Death In the Family - What to Do When a Loved One Dies

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Modified on 2009/10/20 20:14 by Nick Carroll
The death of a family member can be the most trying time in a person’s life.  A great deal of uncertainty and fear accompanies a loved one’s death, and coping with the exhausting grief of losing someone you love is overwhelming. At the very same time, you are called upon to make several important and difficult decisions.  Here are some initial steps that you probably will need to take to move the process along and allow yourself to move on with your life.

Decide on a funeral home and speak to the Funeral Director.

Your funeral director is an excellent resource in this time of need.  Funeral directors almost always have a ‘Recently Departed’ packet that they hand to bereaved family members, which contains useful guidance on preparing for the funeral.  Aside from performing traditional functions of grief ministry, setting up the time and location of the funeral ceremony, and taking care of your loved one’s preparations for the funeral, the funeral director can accommodate all sorts of technical needs that most people are not aware of.

The funeral director will obtain the death certificate for you, of which you will need at least ten certified copies for creditors, insurance companies, and to gain access to safety deposit boxes.  A death certificate is a legal document signed by a physician, coroner, or medical examiner attesting to your relative’s cause of death and other vital statistics of the decedent.  Remember, you’ll need a certified copy to access the decedent’s safe deposit boxes and to apply for benefits. You can obtain certified copies of the death certificate from the County/State Office of Vital Statistics

The funeral director may notify the Social Security Administration of your loved one’s death and help you file for social security benefits.  Frequently, a funeral director may help out by placing an obituary about your loved one in the local paper and by ordering flowers for the service.  There are numerous minor details that a funeral director will attend to, but these details mean a great deal to a grieving relative.

Gather your loved one’s important papers and advise your loved one’s attorney of the death.

Once a loved one passes away, you need to collect his or her important papers.  These important papers run the gamut from certified copies of the death certificate, recent copies of federal tax returns, military discharge papers, a marriage license or marriage certificate (if applicable), a certified copy of a birth certificate, birth certificates of all dependent children, and other pertinent social security numbers. 

If you do not have these items at hand already, you will need to know the decedent’s full legal name and address, social security number, birthplace and date of birth, father and mother’s full names, and veteran’s discharge paperwork.

These papers are needed for filing for various benefits that accrue on the death of a loved one. Your relative’s attorney or estate planner will locate the will if you do not already have a copy.  Frequently, family members have their wills stored in safe deposit boxes, which in many states are sealed upon the death of an individual.  For this reason, it is always advisable to keep your will in your attorney’s safe.

Contact the Social Security Administration (if your funeral director hasn’t already.)

Social Security needs to be contacted and made aware of the death of your loved one.  A funeral director can take care of this for you, but you will need to furnish the funeral director with the decedent’s social security number.

Family members may be entitled to social security death benefits if your loved one worked long enough to become eligible.  The social security office will you know if you are eligible or not, but normally the benchmark requirement for benefits is a working history of at least 40 quarters.

While the benefits may not be sizeable, every little bit can help out in your time of need.  A surviving spouse may qualify for a one-time death benefit, and may even be entitled to monthly social security benefits.

Family members should be careful to return social security checks sent to the deceased, as the recipient is no longer eligible for benefits after death.  Cashing your loved one’s social security checks could constitute social security fraud, so it is a good idea to return them to the Social Security administration.

Contact all insurance companies and notify them of the policyholder’s death.

While it is terribly difficult to think about finances and filing for death benefits at a time when you have lost someone close, filing claims expeditiously will help ease the heavy financial burden soon to come.  Insurance policies on your loved one will help take care of paying inheritance taxes, so this step is very important.

It is important to notify insurance companies that hold policies on your deceased relative and file claims for benefits as soon as possible.  All of these policies are sources of possible death benefits, therefore you will need the policy numbers and/or your loved one’s social security number. 

Your loved one may have several different types of insurance policies.  Some of these policies may include life insurance, accident or casualty insurance, auto insurance, and certain types of group insurance provided by your loved one’s employer.

Contact the Veteran’s Administration if your relative was a member of the armed services.

The Veterans Administration dispenses survivors’ benefits and other burial benefits on the death of a former member of the armed services.  The VA provides a wellspring of information on helping establish benefits for family survivors when an armed services member has died on active duty.Make sure to have your loved one’s social security number and his branch of service available for the VA.  In order to move the benefits process along at the VA, they may need a certified copy of the death certificate, a marriage certificate, and birth certificates of all dependent children of the deceased.

Coping with Loss and Grief

The most important things to remember are not financial or legal, however. Those steps are simply a means of organizing the property, bills, and remains of the deceased. What is important here is the memory of your lost one as well as your health and emotional well-being after such a close loss. If you are having serious trouble coping in your day to day life, there is always help around the corner be it from family, friends, counseling, or even online websites and networks related to supporting those going through loss as well as how you personally can cope with grief and loss.
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