Following a death, there are many decisions that must be made. The death of a spouse, parent, child or other loved one is a very traumatic experience. If you must make major decisions during your first weeks of bereavement, be sure to seek the counsel of a trusted advisor.


After selecting a funeral home, your local funeral director will guide the family through the planning process of the funeral. Be sure to talk to the funeral director about cost and your budget. The funeral director should be able to help you plan a funeral that meets both your needs and budget.

The funeral homes should provide you with price information over the phone and with a complete price list of your options. They should also provide you with an itemized statement of all the services you select and their fees, before you sign an agreement.

Funerals typically cost over $7,500. The funeral director may require that a portion of the death benefit from the deceased’s life insurance policy be assigned to the funeral home to cover these expenses. If so, the beneficiary will be asked to sign an assignment form, which will guarantee that the funeral expense will be paid from the death benefit.


Following the funeral, you will need to obtain a supply of certified copies of the death certificate. These are available from the funeral director or county health department. This legal document is needed to finalize almost every aspect of your loved one’s affairs.

NOTE – A photocopy will not suffice because it lacks the raised registrar’s seal that makes it valid.


  • Marriage Certificate – Available from the county clerk where the marriage license was issued.
  • Birth Certificates (for the deceased and any dependent children) – Available at either the state or county public records offices where the person was born.
  • Social Security Numbers – for the deceased, spouse, and dependent children.
  • Original Will
  • List of Property – A complete list of what the deceased owned including real estate, stocks, bonds, bank accounts, deeds, and personal property.
  • Recent income tax returns
  • Discharge papers – If the deceased was a veteran, you will need a copy of the discharge certificate. If you cannot find a copy, contact National Personnel Records Center, Military Personnel Records, 9700 Page Boulevard, St. Louis, Missouri, 63132-5200.


CONSULT A LAWYER – When a loved one dies, you will need legal advice regarding probating the deceased’s will, as well as other legal issues that will arise. Probate is the court-supervised process of paying the deceased’s debts and distributing the estate to the rightful beneficiaries.

Jointly owned property, property in trust, and assets with a designated beneficiary (life insurance, a 401(k), and pensions) do not go through the probate process.

If the deceased did not have a will, state laws will determine how the deceased’s assets and property will be distributed to family members. The court will appoint a personal representative to handle the deceased’s affairs.

CONTACT EMPLOYER – Be sure to immediately notify the deceased’s Employer. Many people are covered by group insurance where they work. Ask about the benefit due you and how to file a claim.

MAKE LIKE AN ACCOUNTANT – Locate all the essential information about your loved one’s assets and liabilities: insurance policies, bank accounts, retirement accounts, investments and loans. You’ll need these to manage upcoming transactions and to notify financial providers.

LOCATE IMPORTANT PAPERS – Hopefully, the deceased will have prepared a record of all important documents. If not, search for important documents in safe-deposit boxes, briefcases, strongboxes, home and office desks, lockers, safes, etc.

NOTE – Do not discard official-looking documents such as insurance policies, even if you think they have lapsed. The life insurance policy may still be in force, even though the policy owner may have stopped paying the premiums.

WATCH THE MAIL – Something will generally arrive about an account or loan the deceased had that no one ever knew about. Cancel magazine subscriptions, catalogs, and anything else arriving regularly by mail that is no longer desired.

PAY THE BILLS – Make sure that you have arranged to wrap up or address any outstanding liabilities: the monthly utility bill, phone, mortgage, credit cards, car loans, etc.

CONTACT LIFE INSURANCE COMPANY(S) – Ask for claim forms and instructions on how to file for life insurance proceeds.

The benefits can be paid to you in several ways. Determining what to do with benefit proceeds is an important decision. Take your time and evaluate your needs. Generally, there is no immediate need for a lump sum payment. Consider telling the insurance company that you will need a certain amount now and ask that the remaining amount be held with the company under an interest option, with the understanding that you can withdraw any amount at any time. Discuss with the company representative other settlement options that may be available.

By delaying payment of the full amount, you will be able to take time to analyze your financial situation and seek advice from your financial advisors.

NOTIFY SOCIAL SECURITY – Social Security should be notified as soon as possible when a person dies. In most cases, the funeral director will report the person’s death to Social Security. You will need to furnish the funeral director with the deceased’s Social Security number so he or she can make the report.

Some of the deceased’s family members may be able to receive Social Security benefits if the deceased person worked long enough under Social Security to qualify for benefits. You should get in touch with Social Security as soon as you can to make sure the family receives all of the benefits to which it may be entitled.

A one-time payment of $255 can be paid to the surviving spouse if he or she was living with the deceased; or, if living apart, was receiving certain Social Security benefits on the deceased’s record. If there is no surviving spouse, the payment is made to a child who is eligible for benefits on the deceased’s record in the month of death.

To make an appointment with the nearest Social Security office to inquire about benefits and eligibility, call 1-800-772-1213. To apply for survivor’s benefits, you will need to have birth, death, and marriage certificates, Social Security numbers, and a copy of the deceased’s recent federal income tax return. You must apply for Social Security benefits. Benefits are not automatic.

BANKS – Notify banks where deceased had accounts.

HEALTH INSURERS – Submit outstanding medical claims to the proper insurer.


  • Employer and Former Employers – Ask about pension fund benefits, accrued vacation and sick pay, terminal pay allowances, gratuity payments (tips), service recognition awards, unpaid commissions, disability income, and credit union balances.
  • Credit Life Insurance – Some loans, mortgages, and credit cards, are covered by credit life insurance, which pays off account balances. Call the creditor to confirm coverage and inquire how to claim the policy benefits.
  • Health Insurance Company
  • If the deceased was a veteran be sure to discuss veteran status with your funeral director. The funeral director usually will contact and make the appropriate reporting to the DVA. If the funeral director does not contact the DVA, you should contact U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, P.O. Box 42954, Philadelphia, PA 19101, 1-800-669-8477.
  • All property and casualty insurance policies should be updated to reflect changes in ownership. Contact your insurance representative for assistance.
  • Obtain a new title for the deceased’s auto. Contact your state motor vehicle department for the proper procedure.
  • Change beneficiary designations on policies where the deceased was the named beneficiary. Also change beneficiaries on pension and retirement plans.
  • Change names on bank accounts and investment accounts.