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The Death Checklist

The Death Checklist

| April 13, 2021

The Death Checklist

In times like these, the only thing we can do is try to help. Usually, there is no big
hurry on most items, but the anxiety and grief that comes from losing a loved one
can trigger an immense amount of stress.

If nothing else, perhaps this list can help a few people with the process a little bit.

Please reach out to us if you would like to brainstorm. We will drop what we are
doing to help you. It's the least we can do.

Broad topics:

  • Start a journal
    • This will be a complex process. Keeping good notes will make your life
      easier. Get a notebook or word/excel file, and keep everything in it.
      Maintain a to-do list, and acknowledge progress by crossing things out
      when you are done with them.
  • Notify the estate planning attorney
    • If you don't have one, now might very well be a good time to hire one.
      Get a referral from a friend, family member, or trusted professional.
      Ask about estimated fees upfront, so there are no big surprises, and
      make sure you are comfortable with them.
    • This process may be more complicated than you might think.
      Opportunities for planning that will benefit the surviving family
      members can be missed without having an expert that has done this
      process hundreds of times.
    • Get EIN (tax id) for the trust, if applicable, title assets to the trust as
      directed by the attorney.
  • Analyze benefits that may be available
    • Social Security - Usually, the funeral home will notify the Social
      Security Administration as part of the paperwork process. If this is not
      part of your loved one's arrangement, please notify them relatively
      soon. The website is, and you can meet over the phone or in
      person at a local office. 
      • Your loved ones' death will likely trigger the benefit changes for
        the surviving spouse and/or family members, death benefits,
        etc. If you don't do this reasonably promptly, money may be
        owed back to the Social Security Administration later. The
        surviving spouse will normally continue to get the higher of the
        two spouses' benefits, not both. If it's a death where there are
        young children involved, there may be benefits available to
        them. Divorced spouses still living may have benefit changes as
        well. There are over 2,700 rules around how Social Security
        works. Please make sure you are in touch with them, and we are
        happy to help as well.
    • Life Insurance – Contact your insurance company and determine what
      benefits are available and options for payout. Do not rush to buy new
      insurance right away; give yourself some time. It would be best if you
      were not making big purchase decisions right away after going through
      such a stressful event.
    • Veterans Benefits – Often, if they were a wartime veteran, and
      especially if they became disabled due to their service, there might be
      benefits. This includes not only the decedent's funeral costs/death
      benefits, but there may also be significant benefits for the surviving
      spouse and/or family.
      • Veterans who served during wartime or were wounded often
        have significant estate planning opportunities, including
        potential asset protection. Seek help from your attorney to see
        if there are things you should consider.
      • There is a wonderful program for permanently disabled Veterans
        in Minnesota to get a significant break on property taxes. Now
        might be a good time to make sure things are recorded properly,
        so you aren't overpaying. If you miss this, they don't pay the
        money back once discovered.
  • For their existing/prior employer or Union
    • Often, there are death benefits and pension plan changes upon
      one's death. Reach out to the administrative office to notify
      them and inquire if there are any benefits available.
  • Taxes
    • Notify the accountant or tax preparer. If you don't have one,
      now might be a great time to get one. Ask friends, family
      members, or trusted professionals. Not only will a final estate
      tax return need to be filed, but there will also likely be income
      from when after they passed away and significant tax and estate
      planning considerations to be made. This is not the time to go
      on your own, in our opinion.
  • Organize, Re-Title Accounts, Update Beneficiaries & Consolidate
    • Notify all advisors, including the financial planner and
    • Compile a list of all assets and debts, including real estate
      appraisals. If your home is highly appreciated, an appraisal to
      step-up the basis may make sense.
    • Check unclaimed property listing on your state's website. Now
      would be the time to clean up any forgotten about accounts.
    • Determine which accounts you want to keep, which should be
      closed, and be retitled, for example, from joint to individual.
    • Update Your home and auto insurer promptly, as costs may go
      down. This may be a good time to confirm that you have
      umbrella insurance in place.
    • Update the DMV or via AAA to retitle the vehicles including
      boats, and property titles.
    • Confirm in writing that the new beneficiaries to the accounts,
      often as recommended to the attorney, are processed and
      complete. Evolving tax laws have made this more complex and
      more important.
    • Establish powers of attorney with your financial service
      providers as directed by your attorney.
    • Consider giving your important service providers a trusted
      contact or more if something should happen to you. This may
      include your attorney, accountant, financial advisor, and anyone
      else you would like to be an advocate for you. Close credit cards
      owned solely by the deceased (redeem/transfer rewards)
    • Notify credit bureaus of the death to avoid the possible future
      hassle of identity theft.
    • Review airline miles / other reward accounts
    • Review digital accounts (email accounts, social media, etc.) –
      some passwords that you don't know may be saved in the
      deceased's computer/phone

  • Once complete, make sure your paperwork is reasonably in order and
    stored in a safe place so someone else can locate it when needed. We
    offer a free filing system to clients if interested. Alternatively, if the
    estate is to be distributed, work with the advisors to get the assets to
    the heirs and close out the estate with the attorney's help.

  • Work to close out the estate with the attorney, accountant, and begin
    to plan for the future with your financial planner.
    • Final Tax Return
    • Establish and complete charitable contributions or memorials
    • Consider holding a family meeting with advisors to discuss your
      current situation, outlook, and important future goals.