- Getting Organized After a Loved One Passes
- The Importance of Writing a Will
- Financial Affairs After the Death of a Loved One
- Why Record Keeping Is Important
- Records Retention, IRS, PA's & your filing cabinet
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The Organized AffairFinancial Affairs After the Death of a Loved One
The death of a loved one is grief enough. Handing personal and business financial affairs only adds to the pain. Learn the common areas that must be overseen in order to bring closure.
Death leaves behind not only grief but also business to tend to. It is an unfortunate but common experience that a person suffering from loss of a beloved spouse or parent needs to make complicated and important financial decisions at the same time. If not made carefully, these decisions could entail significant loss of money and time or both for a lengthy period afterwards.
Also, death can bring about crisis with other family members as emotions that were buried or put aside suddenly find an outlet through grief. When money is involved, a difficult family situation can become even more exacerbated and lead to bitter feelings amongst family members. Dealing with money and experiencing the death of a loved one are highly stressful events, and undergoing both at once is overwhelming.
However, because this is such a common experience, there are many resources available to help a survivor through this period. If the death was an expected death, such as one coming after terminal illness, much of the important groundwork can be laid while the ill person is still alive. Documents can be located, rights of survivorship can be assigned, funeral plans can be made. Hospice workers or other health care professionals may also have recommendations for people to ask for help. Adult children can be brought into the process to ease the strain on a remaining spouse.
If, on the other hand, the death is unexpected or the deceased person was unable to help prepare for his or her death, much more work is required of the survivor. Getting support from other family members or friends is key. There may also be church, community or volunteer organizations that can help the survivor, if not with the financial affairs than with the other day-to-day needs that must be met.
The financial considerations can be broken down into several different categories. First, there is the matter of the funeral or memorial service and disposal of the body. This is often an expensive affair, requiring a large outlay of money at a time when the funds are frequently still tied up. It is always a good idea for couples to have a credit card or bank account of some sort in each individual's name, so that money is available right away. Funeral directors can provide suggestions and advice, but they are not always cost-conscious. A priest, minister, or rabbi may be able to help plan the funeral and will have the experience of past funerals to draw on.
A second important issue is the estate and the will or trust, if there is one. It may be necessary to pay estate taxes. Even if there was no will or trust, if the deceased person left behind any property, there is an estate to be handled. An attorney will almost certainly need to be involved in some aspect of this, to set up a probate if one is necessary or to advise the executor of the will. Laws regarding survivorship, the personal representative of the estate, and transfer of property upon death vary from state to state, and need to be addressed with a local lawyer and not one recommended by someone who lives out of state. If the attorney who drew up the will or trust is no longer available, a referral for a new attorney can be obtained through the state or local bar association. If there was a life insurance policy and money will be coming from it, the insurance company needs to be notified of the death.
A third category of financial affairs is investment and tax documents. Was there money in mutual funds, in IRAs, in CDs? Was there a 401(k)? Are any property or income taxes due? The survivor needs to gather tax returns for the last several years, bank statements, stock certificates, brokerage account statements, safe deposit information, mutual fund information, and related documents. The various banks and account holders need to be notified of the death. If someone other than the deceased person prepared tax returns, the preparer may have most or all of this information readily available. Some banks have financial advisors for their customers on staff, and will certainly have a person who is experienced with handling the accounts of someone who has passed away.
Another significant category of finances to be handled is the deceased person's income. If he or she was employed, the employer needs to be notified. If there are pensions from an employer, union, or the military, the pension fund administrator needs to be notified. The Social Security office needs to be notified of the death even if the deceased person was not receiving Social Security benefits. The survivor may be eligible for death benefits. The Social Security national number is (800-772-1213). Important information can also be obtained online from the Social Security Website, www.ssa.gov.
A fifth important financial affair is current bills to be paid. Besides utilities, rent or mortgage, and credit card payments, there may be medical costs not covered by insurance or Medicare. The deceased person's creditors need to be notified of the death, and if money is not immediately available from the deceased person's accounts to pay the bills, a payment plan needs to be worked out if possible. Consulting a financial advisor to do budgeting is a good idea.
There are additional other monetary issues to be taken care of. If the survivor has no dependent children, he or she may want to stop carrying life insurance of his or her own. On the other hand, if there are dependent children, the survivor may want to increase the amounts of his or her life insurance. If there will be income from investments, the survivor needs to consider how to reinvest the money, or what money will be used to pay for what debts and bills. There may be lifestyle changes that should be made, such as moving to a different location or increasing one's own work hours. If there is the potential for any litigation involving the death, an attorney should be consulted to make the survivor aware of his or her rights. Again, financial planners, attorneys, insurance agents, or bank representatives can help with these issues.
Finally, dealing with the financial affairs will be much easier if there is help dealing with the grief. A therapist, clergy person, health care professional, or support groups can provide assistance in coming to terms with the death, resolving family problems, and making it through the difficult times ahead.