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10 steps after a loved one dies

If you're the executor of the will, you have numerous responsibilities, including some that might not occur to you.

By MSN Money Partner Sep 28, 2012 9:09AM

This post comes from Rob Berger at partner blog The Dough Roller.


The Dough Roller logoMy stepmother passed away two weeks ago. She was an incredible woman. She was a pilot, certified scuba diver, Harley-Davidson rider, and if that wasn't enough, a big-game hunter. No joke. Cancer took her far too soon.


Image: Last will and testament © Tetra Images, Getty ImagesAnd now I'm the executor of her will and trustee of her living trust. While I practice law, I'm not a trust and estates attorney. So I'm learning what to do as I go. When I considered writing about my experience, I was uncertain if I should. But my stepmother knew of my blog and enjoyed reading it. I think she would approve. So I'm going to share what I learn in a series of posts on The Dough Roller.


Today I want to start with some basic steps every executor of a will should take. Of course, Step One is to hire an attorney who knows what he or she is doing when it comes to handling an estate. But the list today goes beyond this and looks at some things you might not think about that will help an executor handle an estate.


Secure the will. The first priority is to find and secure the will. While in some cases this is a simple matter, in others it can be a big issue. If a loved one is terminally ill, it's best to locate the will while they are alive (although it can be an uncomfortable discussion). Once you locate the will, it should be secured. In most cases, the original will gets filed with the probate court, although you'll want to consult a lawyer to be sure.


Obtain the death certificate. You'll likely need 15 to 25 certificates of death, if not more. These will be used to notify creditors, banks, insurance companies, investment brokerages, and the like. Basically, you may need a death certificate for any significant account maintained by the deceased. Death certificates generally are ordered by the funeral home, which was a surprise to me.

Forward the mail. The mail will be an important source of information concerning both liabilities and assets. You can forward the mail online at Of course, this won't apply if a spouse or other person still lives in the home. But if not, forwarding the mail is critical.


Order credit reports. Credit reports are an excellent way to identify open accounts and outstanding debts. One of the challenges of handling an estate is making sure you know of all of the liabilities owed by the decedent. You can order the credit report of a deceased person directly from the three major credit bureaus. You'll need, among other things, the death certificate.


Notify the Social Security Administration. If the deceased was receiving Social Security benefits, you'll need to notify the Social Security Administration. You can get more information about this at the SSA website.


Secure the checkbook. The checkbook will be an important source of information. It will show payments made on debts, for investments, and even payments made on insurance policies. Of course, today many bank accounts are online, so getting online access to accounts will be important, too.


Find investment statements. Identifying all assets of the deceased is another challenge. In the best case, you'll find monthly statements of all investment accounts nicely organized. In the worst case, you won't find anything. But you should make an effort to look for and secure all investment account statements as soon as possible.


Cancel services. One thing that can be easily overlooked is canceling monthly services that are no longer needed. This may include the cellphone, home phone, cable and Internet. With the cellphone, I actually had a carrier try to charge an early-cancellation fee. They can't do that, so ask to speak to a supervisor if they try.


Cancel credit cards. In part to avoid fraud, you want to cancel any open credit cards as soon as possible. At the same time, you also want to secure the credit card statements, as they may have information helpful to your search for assets and liabilities.

Identify legal heirs. Even when there is a will, in many states you'll still need to identify those people who would have inherited property in the absence of a will. While the order of legal heirs probably varies some from state to state, I've seen the following order: spouse, children, parents, grandchildren, siblings, nieces and nephews. Even if the closest legal heir does not inherit anything under the will, in many states they must be notified of the will. What I've also learned is that if many of these individuals are deceased, you may need their full names and dates of death anyway. As always, consult with a lawyer first.


There is, of course, a lot more to do when handling an estate. But this list is a start, and several items on it were a bit surprising to me. If you've handled an estate before and have other suggestions, please leave a comment below.


More on The Dough Roller and MSN Money:



Sep 30, 2012 1:16PM
     I assisted my husband several years ago with the paperwork after both  of his parents passed away. It is important that the executor know if the deceased was collecting any type of retirement pension from a former employer.  You should notify the human resources office and be prepared to provide them with a certified death certificate.. Sometimes there may be an employment or union related death benefit or life insurance policy. No matter how small it may be, every little bit helps. Also,If the deceased had a computer, you will need to know the passwords to access online accounts.  It took us months to get the estate settled and paperwork done....the more information you have in advance the smoother the process will be.
Sep 30, 2012 10:23AM
Thank you for this writing. I went through this ten yeas ago regarding the death of my father,  without support of an attorney. It was tedious and difficult dealing with all of the companies and agencies.  It is a fact that nearly everyone must endure and execute this process sometime in their life.

I very strongly  appreciate the notions of preparing in advance for the death of a loved one - including  temporary cash flow, travel, lodging, and possibly needs for emotional support.

It is a detailed and rigorous process, and probably best to get assistance if one can afford the costs - a whole other aspect to be pre-approached.

Sep 28, 2012 5:30PM

I was fortuneate to have all things lined up when my 1st wife died.6 weeks later the neighbor

lady came over with food.She did that a couple of times a week.After about 2 months she

proposed to me.We`ve been married 12 years now.It was a seemless transistion for me.I wish everybody could be so lucky.

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