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Where to begin, when you have experienced the death of a loved one

When you have experienced a death of a loved one and you are left with responsibilities but do not know where to begin.

Here is general list of things that you and your family may need to take care of:

Deceased Will (Probate)

Probate is the legal process of executing a will. You’ll need to do this at a county or city probate court office. Probate court makes sure that the person’s debts and liabilities are paid and that the remaining assets are transferred to the beneficiaries. Contact an attorney regarding estate qualifications.  Some may qualify as small estates; others may leave everything to a spouse and will resolve quickly.

Cancel services no longer needed

These include cellphone, streaming services, cable and internet.

Decide what to do with the passport

You have a couple of options on how to deal with your family member’s passport. You do not have to return it; you can keep it as a memento, with the stamps on its pages reminding you of past adventures. If you’re worried about the possibility of identity theft, mail the passport to the federal government along with a copy of the death certificate and have it officially canceled. If you want the canceled passport returned, include a letter requesting that be done. You can also request the government destroy the passport after it’s canceled.

Notify the following of your loved one’s death:

  • Life insurance companies:You’ll need a death certificate and policy numbers to make claims on any policies the deceased had.
  • Banks, financial institutions:If you share a joint account with your deceased loved one, you’ll need to notify the bank they’ve died. Most bank accounts carry automatic rights of survivorship, which means if your name is on the account, you have full access to the funds when your loved one dies. You become the sole owner on the date of your relative’s death. Most banks will require a death certificate to remove the relative from the account.

If the deceased person was the sole owner of a bank account, the bank will release funds to the person named beneficiary once it learns of the account holder’s death. Many banks let their customers name a beneficiary or set the account as Payable on Death (POD) or Transferable on Death (TOD) to another person. You’ll need to show the bank a death certificate to get the funds released. If the owner of the account didn’t name a beneficiary or POD, things get more complicated. The executor will be responsible for getting the funds to repay creditors, pay bills and divide funds according to the dead person’s will.

  • Financial advisers, stockbrokers: Determine the beneficiary listed on accounts. Depending on the type of asset, the beneficiary may get access to the account or benefit simply by filling out appropriate forms and providing a copy of the death certificate (no executor needed). While access to the money is straightforward, there are tax consequences to keep in mind. You will be responsible for paying any taxes earned by the account once your loved one dies. Keep in mind, the tax burden could be significant on a well-funded investment account.
  • Credit agencies: To prevent identity theft, send copies of the death certificate to one of the three major credit bureaus: Equifax, Experian or TransUnion. You only need to tell one of them, and it will tell the others.

Cancel driver’s license

This removes the deceased’s name from the records of the department of motor vehicles and prevents identity theft. Contact the agency for specific instructions, but you’ll need a copy of the death certificate. Keep a copy of the canceled driver’s license in your records. You may need it to close or access accounts that belonged to the deceased.

Close credit card accounts

Contact customer service and tell the representative that you’re closing the account on behalf of a deceased relative who had a sole account. You’ll need a copy of the death certificate to do this, too. Keep records of accounts you close and inform the executor of any outstanding balances on the cards. Credit bureaus, as part of their regular reporting process, will also send card issuers an alert that your relative has died. But if you want credit accounts notified faster, contact them directly. Be sure to cut up your dead loved one’s credit cards, so they aren’t lost or stolen.

​If the credit card account is shared with another person who intends to keep using it, keep the account open but notify the issuing bank your relative has died so the deceased’s name can be removed from the account. Destroy any cards with their name on them to prevent theft and identity fraud.

Terminate insurance policies

Contact providers to end coverage for the deceased on home, auto and health insurance policies, and ask that any unused premium be returned.

Delete or memorialize social media accounts

You can delete social media accounts, but some survivors choose to turn them into a memorial for their loved one instead. Twitter, Facebook and Instagram all allow a deceased person’s profile to remain online, marked as a memorial account. On Facebook, a memorialized profile stays up with the word “Remembering” in front of the deceased’s name. Friends will be able to post on the timeline. Whether you choose to delete or memorialize, you’ll need to contact the companies with copies of the death certificate. TikTok does not offer a memorial option for a deceased user’s account.

Close email accounts

To prevent identity theft and fraud, shut down the deceased’s email account. If the person set up a funeral plan or a will, she may have included log-in information so you can do this yourself. If not, you’ll need copies of the death certificate to cancel an email account. The specifics vary by email provider, but most require a death certificate and verification that you are a relative or the estate executor.

Update voter registration

Contact your state or county directly to find out how to remove your dead relative from the voting rolls. Here’s a state-by-state contact list. The rules vary by state. Some states get notifications from state and local agencies and will remove your dead relative from voter registration rolls automatically. States will also remove voters if a relative notifies them of the death. Depending on where your loved one was registered to vote, you may need to give notice of the death in writing, by affidavit or with a death certificate.

Change the address of your loved one

If your loved one lived alone, it is a good idea to change the mailing address to your address.  This will let you know when bills are due and allows you to have access to monthly, quarterly, and annual statements such as life insurance, real and personal property taxes, brokerage accounts, etc.

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