Post-Death Checklist: Practical steps to take after the loss of a family member
Notify family members, close friends, and clergy members who can provide assistance
and emotional support.
If pre-need funeral arrangements have been made, locate the contract or irrevocable
deposit account papers. If not, contact a local funeral director and make arrangements for
funeral and burial.
Confirm whether the funeral director will notify the Social Security Administration, or
call 1-800-772-1213. Benefits that represent post-death periods may need to be returned
by mail or may be reclaimed by SSA from the depository bank.
Locate important certificates: your marriage certificate, your spouse's birth certificate,
military discharge papers, Social Security card, tax forms, and birth certificates of any
minor children. These records are needed to establish claims for Social Security, life
insurance, or veteran's benefits.
If the deceased was a veteran, notify the Veteran’s Administration, by calling 1-800-
827-1000 to locate the nearest regional office. The deceased may be entitled to a military
burial or to certain benefits.
Request 12-15 certified copies of the death certificate from the funeral director, or
more if the deceased had numerous assets or investment accounts.
Locate the original will. In Maryland, the holder or custodian of an original will is
under a legal duty to file it promptly with the Register of Wills in the county where the
deceased resided upon notice of the death.
Contact the deceased person’s attorney and/or accountant. Schedule a meeting with
the attorney to determine whether a probate estate must be opened.
Organize and review all available financial documents, including bank or brokerage
statements, insurance policies, retirement accounts, tax returns for the past 3 years, stock
certificates, bonds or savings bonds. Make a tentative list of all known assets and
estimated value. Locate copies of credit card statements, mortgage loan accounts,
installment loans, etc. Make a tentative list of known liabilities. Take copies of all of
these records with you when you meet with the attorney. You may notify credit card
companies of the death, but you are not responsible for making payments on unsecured
debts after the family member’s death. Creditors are familiar with the legal process,
which provides a 6 month post-death period to ascertain valid claims before payments are
Do not make distributions of personal property to family members immediately following
the death, as some items may need to be appraised prior to distribution.
Make arrangements to have the decedent’s mail forwarded so that all bills and important
correspondence are received, if there is no spouse at the home address. Make
arrangements to secure the premises and possessions to avoid loss.
After consulting with an attorney, you may take the following steps. [Important: there may
be tax consequences to consider before accepting funds from a deceased person, and the chance
to disclaim (not accept as your own) these funds is lost once you move forward, so you should
seek legal advice before proceeding]
The co-owner of a joint (or POD) bank account can claim the funds in the account and
have the deceased individual’s name removed by presenting a certified copy of the death
certificate to the bank or other financial institution.
Compose a letter to each insurance company, giving the deceased person’s name and date
of death, the policy number, and enclosing a certified copy of the death certificate.
The beneficiary of a retirement account or IRA also can typically initiate the process of
receiving funds by notifying the company or custodian in writing and presenting a death
certificate. Again, consult with an attorney or tax advisor before cashing out retirement
funds, since there may be several options to consider that will minimize the income tax
The person named as the Personal Representative (executor) in the deceased person’s
Will must file papers to initiate a probate proceeding if one is required. Usually, legal
professional assistance is required in this regard.
Within approximately nine months of the death, certain federal or state estate or
inheritance tax filings may be required. This is true even if assets were held in a trust or
in joint ownership.
Final income tax returns must be filed for the deceased person for the last year.
Review your own finances and estate planning documents. Make adjustments as
recommended by your attorney or financial advisor to ensure that you have sufficient
cash flow. Update your Will or powers of attorney if the deceased person was named as
your agent without a backup person.