When a loved one dies, particularly a parent, the range of issues you must manage is overwhelming. Such has been the case since my father died unexpectedly the week before Christmas. The emotions, at times, can be overwhelming – as is to be expected.
You must deal with all of those emotions and give yourself time to work through them. However, when a loved one dies, emotions are only the tip of the iceberg of what you must face. There are also many practical and financial matters you can’t avoid.
Having never dealt with the death of a loved one as an adult, this has been a huge learning process for me. I have felt on my own, to a certain extent, but working with the attorney for my Dad’s estate has been helpful, especially in dealing with service providers.
I want to share a list of things you need to do when a parent, or any loved one, dies. It’s important to keep in mind that you as the surviving individual have certain financial rights and responsibilities you need to remember.
The last thing you want is for someone to take advantage of your ignorance because they play on your emotions. With that in mind, here’s my checklist of things to do when a loved one dies.
Table of Contents
What You Must Do Immediately
There are a number of things you need to do immediately after a loved one dies. Those are:
- Get an announcement of death from the authorities. This is pretty self-explanatory. You may need to speak with the police or coroner but you want to be legally notified of the passing. If your parent lived in a nursing home or retirement community you would likely speak with a person there.
- Arrange for transportation of the body. Another self-explanatory issue. You want to get your loved one transported to a morgue or potentially a funeral home.
- Notify friends and family. You will want to notify close friends and family. Don’t be afraid to have someone else do this, such as a spouse or partner.
- Take care of any dependents, pets, etc. Think of this as anyone for whom your loved one had the responsibility to provide care. It might mean getting a child or a pet to a friend’s house. They, of course, should not be forgotten during this time.
- Call your loved one’s employer. If your parent or loved one had a job you will want to notify their employer within 1-2 days. You’ll want to let them know of the situation, but you also want to find out about any benefits your parent or loved one had. You likely won’t be ready to act, but it’s important information to get.
What You Must Do Within a Few Days
Remember how I said having a loved one die can be overwhelming? You need to be ready for a lot of work. Here are things you need to take care of, in no particular order, after the first 24-48 hours.
- Funeral and burial plans. You will want to do this in accordance with your parents’ wishes, but this needs to happen within a few days. The average funeral costs $7,200 so you must be prepared to pay for that. I’m sure there may be ways to save money, and hopefully your parent has life insurance to cover the expenses, though you need to be prepared if that’s not the case.
- Contact military or any religious groups. There may be benefits available through the military and a number of religious/fraternal organizations. My father had neither though some organizations will help with burial costs.
- Get an attorney. You don’t necessarily need an attorney after a loved one dies though I found having one incredibly helpful. We live 1,000 miles from where my Dad lived so having one made managing things much simpler. If you’re executor of your parents’ estate you’ll want them to begin to process letters testamentary for you. You’ll need this to work with any financial company on your loved one’s behalf. This will likely involve getting documents notarized. Read our guide on where to find a notary public to help with your needs.
- Get death certificates. You will want multiple copies as you’ll need them to give to the life insurance company, bank and other organizations. I got 12 copies though the funeral director/lawyer can tell you how many you might want to get. There is a cost associated; I believe the 12 I got cost $80-$100 total.
- Secure the home. This is of particular importance if your loved one lived on their own. Get a family friend to lock up the house and monitor it. If that’s not an option, you can call the police and they will monitor it for you on a regular basis.
A fair number of these things can be done by the funeral home as it’s part of the cost. In my opinion, it was worth having them take care of so I could focus on other matters. You will also want to make sure to respect any final wishes your loved one left in their will.
If you don’t personally have a will yourself this will be a learning process for you as to why you need one. Check out LegalZoom to get started setting up your will, for as low as $69.
Financial Steps to Follow When a Loved One Dies
Handling financial matters when a loved one dies is where the real work comes in. Honestly, this has been the most overwhelming part of dealing with my Dad’s passing.
- Contact every financial organization your loved one had business with. This can be overwhelming, but you want to contact every company. You don’t want invalid or fraudulent charges, withdrawals, etc. taking place. Below is a list of some of the companies you need to contact:
- Credit card companies
- Mortgage lender
- Online broker or financial advisor
- Life insurance provider
- Tax preparer, if they had one
- Utility companies
- Pension providers
- Anyone else with whom your parent may have had a loan
- Open a bank account in the name of the estate. You’ll have expenses you’ll need to pay for, such as a tax preparer or attorney. To keep things straight you’ll want to open an account for the estate. This will require getting an EIN though you can do that relatively simply online.
It can be overwhelming to deal with the details of all the financial matters. I would find some sort of system to keep everything straight. I keep a spreadsheet detailing every expense and income. I also keep a document where I detail conversations I had with different providers. This helps me remember particular situations plus you’d be amazed at how many providers simply won’t note accounts that the account holder has passed.
Debt and Your Loved One
Remember the rights and obligations I mentioned earlier? This is where they come into play. Many may not realize this, but if you’re not listed as a signer on your loved one’s accounts you are not responsible to pay them off.
In many cases, as long as you’re not a co-signer or live in a community property state, the FTC protects you from having to pay off the debt. The estate, on the other hand, is the responsible party to pay off debt.
That being said, you must publicly communicate to all your parents’ creditors that your parent has died and give them the right to decide whether or not they want to collect from the estate. Our lawyer described it best as similar to bankruptcy proceedings.
The creditor gets to determine whether or not they want to try to collect any outstanding debt. The creditor has at least four months to decide once you publicly inform them of this.
I will say that mortgages and student loans may be a little different. In many cases, public student loans will be forgiven once the recipient dies, private student loans generally do not offer the same protection. Again, they won’t come after you but the estate.
Mortgages can be a little trickier. The lender can’t demand you pay off the house in full, but it is your responsibility to make payments until you decide what to do with the house. If you choose not to keep the home you can either sell it or give it back to the bank, through a Deed in Lieu of Foreclosure, and they’d take over the house. The latter will take at least 60-90 days to process.
One key point to keep in mind is you do not want to have the lender put you on the mortgage. The last thing you want is for them to come after you for payment or hit your credit report. Be very clear about this with the bank to protect yourself.
Each situation will be different though this should provide a solid start of how to deal with the passing of a loved one. If I’ve learned anything through this process it has been the importance of having an emergency fund, a will and having life insurance.
I know none of them is sexy or fun to think about – heck, death is not fun to think about. In the case of an emergency fund, we were on the hook for close to $10,000 in expenses soon after my Dad died. We were able to recuperate that through life insurance funds though we had to wait close to a month for that.
You may also think life insurance is not important – that you have many years until you die. Here’s the thing, anything can happen. We’re only guaranteed today. The last thing you want is your loved ones being without when you pass or to have to cover everything out of pocket for your estate.
Having life insurance can protect them against that. If you don’t have life insurance, you can buy coverage relatively cheaply in only a few minutes of your time. Check out rates at PolicyGenius so you can find the best rates possible for your situation and needs.
Have you ever managed the estate of a loved one? What challenges or problems did you experience? Do you have a will or life insurance?
I’m John Schmoll, a former stockbroker, MBA-grad, published finance writer, and founder of Frugal Rules.
As a veteran of the financial services industry, I’ve worked as a mutual fund administrator, banker, and stockbroker and was Series 7 and 63-licensed, but I left all that behind in 2012 to help people learn how to manage their money.
My goal is to help you gain the knowledge you need to become financially independent with personally-tested financial tools and money-saving solutions.