What to Do Upon the Death of a Loved One

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By Alexia Candelaria, CFP® and Karen Harris, CFP®

It’s difficult to find a more challenging life event than the passing of a loved one. Between the emotional toll it takes on you and your family, combined with the pressure that comes with potentially serving as an executor, you may find yourself wondering where to begin. As our clients’ Personal CFO, the team at Brighton Jones provides the guidance and tools necessary to navigate through the uncertainty. To help you get started, we have compiled the resources below as a way to streamline an often complicated process.

Contact the Social Security Administration to report a death and/or apply for benefits:

  • You may be eligible to receive a lump sum death benefit of $255.
  • Locate the nearest Social Security office or contact them by phone at 1-800-772-1213.
  • If your loved one was receiving any benefits at the time of their passing, request that the bank return funds received for the month of death and thereafter to Social Security. Do not cash any Social Security checks received by mail and return all checks to the Social Security Administration as soon as possible.

social security administration executor responsibilities

Gather important documents and information, including:

  • Will
  • Trusts
  • Death certificate
  • Investment account statements
  • Bank account statements
  • Life insurance policies

Consult with an attorney about probate:

  • Probate is the process through which a court determines how to distribute property of one who has passed away.
  • Probate assets: These are assets that require a probate court to pass the title to heirs. The assets are distributed based on a will (or laws of intestacy if there is no will in place).
  • Non-probate assets: These are assets that bypass the court process and go directly to beneficiaries based upon the form of title or beneficiary designation.

Contact an accountant to discuss tax filing requirements (federal and state):

  • Final income tax
  • Estate tax return
  • Estate income tax return

Update your own estate plan documents:

  • Review your estate plan documents and beneficiary designations to ensure your deceased family member is not listed as executor, trustee, beneficiary, etc.

Tips to reduce the risk of identity theft:

  • Send the IRS a copy of the deceased’s death certificate (this is used to flag the account to reflect that he/she has passed away). A copy of the death certificate may be sent with their final tax return.
  • Send copies of the death certificate to each credit reporting bureau asking them to put a “deceased alert” on the individual’s credit report.
    • Equifax: P.O. Box 740241, Atlanta, GA 30374-0241
    • Experian: P.O. Box 2104, Allen, TX 75013-0949
    • TransUnion: P.O. Box 1000, Chester, PA 19022
    • Innovis: P.O. Box 1640, Pittsburgh, PA 15230-1640
  • Review the individual’s credit report for any questionable activity.
  • Avoid putting too much information in an obituary, such as birth date, address, mother’s maiden name, or other personally identifying information that could be useful to identity thieves.

This guide provides a high-level outline of items to consider when dealing with a loved one’s estate, but is not intended to be an exhaustive list. If you’d like to have a further discussion regarding your individual circumstances, please reach out to one of our advisors today.

Alexia Candelaria and Karen Harris serve as advisors at Brighton Jones.

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