If you are thinking ahead and considering the emotional toll that managing your estate can have on your loved ones, your plan should include estate planning. Together with the advice of a local and experienced estate planning attorney, your estate plan can help your loved ones avoid an expensive, time-consuming process after you pass away. Estate planning involves taking a full inventory of everything you own—including any real estate and other property, bank and investment accounts, and insurance policies—as well as any liabilities, including mortgages, lines of credit, and other debt. With this inventory, you’ll create a plan that specifies who will inherit what, what will be needed for the care of any dependents, and who will administer your estate upon your death. Use this estate planning checklist to learn how to create and formalize your estate plan.
Checklist for what to do when a loved one passes. What to do within one week of losing a loved one:
Obtain death certificates. Order 10–25 certified copies of the death certificate from the county registrar, health department, or funeral director (you'll need these for insurance and other accounts to prove your loved one has died).
Call the employer (if applicable). Ask for information on death benefits, company-sponsored life insurance policies, and any pay due. Find out if your loved one had any 401(k) assets and, if so, who the designated beneficiaries are. If you are a beneficiary of these assets, consider rolling them into an IRA.
Notify the executor. If you are not the executor of your loved one's will or estate, notify him or her of the deceased's passing. If the loved one was your spouse, set up a time to meet with the executor to discuss the legal and tax issues related to settling the estate.
Start gathering legal and financial documents. Use this financial inventory checklist to make sure you don't miss any accounts for which you'll need documentation to close out the deceased's finances.
Establish a waiting period for making financial decisions. Give yourself some time to process your loved one's financial situation during this difficult period. Hold off on making any major financial decisions (such as selling a house or other investments) for at least six months, while you think carefully about what next steps are right for his or her assets. And don't allow a salesperson to talk you into buying financial products that you don't need at this time. Many unscrupulous people prey on those who have recently lost a loved one, so establishing a "financial waiting period" will help weed out people who may not have your best interests at heart.
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