In the first few days after a loved one dies, you’ll have some tasks to prioritize. These include making sure your loved one’s pets and children are cared for and planning a funeral or cremation. If that's all you do, you've done enough.
In the weeks after the funeral or cremation, you’ll want to begin to shift your focus to next steps. That may include notifying banks, the government and other official entities about your loved one’s passing.
To get started, you'll need copies of your loved one's death certificate. Your funeral director is responsible for coordinating the death certificate process, so you won’t need to navigate this on your own. Once you have your copies—around 10 is what most families need—you can start contacting banks and other institutions about the death.
What Affects Funeral and Cremation Costs?
There are hundreds of decisions that must be made when planning a funeral, cremation or memorial service, and making funeral arrangements can often seem confusing or overwhelming. Because there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to planning a funeral or memorial service, there are different costs and expenses to consider. Learn what to expect and get your free Guide to Understanding Funeral and Cremation Costs today.
Bank accounts and financial institutions
What you'll need to do for bank accounts and financial institutions will depend on the type of account. Most institutions will require an official copy of a death certificate in order to close an account and distribute or transfer a loved one’s assets.
Checking and savings accounts
Reach out to your loved one's financial institutions as soon as possible. Be sure to have account numbers handy.
There are all kinds of scenarios a family may have to navigate where a mortgage is concerned. It's best to talk to your family and then the lender and an attorney.
What happens to student loans when a loved one dies? You will need to contact the lender.
- For federal student loans, contact the Federal Student Aid Office of the U.S. Department of Education.
- For private loans, contact the lender.
Many investment companies, including Vanguard, Fidelity, Charles Schwab, Merrill and J.P. Morgan make it easy to report a loved one's death through an online form or by calling a dedicated number.
Notifying credit bureaus of a death is essential to preventing identity theft.
According to the nonprofit Cybercrime Support Network, "Deceased family member identity theft, also known as ghosting, occurs when someone uses the personal information of a deceased person to commit fraud. This can include opening new credit accounts, applying for loans or making other financial transactions in the deceased person’s name. In some cases, the identity thief may even try to assume the deceased person’s identity by obtaining a new driver’s license or passport in their name."
Thankfully, the credit bureaus communicate with one another, which makes your job simpler. Contact one of the three credit bureaus: TransUnion, Experian or Equifax. Whichever bureau you contact will update your loved one's credit file and alert the other two entities.
There are many government matters to consider when someone dies. You’ll need to report the death to each individual department. There's no central place to report a death, and the government agencies do not necessarily share information or notify each other.
Social Security and Medicare
The funeral home will contact the Social Security Administration (SSA) to let them know your loved one has died. However, you will still need to contact SSA yourself about benefits as soon as you can.
You will want to find out if you are eligible for SSA benefits.
Once the SSA updates your loved one's record, Medicare and Medicaid are automatically notified. This is one place where the agencies do communicate, and you don’t need to do anything extra.
If your loved one was a veteran, you’ll want to report his or her death to the Department of Defense, either online or by phone. Your funeral director can help you with this and coordinate veterans funeral benefits. You will also want to reach out about VA survivor benefits to find out if you qualify and how to apply.
Department of Motor Vehicles
Does Social Security notify the DMV of death? The quick answer is no. The process varies by state, but you should report a loved one's death to the DMV as soon as possible. The DMV will need a copy of the death certificate to cancel your loved one's driver's license.
How long you can drive a deceased person's car without transferring the registration depends on your state’s laws. Before you transfer the vehicle registration, you will likely need to contact the insurance provider.
IRS and state department of revenue
You may want to notify the regional IRS office where your loved one filed his or her taxes sooner rather than later. This can help prevent identity theft between a death and when that person's tax return is processed.
Consult with your tax accountant or estate attorney to determine if/when you are required to file an estate tax return.
After you've contacted financial institutions and federal government entities, there are a few more matters you may need to attend to.
A person can’t receive unemployment benefits after death. If your loved one was collecting unemployment, you’ll need to inform the state unemployment office. The process will vary according to where your loved one lived. Sometimes funds distributed after death will be revoked.
You’ll need to contact health, car and home insurance companies about your loved one's death. If the person who passed away was the primary policyholder, people also covered by the health insurance plan will need to find other coverage. If the person’s name is the only one on home and car insurance policies, these policies will need to be canceled.
Informing utility companies, like electric, gas, phone and cable, of a loved one's death is essential. You’ll either need to cancel the services and settle the accounts or transfer the accounts to someone else to ensure uninterruption of services.
Planning ahead helps ease the burden
Having a funeral or cremation plan in place helps ease the financial and emotional burdens of those closest to you. With a prepaid plan in place, your family won't have to worry about what you would have liked or how to find the money to pay for it.