When a family member dies, the mental list of things that must be taken care of can seem endless. Besides the funeral, there are bills, credit cards, utilities, government programs, and other items, all of which can add to the stress of dealing with the loss.
In an effort to try and help alleviate some of this stress, we have compiled a list of items that need to be addressed and organization’s that need to be notified after someone’s death:
Each bank has a different way of handling the closing of a decedent’s accounts, but most will want a certified death certificate. Bank accounts, however, should not be closed immediately after a death. The funds in the account may be needed to pay outstanding bills and debts. When a spouse is the one who has passed and has a joint account, a death certificate will be needed to remove the decedent’s name.
Credit Reporting Agencies
Credit reporting agencies are usually notified of a person’s death in one of two ways: either through Social Security or by the executor of a decedent’s estate. To be sure that a lock is put on the decedent’s credit report file, one should contact at least one credit reporting agency. That agency, in turn, will notify the other agencies. To report a death, you need the decedent’s legal name, Social Security number, and a copy of the death. Marking a person’s credit reports as “deceased” prevents any efforts to get credit approved in their name, which should deter identity theft.
Social Security Administration
The Social Security Administration will be notified of the death electronically through the filing of the death certificate and by notification from the funeral home. If a check has been mailed for the month in which a person died, it will need to be returned. If the decedent had a direct deposit, the SSA would withdraw the funds electronically. Keep bank accounts open for at least 45 days to make sure the funds are returned.
Medicaid and Medicare
When the Social Security Administration is notified of a person’s death, that information is automatically passed on to Medicaid and Medicare.
If the decedent was still employed, make sure to contact their employer to find out about any death benefits, life insurance, or retirement funds to which the decedent is entitled. The company’s human resources department should be able to give you information on how to collect any of these funds. Make sure you have a copy of the death certificate when you call.
If the decedent was receiving a pension or had a retirement fund, contact the fund to alert them of the death. You should have the decedent’s Social Security number, identification number, date of birth, and date of death, along with a death certificate if the fund needs it. If you are a spouse and eligible to receive continued benefits, the fund should be able to arrange survivor benefits.
Open Loans and Credit Cards
Loan companies should be notified when the person responsible for the loan dies. Have copies of the death certificate available when reaching out to these agencies. Credit card companies must comply with the Credit Card Act of 2009, which mandates that credit card companies respond to requests for final bills in a timely fashion and forbids them from imposing late fees or finance charges during the administration process. Loans, whether secured or unsecured, should be paid out of the decedent’s estate. If the estate does not have sufficient funds to cover the debt, you may need to consult with an attorney to find out what responsibility you might have as next of kin.
After a person’s death, the various insurance companies with which the decedent had policies will all need to be notified. When reaching out to the companies, you should have certified copies of the death certificate and policy numbers. The next steps will most likely be company-specific. If you are the executor, though, make sure you have a probate form in case the company requires it.
Even death does not exempt a person from paying taxes. Survivors will still need to gather up the deceased’s paperwork when it comes time to file taxes and make sure returns are filed. Talk to your accountant or tax preparer for guidance concerning what will be needed. Depending on when a person dies, you may have to wait nearly a year before filing their final tax return.
If you are the spouse of or lived in the same house as the decedent, call utility companies, such as gas, telephone, and electric, in order to get the accounts changed over to your name. In most cases, you will need a death certificate and proof of your residence in order to change the account over or to close the account. If the decedent lived alone and owned the home, do not have gas and electric turned off right away. You may need them to maintain the dwelling through probate. Once the will is probated and the residence is sold or rented, you can cancel utilities.
It is important to cancel subscriptions to newspapers and magazines, as well as a gym and other club memberships. Often these subscriptions and memberships automatically withdraw renewal fees from checking accounts, and they will continue to do so until they are told to stop. You may need to monitor the decedent’s accounts for automatic withdrawals to find out what subscriptions and memberships they have. Call immediately to cancel before the account gets charged again.
Board of Elections
When someone dies, their name should be removed from the rolls of eligible voters. In New Jersey, the registrar of vital statistics in each municipality is tasked with sending a list of recent decedents to the county Board of Elections. The names should then be removed. If you are still receiving sample ballots, contact your county board and ask to have the name removed from voter rolls.
Taking these steps will help provide some peace of mind that the decedent’s estate is not being charged for unneeded services, that you’ve minimized the risk for identity theft, and that you’ve identified any potential money owed or payable to the estate.