When someone passes, planning the funeral is the first of many tasks you’ll need to complete. One of the biggest chores is processing paperwork. To help ensure you’re well prepared, we’ve compiled a list of forms you may need to fill out to settle your loved one’s affairs. We’ve also created a free downloadable checklist you can use to keep track of where you are in the process.
If the deceased purchased a cemetery plot before dying, you must find proof of ownership for the plot. If you can’t locate it, you will need to contact the cemetery to fill out a request for a copy.
If you can’t locate the original birth certificate and have to request a copy, you must be able to verify the personal information of the deceased, establish your relationship with the deceased, provide proof of your identity, and supply all the required documentation for the application.
A death certificate serves as a proof of death. Your funeral home will usually process the request for you. It is needed to settle debts and close various accounts, such as banking, Social Security, and even social media accounts. It is advised to order 10-15 copies of a death certificate to be sure you have enough for all tasks.
Typically, the funeral home will report the person’s death to Social Security. In that case, you will only need to give the funeral home the deceased person’s Social Security number. If that is not your situation and you need to report a death, call 800-772-1213 or contact your local Social Security office to learn which forms will need to be completed.
If you can’t locate an original Social Security card, you must apply for it through the Social Security Administration. The deceased individual’s complete or partial Social Security number is needed in order to obtain a death certificate.
If the deceased was not born in the United States and you can’t locate original citizenship papers, you must replace them by filling out an Application for Replacement Naturalization Citizenship Document, Form N-565.
If you can’t locate the original marriage certificate, you must contact the vital records office in the state where the marriage took place to get further instructions. It’s important to locate the marriage certificate to process the deceased’s financials.
To claim Term-Life or Final Expense insurance benefits, contact the deceased’s local insurance agent or visit the company’s website to obtain claim forms.
If the deceased served in the military, a copy of his or her discharge certificate will be needed to prove service and to attain veteran benefits. Visit archives.gov to seek a veteran’s discharge certificate.
Typically, your funeral director should be able to prepare most, it not all, of the paperwork to plan a veteran burial. In some cases, you may be able to get financial assistance for the funeral or receive other financial benefits, but you must notify the Veterans Administration and supply these documents:
If the deceased had been receiving disability benefits, the Social Security Administration needs to be notified as soon as possible to stop payments. Your funeral director may be able to do this for you. If not, you’ll need to call the SSA at 800-772-1213 and return any checks received during the month in which your loved one died. For example, if he or she passed away in May, the check received in June (which covers May) must be returned. Anything received in the month of May or earlier can be kept.
Bank accounts are distributed after someone has died based on how they’re held. If the accounts are held jointly with you or are in a living trust, you can use the accounts. But if they’re not, the accounts are off limits to all until the estate has been settled in court. Then you’ll need to work with the executor or attorney in charge of the deceased’s estate to fill out the proper paperwork to access funds.
If you’re not named as the beneficiary for investments before the stockholder dies, the ownership of the accounts will need to be settled by the probate court, which determines who gets the shares and directs the executor to transfer ownership. The executor must then send the decedent's will or a letter from the probate court confirming the beneficiary to a transfer agent, who can complete the ownership transfer. You may need to provide or fill out documents related to this process.
Property deeds are important because they ensure that property will go to the beneficiary of the deceased’s choosing. If you can’t locate the original copies, you’ll need to request the property deeds from the county clerk’s office. Each county has its own rules for copy requests, so you’ll want to check what the acceptable methods of requests are and whether fees will need to be paid.
The transfer of vehicle ownership typically takes place under a valid will. If a will was not drawn up, the vehicle will be off limits until the estate goes through probate. However, some states allow a transfer through the Department of Motor Vehicles after a lengthy process that involves a pile of paperwork. Contact your local DMV to see if your situation qualifies and which forms you’ll need.
Even after someone has died, his or her taxes for the year will be due, and a final tax return will need to be filed. The IRS provides a list of forms and instructions on its website to walk you through the process.
Bills for amenities, such as cable, internet, storage units, phone, etc., will be paid off based on probate and how the deceased’s accounts are set up. It’s important to inform the billing companies of the person’s death to stop future billings. Some companies will require a copy of the death certificate and/or paperwork to cancel the accounts.
A copy of a will can only be collected if it has been filed for probate. Until then, it’s not considered a public court record. If it’s in probate, you can call, fax, or write a letter to the county’s probate court to request a copy. If you don’t know the name of the county, enter the name of the city where the deceased person lived or owned real estate on the National Association of Counties website.
If the deceased was still working at the time of death, contact his or her employer to learn about pension plans, credit unions, union death benefits, and survivorship pension. The employer will advise which documents are required for processing, and you will need to provide a copy of the death certificate for each claim.
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Kelly Rayburn, AVP national sales and distribution at Wellabe, and Olga Villaverde, from Lifetime TV’s The Balancing Act, explain the importance of preplanning your funeral. While a difficult subject, advance planning can alleviate financial and emotional burdens for your family members.
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