Handling financial matters after a death in the family

Get through the financial and legal to-dos of losing a loved one with these important steps.

Grief can be tough. You’re coping by putting one foot in front of the other, yet you’re also faced with more practical matters of losing someone in your life. Among those are typically sorting out financial and legal logistics. Review the following to make sure you’re anticipating and covering any money-related matters should you be in that position. 

Contact an estate attorney or financial advisor

If it’s in your means and you don’t already have one, consider hiring an attorney or financial advisor to handle your loved one’s estate. Ask for recommendations from trusted friends, check his or her background and references, and make sure you have a written outline of fees and services. 

Gather the necessary documents to access accounts

Locate insurance policies, Social Security information, bank account numbers, household bills, tax returns, and the will. Be sure to ask the funeral home to provide copies of the death certificate, or get them from your county health department. You’ll need these to access bank accounts, process insurance claims, redirect U.S. mail delivery and handle other paperwork. 

Update any records associated with the individual who’s passed. 

Insurance policies, credit cards, and property titles—everything needs to be updated and transferred. 

Are you executor of the estate? Know your role

If you’re the executor of the estate, you’ll likely have some specific duties: making an inventory of assets, notifying heirs, petitioning the court to probate the will, which assures payment of bills and transfer of the estate to beneficiaries, and filing a federal estate income tax return. This is a complicated process so if you’re at all unsure, seek advice from an estate attorney or other expert. 

Lost a spouse or partner? You’ll also want to take these steps.

  • Get a copy of your spouse’s credit report. Credit reports are the most accurate way to compare and contrast account information. To do this, you’ll need a certified copy of the death certificate, a power of attorney, or documentation that you are the executor of the estate. 
  • Review a copy of your credit report. If you haven’t recently, obtain a copy of your credit report to assess your own current standing. You can obtain free credit reports online at AnnualCreditReport.com
  • Stabilize your credit. If your spouse handled a majority of the finances or held accounts in his or her name, you’ll want to begin building your own credit history. Some banks and credit card issuers may be willing to work with you, even if you have no prior credit history. 
  • Notify credit reporting agencies of your spouse’s death. Although these agencies will eventually be notified by the Social Security Administration (SSA), proactively contact the three major credit reporting agencies to ensure they’re aware of your spouse’s death: 
    • Equifax (888-548-7878) 
    • Experian (888-379-3742) 
    • TransUnion (800-916-8800) 
  • Notify creditors of your spouse’s death. Like the credit reporting agencies, your loved one’s creditors will also receive death notices from the SSA. However, the fastest way to alert creditors of your spouse’s death is to notify them directly. This can help prevent unanswered calls and correspondence, and expedite the process of updating their accounts and mailing lists. 
  • Prevent bothersome calls and correspondence. Have your spouse’s credit file blocked from screening and pre-approved mailing lists. You can do this by contacting 888-567-8688 or contacting the Direct Marketing Association and Telephone Preference Service to have your spouse’s name removed from many telemarketing lists. 

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