The loss of a loved one is a traumatic event, but it is one that almost everyone has to go through. During such an emotional time, it can be difficult to remember what needs to be done, keep track of important documents and, especially, to make hard decisions that no one wants to make. The Virginia Society of Certified Public Accountants (VSCPA) recommends the following steps to take in the event of a loss of a loved one.
- Make funeral arrangements. Were the funeral arrangements (burial plot, casket, service, cremation) already paid for and planned? Did the decedent wish for his/her body or organs to be donated? Check for an advance directive/living will or discuss the matter with the decedent's health care proxy to ensure the decedent's preferences are seen through.
- Request Death Certificates. You can obtain death certificate copies by application and you can also request death certificates from where the certificate was prepared and filed — usually a funeral home. You will need death certificates to claim property that belonged to the decedent, e.g., a payable on death account, insurance proceeds, etc.
- Contact an estate or probate attorney. An estate or probate attorney can tell you if the estate needs to be probated to distribute the decedent's assets. The attorney can prepare the probate pleadings, such as the letters testamentary (if the decedent left a valid will), which will be needed to get access to certain accounts, policies and information.
- Gather all documents. Get a folder for estate planning documents, deeds, mineral/royalty interests, stocks, bonds, life insurance, individual retirement accounts (IRA), bank statements, etc. Once these documents are given to the attorney, it can be determined what actions need to take place to get the decedent's property and assets distrusted to their heirs.
- Download a checklist or get additional help. The American Bar Association published a book called "The ABA Checklist for Family Heirs,” by Sally Hume. You can also get a checklist from AARP called, “What to Do When a Loved One Dies.” It’s important to reach out and ask for assistance. Enlist help of friends who have gone through similar situations. Chances are they are already looking for ways to help you through such a difficult time.
Get additional money tips from your local CPA.