What to do after a death.

As stated in prior blogs, the University has provided internet users with an estate planning course.  The course can be found at  http://www.wyomingextension.org/publications/bulletins-estateplanning.asp    I am now taking that course one week at a time.  This week I reviewed the lesson about organizing the deceased person's affairs.  The link is found at http://www.wyomingextension.org/agpubs/pubs/B1250-3.pdf

The most important advice is that each person should have an "important papers" file, notebook, folder, box, lock box, or other depository.

The article also mentioned prepaid funeral plans.  Prepaid funeral plans are terrible investments.  If the life expectancy chart shows that you may live another decade or more, your estate is usually far better served if you invest an amount equal to your funeral expenses in a good stock, bond, or other investment account or fund.  If you are expected to die in a few months, then a prepaid funeral may be a reasonable financial decision.

The article is most useful for someone who's loved  one just died.  Often when we are grieving we do not think as logically as we should.  This article does that for us.

A good summary is this checklist taken from the article:


1.  Report the death to the appropriate authorities if this hasn’t already been done.

2.  Determine if there is a safe deposit box, and locate the key. If all persons listed as owners on the box are deceased, then the bank may demand to view a certified copy of the death certificate and court-issued documentation called “Letters Testamentary,” appointing the person as personal representative of the estate. Original wills, trust documents, life insurance policies, and vehicle titles must be located if not found at the decedent’s home or safe deposit box.

3.  Arrange with the post office that delivers mail to the address of the decedent to re-route mail to the address of the personal representative or to another location.

4.  Locate the decedent’s Social Security number.

5.   Cancel prepaid items and attempt to seek refunds (i.e., magazine subscriptions, health insurance premiums, etc.).

6.  Take steps to protect the assets of the decedent: notify bank and credit card issuers, change locks on the doors, remove valuable personal property to someone else’s custody, and take other actions to keep the estate intact until it can be settled.

7.  Make arrangements to secure the decedent’s household and vehicles, including possible changing of locks, moving of cars to storage areas, etc. Care must be arranged for household pets.  The decedent’s refrigerator and freezer should be cleaned out sooner rather than later. If death occurs shortly before the end of the year, an investigation should be undertaken to determine whether the decedent paid that year’s real property taxes. It should be determined that adequate homeowner insurance covers the decedent’s residence and that all other significant assets are insured.

8.  Take care of final payroll deposits and tax reporting if there were domestic helpers, nurses, or other caregivers who continued to work up to the date of death. Severance pay can be given as the personal representative deems appropriate and can be treated as an estate expense. The manner in which payments were being made to domestic employees should be reviewed because often payments were in cash or there otherwise was no withholding or contributions to Federal Insurance Contributions Act or Federal Unemployment Tax Act taxes. Professional advice should be sought early if payments to such individuals exceeded $1,000 in any recent calendar quarter. Create W-2s for employees for the current and previous year, if needed.

9.  Obtain names, addresses, and telephone numbers, if available, and eventually Social Security numbers, for all parties who inherit under the will or trust. In addition, if a probate is required, the lawill obligate the personal representative to give notice to all individuals who would have inherited had there been no will, and the names and addresses of these individuals must be gathered as well. The persons who would inherit include a husband or wife, children (grandchildren born of a deceased child taking the deceased child’s share, great-grandchildren born of a deceased grandchild taking the grandchild’s share, etc.). If there is no husband or wife and no children, then the persons who would inherit are the parents, brothers and sisters (nieces and nephews born of a deceased brother or sister taking the share of the deceased brother or sister, great-nieces and great-nephews born of a deceased niece or nephew taking the deceased niece or nephew’s share, etc.).

10.  Return any Social Security benefits that were paid for the month in which the person dies. Before doing this, however, visit with a U.S. Social  Security Administration representative regarding this issue as well as potential benefits available depending upon family structure at that time. If the decedent was a veteran, a U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs burial benefit may be available (you will likely need a copy of the death certificate and the decedent’s discharge papers). The issue of checks not cashed prior to date of death is covered at http://ssa-custhelp.ssa.gov/app/answers/detail/a_id/349/~/checks-not-cashed-prior-to-date-of-death

11.  Make a list of all debts. This includes accounts for outstanding bills, charge cards, property taxes, utilities, loan payments, outstanding leases, mortgages, vehicle payments, alimony, etc. If you aworking with a trust document, advertisement for creditors isn’t necessary. Reasonably ascertainable creditors of the estate must be notified of facts required by Wyoming law. A weekly notice should also be published in a newspaper of general circulation for three consecutive weeks in the county in which probate takes place. These notifications start time limits within which creditors must file claims against the estate.

12.  File a petition to admit the will to probate (if necessary) or an affidavit of summary distribution (ifnecessary and available).

13.  Allow the required three months from the time of death to give creditors time to respond if you are  settling an estate through probate. The debts and assets are compiled by the personal representative and reported to the court, giving creditors an opportunity to object.

14.  Check to determine if a deceased person’s surviving spouse and minor children are entitled to allowances authorized by Wyoming law (i.e., the homestead and other exempt property, furniture and apparel, and court-ordered support) during probate.

15.  Settle all of the decedent’s tax debts, creditor claims, final expenses, administration expenses, funeral expenses, etc., before distributions of whatever remains to the decedent’s heirs or beneficiaries.

16.  Close or manage online accounts and assets: social media, merchants, email, domain names, gaming, utility, financial, banking, and other accounts found in the decedent’s bookmarks or browser history.  This should preferably be done using the user identification and password information found earlier.  This relatively recent development is often overlooked by surviving family members. Some states, like Oregon and North Carolina, have begun to adopt legislation providing for the inheritance of online accounts and assets.

17.  File a final report and accounting after the estate has been settled if you are the personal representative. The court will then release the personal representative and close the estate.


Posted on January 19, 2014 .