Financial & Estate Planning

Keep records of everything. Over-documentation never hurts. Image: Freddy Napoleoni/Shutterstock.com

Losing a loved one is an incredibly difficult and emotionally challenging experience. The pain and grief that accompany such a loss can be overwhelming, and it may feel as if the world has turned upside down. During this trying time, it can be hard to even comprehend the practical steps that need to be taken. However, it is important to remember that there are certain actions that must be addressed to ensure that matters are handled appropriately and efficiently.

In this article, we aim to provide guidance and support by outlining the practical steps to take when a loved one passes away. We understand that every individual and family experiences grief differently, and there is no one-size-fits-all approach to navigating this process.

Nevertheless, by breaking down the necessary tasks into manageable steps, we hope to assist you in organizing the practical aspects of handling affairs, enabling you to focus on grieving and healing.

One of the first things to consider is that you don’t have to go through this alone. Think about the professional and personal network that you and your loved one have, and allow people to help take the weight off of your shoulders. Their CPA, Estate Attorney, and Financial Planner will play an integral part in getting their affairs in order.

Step 1: Days 1-3
Alert family, close friends, and employer – Have someone help with this if it’s too difficult to spread the news yourself.

Determine if your loved one was an organ donor – it will be important for medical staff to know this.

Determine if your loved one has existing burial or cremation plans, and notify the corresponding provider.

Gather other legal documents, like a will or trust.

Make arrangements for the care of their pets and belongings – Lock their house, water plants, empty fridge, forward mail, etc..

Find out if they had a life insurance policy.

Step 2: Days 3-7
Secure 10-20 copies of the Death Certificate.

Iron out the details for the memorial service if you’re having one.

If the individual was in the military, notify the Veterans Administration.

Write the obituary – Not everyone will see this, so it’s also helpful to invite family and other close acquaintances to the memorial service.

Step 3: After the funeral/memorial service
Make appointments with your various professional advisors – Attorney, CPA, Financial Planner.

Gather all relevant documents:

Tax returns

Birth, Marriage, Divorce certificates

Bank account and investment records

Social security card and passport

Current bills, debts, loans (Auto, mortgage, etc..)

Notify all legal or financial interests:
Creditors – mortgage company, auto loan company

Utilities

Social Security

Medicare

Pay ongoing expenses until they are able to be canceled – make sure to keep record of what is paid.

File for life insurance or final expense policy benefits if they have them.

Execute the will, or find the executor and pass that duty on to them.

If there was a trust, work with the estate attorney to take all steps necessary.

File for a Tax ID (EIN) for the estate.

Set up an estate bank account to pay expenses.

Locate assets, manage retitling, and distribute to beneficiaries.

If assets were not held in trust name or in accounts with direct beneficiaries, the probate process will need to be opened.

File a final income tax return.

Cancel Credit cards.

Cancel Drivers license.

Delete or memorialize social media accounts.

Close email accounts.

Other notes and cautions:

Pension, life insurance, and retirement elections can be structured in different ways. Always consult with your attorney or financial planner before selecting an option.

Do not sell any assets without understanding the potential tax implications of doing so. Also, don’t give away any assets that you inherited. Distributions by you on behalf of the estate (outlined in the will/trust) are fine.

If the individual owned property in other states, probate may have to be opened in those states as well as their primary state of residence.

Keep records of everything. Over-documentation never hurts. Make sure to track all spending on funeral/memorial services and anything else related to the estate.

Important Federal Estate Planning Forms:

FEGLI Beneficiary form:
https://www.opm.gov/forms/pdf_fill/fe6.pdf

TSP Beneficiary form:
https://www.tsp.gov/forms/

Lump Sum Pension Benefit:
https://www.opm.gov/forms/pdf_fill/sf3104.pdf

Survivor Annuity:
https://www.opm.gov/forms/pdf_fill/sf3104b.pdf

More info from OPM on applying for death benefits:
https://www.opm.gov/retirement-center/publications-forms/pamphlets/sf3114.pdf

While the steps outlined in this article may help you navigate the practical aspects that follow the passing of a loved one, please remember that it is okay to seek additional assistance. If you find yourself overwhelmed or uncertain about any of the processes discussed, reach out to professionals such as estate attorneys, financial advisors, or funeral directors who specialize in providing guidance during these times.

In closing, we recognize that no amount of practical guidance can fully ease the pain of losing a loved one. Grief is a deeply personal and unique journey, and it takes time to heal. Remember to be patient with yourself and allow yourself to feel all the emotions that arise. Seek support from friends, family, or professionals if needed. Above all, cherish the memories of your loved one and honor their legacy in your own way.


Austin Costello is a Financial Advisor who helps educate federal employees on what it takes to achieve retirement, and reduce financial stress. He and his firm, Capital Financial Planners, host educational webinars at various government agencies and work with individual clients to create comprehensive investment, tax, and estate strategies. Learn more about our firm at capitalfinancialplanners.com

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