Notification and Document Location

Employer and Social Security – The Family Lead will need to know to notify the employer of the deceased, so the proper paperwork can be completed. This may affect payroll and benefits, as well as the general morale and work schedule of the deceased’s co-workers. Also, the Family Lead will need to know that the family will need to notify the local office of the Social Security Administration and any other income sources immediately. Any benefits received after the date of death will need to be returned to Social Security. The surviving family member or estate is entitled to a one-time $250 death benefit from Social Security. Pensions, annuities, and other income sources will have different rules. The Family Lead may choose to check the plan or contact the administrator of those plans for further details.

Guardianship – If there is a guardianship, a power of attorney or durable power of attorney for healthcare, those persons need to be notified that their responsibilities are at an end.

Bank Accounts – If there are bank accounts on which someone is a “surviving owner,” (the account may read “POD” for payable on death or joint owners with “ROS,” for the right of survivorship) a death certificate needs to be provided to the bank, so the surviving owner can now take ownership. Otherwise, access to the accounts may be blocked until someone is appointed as an official agent on behalf of the estate.

Wills – If there is a Will when the person dies, the law requires that it be filed (the law does not require that it be probated) with the Probate Court in the County where the decedent lived. The Clerk will provide the executor or executrix of the Will with the necessary paperwork. Expenses of the last illness and funeral should be paid from the estate before any additional disbursements are made. All remaining assets and properties can be disbursed through the probate process.

No Will – If there is not a Will, and an administration of the estate is desired, this is also done in the County Probate Court. Expenses of the last illness and funeral or final arrangements should be paid from the estate before any additional disbursements are made. All remaining assets and properties can be disbursed through the administration of the estate.

Creditors – Letters should be sent to all creditors informing them of the person’s death. If any life insurance coverage exists on open accounts to pay off the remaining balances, a copy of the death certificate will be required. The estate is liable, not individual family members, unless that family member was a named account holder, regardless of the insistence of the creditors. If nothing remains in the estate to pay off debts, the creditors should be so informed.

For information specifically regarding credit card accounts, refer to this article from

Utility Companies – Local utilities (telephone, gas, electricity, and cable) should be notified only if someone else wants to be substituted on the accounts. Otherwise, the family may wait to make the decision to discontinue services. In any event, the utility bills must be paid in order to keep the utilities on.

Newspaper, Mail, Web Accounts, and Memberships – The newspaper subscription will need to be discontinued if no one else resides at the home of the deceased and the Post Office may need to be contacted about a forwarding address for mail if no one will be at the home to receive mail. The process for canceling different web accounts varies. Some accounts will ask for a death certificate and other detailed information. Canceling web accounts will help prevent identity theft. Also, notify religious, fraternal, and civic organizations your loved one was a member of.

Driver’s License – Canceling the driver’s license record will help prevent identity theft. Contact your state department of motor vehicles for the process of canceling the license. A death certificate will be needed to cancel the driver’s license.

Tax Refunds – Any tax refunds that arrive after the decedent’s death will be a part of the estate and will have to be distributed according to the Will or the Administration process.

Taxes Owed – Any taxes owed will have to be paid out of the estate or voluntarily by a surviving family member.

Homestead Exemptions – Any homestead exemptions are generally going to be tied to the individual if that person was a senior or otherwise qualified for an exemption. The exemption may no longer be applicable unless the new homeowner meets the requirements.

Personal Property – Items like titles to automobiles, automobile insurance, and house insurance will have to be changed eventually. Homeowner’s insurance policies should be reviewed carefully for instructions concerning coverage of unoccupied premises.

Out-of-State Property – If a property is owned out-of-state, the Will should be probated or the estate administered in the state of residence first and the Letters Testamentary or Letters of Administration (they may be called something else in another state) used to handle the property in the other state.

Right of Survivorship Property – If property or accounts were in the name of the decedent and another person as tenants “with the right of survivorship,” then ownership automatically passes to the survivor(s) without the need for probate or administration of the estate.

Disposing of Personal Items and Clothing – The timing of this is handled differently from person to person. If too soon, it may prevent survivors from having adequate time to grieve, but if taken too long, it may seriously delay the ending of the grieving process, acting as a very painful and constant reminder of the person’s death. The family will need to determine which mementos should be retained. No items should be moved, sold, given away or otherwise disposed of if they have been identified in the person’s Will as items to be distributed as a part of the estate. Only the legal beneficiary of those items is entitled to make the decision as to their disposal.

Documents to Locate – There are some documents that may be needed or at least helpful in settling the estate of the deceased. These documents should be located and kept together in one place until they can be turned over to the person in charge of carrying out this part of the affairs of the deceased.

Included in the list of documents to be sought:

  • Funeral and burial plans/contracts
  • Safe-deposit rental agreement and keys
  • Passwords
  • Trust agreements
  • Nuptial agreements/marriage licenses/prenuptial agreements/divorce papers
  • Life insurance policies or statements
  • Pension, IRA, retirement statements
  • Income tax returns for the past three years
  • Birth and death certificates
  • Military records and discharge papers
  • Budgets/bookkeeping records
  • Bank statements, checkbooks, check registers, certificates of deposits
  • Deeds, deeds of trust, mortgages and mortgage releases, title policies, leases
  • Motor vehicle titles
  • Stock and bond certificates and account statements
  • Unpaid bills, notes
  • Health/accident and sickness policies
  • Bankruptcy papers: filings and releases
  • Birth certificates for any children

Other Considerations:

  • If applicable, notify agent under Power of Attorney
  • Arrange for the care of any dependents
  • If the deceased had any pets, arrange for their immediate care
  • Remove any valuables from the deceased’s home, secure the residence, and take steps to make the home appear to be occupied

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