You may think there’s no room for emotion when it comes to the legal side of estate planning, but nothing could be further from the truth. We know the confusion and grief that comes whenever one loses a loved one. There’s no way to quantify it or explain it or even constrain it. I’m not sure we’re supposed to. Still, even as the emotions become overwhelming and we begin the process of the practicalities of making arrangements, notifying other relatives and explaining to the children what’s happened, there are also other questions that will begin to emerge as you go through the days. This is often when our offices gets a call from grieving family member who asks, “what now?”
What we have included below is a typical list of the more practical considerations from an estate planning perspective. Even as our grief is as individual as we are, often, the logistics are similar.
You will need to notify a funeral director and your loved one’s spiritual advisor, whether it’s a priest, a reverend or preacher. Often, families discover that Mom had already made a list of the funeral home, her clergy’s phone number and in many instances, the details of any prepaid funeral arrangements she prepared. One of the first things you’ll be asked to present is the death certificate. We encourage you to make several copies. Also, of your deceased loved one left any special requests, such as music or wishes for any financial considerations in lieu of flowers, now’s the time to line those requests up.
Along with family members, you’ll want to notify any employers, friends who she may not have been in close contact with and the newspapers. Be sure and contact her estate planning lawyer so that you can begin that process as well. Her estate plan will address a number of considerations, such as tax considerations, insurance policies, any trusts she has in place and her will or living trust. Remember, too that a tax return may be due within nine months of death.
You’ll likely find yourself needing to provide specific details, such as her social security number, her date of birth, the specifics of her death (whether it was an accident or illness) and of course, the details of her trustees outlined in her estate plan.
If your loved one was receiving Medicare or Medicaid, you’ll need to contact your local office. You’ll need to provide the above referenced information. Notify the decedent’s Social Security office of the death.
Many families are stunned when they learn of the expenses associated with a funeral. While more people are beginning to purchase prepaid plans, that’s not always the case. You may need emergency cash before insurance claims are paid; in these instances, a cash advance may be available from life insurance benefits.
If your loved one was ever in the military service, notify the Veterans’ Administration. Surviving relatives may be eligible for death or disability benefits.
Also, be sure to keep your receipts associated with money spent as they may be needed for tax purposes.
Finally, it’s very important to not begin the process of changing the title of any assets. There are usually intricate laws associated with completing and closing out the collective estate plan and if it’s not done properly, it can create many problems.
No one can ease the pain that comes with losing a loved one. Grief is very personal; very intimate. Remember to allow yourself that grieving process and if we can help, we stand ready to do so.