What to do after a loved one dies

Couple grieving

When you lose someone close to you, you may be responsible for settling their household affairs. It may feel overwhelming to focus on financial matters, especially while you’re still grieving. If you’re not sure where to begin, here are a few first steps toward getting things organized.

Contact the most important people first

Call immediate family members, friends and the funeral home to alert them of the passing. If your loved one was still employed, be sure to contact their employer.

Secure their property

If there are no other occupants in the home, you may want to change the locks and alarm system codes. Secure valuables inside and out, and take steps to make the home appear occupied (e.g. use light timers).

Make proper arrangements for the care of any dependents and pets. Contact the local Post Office to have mail forwarded to a responsible party. Otherwise word could spread about the loss of the homeowner, making the home an easy target for thieves.

Gather important documents

Whether you’re the surviving spouse, child or other relative, there are several documents you’ll need to begin making final arrangements and settling the estate. Start by locating a copy of their will, any prepaid burial contracts or other instructions for final arrangements. They will most likely have named an estate executor, which could be you or another individual. Also look for life insurance policies and Military or Veterans’ Affairs documents such as a Military Discharge Form DD-214.

If there’s no will, you as the surviving spouse or next closest relative should contact an attorney. They can advise you on the next steps based on your loved one’s assets. The attorney may be able to help you with the legalities of working with the Clerk of Superior Court in getting the estate settled.

Get help making arrangements

According to your loved one’s wishes, if any, begin making final arrangements such as contacting a funeral home or religious leader to perform services. Your funeral provider most likely can help you with the necessary information needed to complete the death certificate and with creating the obituary for the local paper. The funeral home may also help ensure you have extra death certificates to provide to the necessary agencies.

Notify government agencies and credit bureaus

The executor of the estate should call state and federal agencies to report the passing and apply for survivors' benefits, if you qualify. Also, notify the three credit reporting agencies to prevent identify theft.

  • Social Security Administration - 800.772.1213
  • Veterans Affairs - 800.827.1000
  • NC Retirement Systems - 877.627.3287
  • Equifax - 800.685.1111
  • TransUnion - 800.888.4213
  • Experian - 800.397.3742

The funeral home may even do this on your behalf when making the funeral arrangements.

Help your family help you

Once you’ve had time to grieve, consider if it’s time to update or create your will, and beneficiary designations. Members can get help with their estate planning needs by calling or visiting their local branch.

The advice provided is for informational purposes only. Contact an attorney for additional guidance.

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