Your Personal Representative is entitled to (taxable) compensation under Florida law – and they should take that compensation! It’s not fair for one child to bear the entire burden for several months or longer, and then end up with the same amount as her siblings who just sat back and waited for their inheritance.

In your Will, you should always name backups after your first choice – bad things happen to good people all the time. If there is no one named in your Will who is willing and able to serve when you die, someone you wouldn’t want or trust could be named by a judge who wouldn’t know any better.

A good option for people who don’t have any family members or friends they want to name – or would prefer to name someone who is completely independent – is to name a corporate trustee. They know all the rules and the process, and have no emotional skin in the game. They can be completely impartial and fair. But they cost money, so there has to be enough money in your estate to make it worthwhile for them to serve – generally a minimum of $500,000. You should talk with any trust company you’re considering now – while you’re alive. If you have less than $500,000, you’ll likely need to rely on family and friends to serve.

Other articles you may find interesting:

NFA Firearms: Why You Should Name a Florida Executor or Trustee

4 DIY Estate Planning Fails

Would you like to learn more about estate planning, elder law, asset protection planning, probate, and Medicaid planning in an informal, no-obligation setting?

To sign up for one of our free, educational workshops CLICK HERE.

Why You Shouldn’t Use a Corporation to Own NFA Firearms

In this video, Cindy discusses some of the adverse consequences of using a corporation or LLC to own NFA firearms when you’re not using that corporation or LLC for a gun-sale related business.

Other articles/videos you may find interesting:

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***Want to learn more about how to protect your family from the government, lawsuits, accidental disinheritance, or nursing homes? Click THIS LINK to book a seat at one of our upcoming fun and educational workshops.***

How Family Dysfunction Can Wreck Your Estate Plan

In this video recorded a few months ago, Cindy discusses some of the ways family dysfunction can torpedo the best-laid estate plans.

Other articles/videos you may find interesting:

Why is This Probate Taking So Long?

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***Want to learn more about how to protect your family from the government, lawsuits, accidental disinheritance, or nursing homes? Click THIS LINK to book a seat at one of our upcoming fun and educational workshops.***

Long-Term Care: Plan Before It’s Too Late

long-term care
Planning for long-term care while you’re young and healthy opens up many more options than you’ll have if you wait.

You should start thinking about your own long-term care when you’re in your 50s and 60s. By the time you’re 70, some options could be gone. With the national median annual cost of a private room in a nursing facility coming in at more than $100,000, not having a plan can become one of the most expensive mistakes of your financial life. The article “Four steps you can take to safeguard your retirement savings from this risk” from CNBC says that even if care is provided in your own home, the annual median national cost of in-home skilled nursing is $87.50 per visit.

There are fewer and fewer insurance companies that offer long-term care insurance policies, and, even with a policy, there are many out-of-pocket costs. However, there are options to traditional long-term care-only policies you should consider, such as life insurance and annuities with long term care benefits.

People also often fail to prepare for the indirect cost of caregiving, which primarily impacts working women who are taking care of older, infirm male spouses and aging parents. More than 34 million Americans provided unpaid care to older adults in 2015, with an economic value of $522 billion per year.

There’s also the stress of caring for loved ones, watching them decline, and needing increasingly more help from other sources.

The best time to start planning for long-term care is around age 60. By that time, most people have experienced their parent’s aging and understand the planning and conversations with loved ones that need to happen.

Living Transitions. Do you want to remain at home as long as is practicable, or would you rather move to a continuing care retirement community? If you’re planning on aging in place in your home, what changes will need to be made to your home to ensure that you can live there safely? How will you protect yourself from loneliness if you plan on staying at home?

Driving Transitions. Knowing when to turn in your car keys is a big issue for seniors. How will you get around if and when you’re no longer able to drive safely? What transportation alternatives are available in your community?

Financial Caretaking. Cognitive decline can start as early as your 50s, leading people to make mistakes that cost them dearly. Forgetting to pay bills, paying some bills twice, or forgetting about some accounts, are signs that you may need some help with your financial affairs. Consider simplifying things by having one checking account, one savings account, and three credit cards: one for public use, one for automatic bill-paying, and a third for online purchases.

Healthcare Transitions. If you don’t already have an advance directive, you need to have one created as part of your overall estate plan. This allows you to state, in writing, how you want to receive care if you’re not able to communicate your wishes. Not having this document may mean that you’re kept alive by “heroic” or extraordinary means (machines) when you’d prefer to die naturally. You’ll also need a Health Care Power of Attorney/Designation of Health Care Surrogate so you can authorize a person to make medical decisions on your behalf when you cannot. This person doesn’t have to be a spouse or an adult child—sometimes it’s best to have a trusted friend who will follow your directions. Make sure this person is willing to serve, even if your documented wishes may be challenged.

Reference: CNBC (Jan. 31, 2020) “Four steps you can take to safeguard your retirement savings from this risk”

Other articles you may find interesting:

Simple Safety Tips for Seniors

Will my Illinois Will Work When I Move to Florida?

Would you like to learn more about estate planning, elder law, asset protection planning, probate, and Medicaid planning in an informal, no-obligation setting?

Sign up for one of our free, educational workshops here.

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Other articles/videos you may find interesting:

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***Want to learn more about how to protect your family from the government, lawsuits, accidental disinheritance, or nursing homes? Click THIS LINK to book a seat at one of our upcoming fun and educational workshops.***