The death of a loved one is a stressful time. While it is hard to prepare yourself emotionally, there are steps you can take to manage other issues a bit more easily. At first, it may be hard to think about money, but there will be decisions to make in the days and weeks following your loved one’s death. Here is a list of important steps, listed in order of urgency:
- Arrange for Funeral Costs: The median cost of a funeral is about $9,000, a major expense for many people. Costs do vary, however, depending on whether burial or cremation is chosen. It may be comforting to know that the Federal Trade Commission has a say in how funeral homes operate, so that businesses do not take advantage of you during your time of grief.
- Get Original Death Certificates: Getting access to a loved one’s financial accounts may require proof of death, so this should be done as soon as possible. You may obtain a death certificate from the Director of the funeral home or an office of vital records. If your loved one passed away within the five boroughs of New York City, you will want to check with the New York City Department of Health; if your loved one died elsewhere in New York State, you will want to check with the New York State Department of Health.
- Contact Social Security: If your loved one died and was receiving Social Security benefits, reaching out to the Social Security Administration will ensure that payments stop, and keep you from having to repay the government. If you plan to apply for survivor’s benefits, or if you have other questions, visit www.SSA.gov.
- Contact Insurance Providers: Whether your loved one received Medicare or private insurance coverage, you’ll need to contact the plan as soon as possible by calling the phone number on their ID card or statement. You should also notify life insurance companies to start the process of filing claims. Finally, be sure to cancel any other insurance policies your loved one carried, like home or auto.
- Collect Mail and Keep a List of Bills: Be sure to gather documents and make a list for every possible expense that may need to be paid or canceled, including utility bills and credit cards.
- Contact banks and investment accounts: If your loved one died and owned investments or other financial assets, they may have named beneficiaries. These are the people your loved one left these assets to. With a death certificate, you may be able to easily transfer the accounts to the beneficiary. Certain bank accounts are also set up as “Payable on Death” or POD, which means the assets transfer directly to the beneficiary outside of the probate process.
- Look for a Will: If you’re not sure whether your loved one had a Will, ask their family, friends and past lawyers whether they know, and where to find it. A Will should identify an Executor, who would immediately be responsible for paying the debts and bills of the Estate. Whether you are a nominated Executor or Will beneficiary, you should hire a Surrogate’s Court attorney to commence a probate proceeding. This gives the Will beneficiaries and heirs-at-law notice of the Will, and an opportunity to appear and challenge its validity. Contact Velella & Basso today to probate or challenge a loved one’s Will.
In the absence of a Will, you may also petition the court to become the estate’s Administrator, which is similar to an Executor in that you will have most of the same responsibilities: paying bills and debts, marshaling assets, and distributing property to heirs. This comes with certain responsibilities and liabilities to heirs, so many people choose to hire attorneys, at the Estate’s expense, to supervise the process, or otherwise refer the matter to a local public administrator.
- Pay Taxes: If your loved one didn’t have an accountant and you don’t feel comfortable filing taxes yourself, ask friends and relatives for help finding a reputable accountant to file on the Estate’s behalf. If possible, try to get ahead of taxes before they’re due to avoid unnecessary headaches down the line.
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