With death comes grief—and a bewildering array of snap decisions, nitpicky details and crucial choices. For some, the mundane task of settling a loved one’s estate can be a soothing distraction. For others, it can be utterly overwhelming.
But either way, it’s easy to make mistakes and miss crucial details. Here are some key items to keep in mind. These are just a few of things to consider. On average, over 100 tasks need to be completed after someone dies.
You’ll almost immediately have to decide on funeral arrangements. Maybe you know the deceased’s wishes—or maybe this will mark the beginning of the paper chase. You might find funeral instructions in the deceased’s will or letter of last instructions, or you may have to canvass family members to find out if anybody knows the deceased’s wishes.
When arranging the funeral, consider asking the funeral home for at least 20 certified copies of the death certificate, and possibly more if the deceased’s financial situation was complex. These death certificates will come in handy as you settle the estate.
With the funeral arranged, a slew of other questions will arise. Is there a will? Is there a safe-deposit box? What investments and bank accounts exist? Who is the insurance agent and what policies exist? Was the person receiving payments from Social Security, an employer’s pension, the Veterans Administration or a reverse mortgage?
Getting the answers may require a little detective work. If a letter of last instructions was written before the person died, that will help. It should include a list of bank accounts, insurance policies, investments, real estate, mortgages and other debts. It should also give the location of important papers such as the will and any trust documents, as well as the names and phone numbers of an attorney, tax specialist, insurance agent and financial advisor.
If there is no letter of last instructions or other guide to the deceased’s estate, you may have to search though drawers and filing cabinets, watch the mail, pore over old tax returns and, if you can get access, dig through the safe-deposit box. If you find a will, it should name an executor, the person who will do most of the heavy-lifting from here.
The more work that is done in advance will greatly reduce the stress for your family and will saves them thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours.