A Guide to Provide Direction Through Grief and Uncertainty

You have just received the bad news, you have lost a loved one. As grief begins to enter your mind, you may wonder what is next. Understanding that now is the critical time to make important decisions, you begin to focus on the next couple of days.

Ideally, it is wise to speak with your loved one about financial matters, funeral arrangements and other important affairs before he or she passes away. This may be uncomfortable, but it will save you from having to figure out all the answers after the fact.  The decisions you will need to make may appear straightforward now, but when a death occurs they could become overwhelming.

Who Should You Contact?

Use this list to help you make sure you notify all the appropriate people of your loved one’s death.

Family and Friends. Contact family and close friends first, not only because they will be the most concerned group, but also because they can take some of the pressure off of you. Ask them for help with alerting relatives, friends and business associates-especially if you have many people to call. This is also a good time to appoint people to take care of your loved one’s lawn, pets and other similar responsibilities.

Religious contacts. Communicate with your loved one’s place of worship to conduct the funeral service. Listen to your minister, priest or rabbi for helpful instructions.

Professional groups. Contact organizations with which your loved one was a member, was a volunteer or paid dues. These may include alumni associations and professional organizations.

Making Final Arrangements

After a loved one has passed, you will need to confirm whether he or she had specific funeral instructions, such as a prepaid funeral plan or prepaid cemetery plot, and communicate those requests to a funeral home.  To find out if your loved one had made their own funeral plans, go through their important papers if you have access to them and look for funeral instructions.

Funeral decisions you will need to make may include the following:

  • What will be the time, location (church or funeral home) and day of the funeral?
  • If your loved one wished to be cremated, where will the ashes be interred or scattered or to whom shall they be given?  Many cemeteries will allow ashes to be placed on a plot where family members have already been interred.
  • Will the casket be open or closed?
  • Will there be any specific prayers, music, pallbearers or flowers for the service?
  • Should charitable donations be given in lieu of flowers?
  • Will a luncheon be served following the service?  Who will prepare the food?
  • Is someone available to stay and watch over the deceased’s home, especially during the funeral service?  (Unfortunately, some people look to newspapers for funeral announcements and then burglarize homes while grieving families attend services.)
  • Is there a trusted friend or family member who can help you keep a list of people to thank for support, flowers, food and memorial gifts?
  • Be sure to take advantage of the support you will receive from funeral home staff members.  They can help with numerous tasks, such as moving the body to the funeral home, helping you obtain copies of the death certificate (you will typically need at least 10 certified copies for paperwork purposes) and even connect you with a support group for survivors.

Contact After the Funeral:

Your attorney. Alert my office at 814-445-4021, so that I can assist you with any legal issues.

Employer.  If your loved one was employed when he or she passed away, contact his or her employer’s human resources department and inquire about any final paychecks, sick time, life insurance, retirement benefits.

Companies with which your loved one received regular service. Call banks at which your loved one had accounts. Notify credit card companies.  If he or she received medication by mail, cancel the service. Cancel or change the name on automatic bill-paying services as well as newspaper and magazine subscriptions.

An accountant. An accountant can assist you in filing tax returns if you are the executor and inform you of tax consequences or benefits of actions taken.

Are You Eligible For Benefits?

If you are the next of kin, chances are you are a beneficiary and benefits are due to you.  Be sure to contact the following:

Social Security. The funeral home will generally assist a surviving spouse or, in a few cases, a child in applying for Social Security’s $255 death benefit payable on behalf of the deceased.  Check for benefits you may be eligible to receive.  Remember, you must apply for Social Security benefits-they are not automatic.  Social Security also needs notification to discontinue any benefits the deceased may have been receiving.  Visit www.socialsecurity.gov for more information.

Veteran’s Administration. If the deceased was a veteran, contact the Veteran’s Administration to inquire about benefits.  Visit www.opm.gov for more information.  The deceased is also entitled to burial benefits in a national or private cemetery.  Go to www.cem.va.gov to learn more.

Life Insurance.  You will need to determine whether your loved one owned any insurance policies.  Contact the agent or the home office of the insurance company to file a claim.  One method to determine if any policy exists is to check bank records for any life insurance premiums paid in the last year or so.

Check the deceased’s accounts with credit unions, credit cards, mortgages, car loans and other installment notes for credit life coverage that, if purchased when the loan was made, will pay off the balance on the account.

Finding Important Documents

After the funeral, the next step is to determine whether your loved one had a Will.  If your loved one did not inform you of the Will location, it is wise to check safe-deposit boxes, home safes or files of important papers.  Once you find the original Will (or a photocopy), contact my office at 814-445-4021.

If you cannot locate the Will, contact my office and I will assist you in filing an intestate estate.

Take Time for Yourself and Your Grief.

During this time, it is important that you rely on the help of friends and family.  Don’t grieve alone.  Having a support system helps you heal.  Take care of yourself physically during this time so you are healthy and ready to deal with the tasks mentioned.

If you live several hours away from Somerset, it is normal for me to meet with the family the day after the funeral or a date and time that is convenient for the family.

A well-known and important rule to follow is to postpone any major decisions until one year has passed after your loved one’s death.  After a year, you will have a clearer state of mind when making important choices about your life, your residence and your finances.  Grief is natural and lessens over time.  You will, in time be able to move forward with beautiful memories.

Other Documents You Should Locate and bring to my office for review.

  • Trust Documents
  • Property Deeds
  • Bank and Brokerage Account Statements
  • Insurance Policies, Annuities and Retirement Accounts
  • Recent Income Tax Returns
  • Birth Certificate, Marriage Certificate, Divorce Decree and Military Discharge Paperwork
  • The most recent bills, such as credit card, mortgage and utility statements
  • Vehicle titles and registrations
  • Safe Deposit boxes and keys