A death in the family is a very traumatic event which is highly disruptive even though it may have been anticipated.  At this time of grief, the survivors are faced with the myriad of details involved in making final arrangements, transferring property, securing benefits, and adjusting to life changes.  The following checklist may be helpful to anyone needing guidance at this difficult time.


Whether you choose an elaborate funeral or a simple cremation, the staff of your funeral home can assist you with the details of your arrangements.

Be prepared to provide the following information for the obituary and death certificate:

-Cemetery plots
-Parents’ names
-Relatives names and addresses
-Date of birth/Date of death
-Social security number
-Level of Education

Be prepared to select the following goods and services:

-Burial or mausoleum space
-Blanket or robe
-Time for services
-Location for service
-Cards of thanks
-Memorial Cards


Traditionally, life insurance companies require only two documents to establish proof of a claim; a Statement of Claim and the Certificate of Death (or attending Physician’s Statement).  Remember, though, that this is just a general statement.  Your insurance companies reserve the right to request further information or proof if they deem it necessary.  When completing the claim form, you should have the following information available:

-The policy number(s) and face amount(s)
-The full name and address of the deceased
-His/Her occupation and the last date worked
-His/Her date and place of birth and the source of birth information
-Date, place and cause of death
-Claimant’s name, age, address and Social Security number

There are several ways of settling insurance claims.  In most cases, you may opt for a lump sum benefit or you may choose to have the money paid to you over a certain time period of your choice.  In the latter case, the bulk of the money remains with the insurance company and continues to gather interest.  In either case, check with your insurance agent, financial adviser or attorney to find out which method would be most beneficial for your particular situation.

Also, check for life insurance benefits available through:

-Employer benefits
-Trade associations
-Mortgage holder
-Credit card issuer
-Veterans administration
-Banks or credit unions
-Club associations


Retirement Benefits and Pension Plans:

-Contact employer for forms
-Consider direct rollover into IRA to continue deferring taxes
-You may be eligible for health insurance under Cobra coverage for up to 6 months at your expense

Veterans Benefits:

Veteran’s Administration claim forms can be completed at a Veteran’s Administration Regional Office, the funeral home or Veteran’s Service Commission.  Contact your funeral director or the county Veteran’s Services Officer to determine which applications need to be completed.

Social Security:

A spouse who was living with the worker at the time of death or a spouse or child who is eligible for widow’s or widower’s benefits for the month in which the worker died will be eligible to receive a lump sum death payment of $255.00.

Monthly payments can be made to the following individuals:

-Unmarried children under 18 (or 19 if full-time high school student).
-Unmarried son or daughter 18 or over who was disabled before age 22 and who continues to be disabled.
-Widow or widower 60 or older.
-Widow or widower 50 or older who becomes disabled not later than 7 years after worker’s death or within 7 years after he/she stops getting checks as a mother/father caring for the worker’s child.
-Surviving mother/father or surviving divorced mother/father caring for the worker’s child under 16 (or disabled).
-Surviving divorced spouse 60 or older (50 if disabled) if the marriage lasted 10 years or more.
-Dependent parents 62 or older.

Be prepared to provide the following documents to support a social security claim:

-The deceased worker’s Social Security number.
-Birth certificates and Social Security numbers for eligible children.
-Evidence of birth, marriage, and the Social Security number for eligible children.
-Evidence of death.
-Information regarding any prior marriage of deceased worker and surviving spouse.
-W-2 forms (tax returns if self-employed) for the two years prior to death.


Property held in the descendant’s name alone must be transferred through the probate process.  Assets held by “survivorship,” “payable on death” or with a “designated beneficiary” will be transferred outside of probate to the person named.

Automobiles:  Even though titled in the decedent’s name alone, two automobiles (valued at under $40,000 total) may be transferred outside of probate to a surviving spouse.  Take the title, death certificate, and your own picture identification to the BMV.  You will be required to sign an Affidavit and the vehicle will be transferred directly to the spouse.  The cost is approximately $20 per vehicle.

Bank & Brokerage Accounts:  You will need to secure a written statement of the value of each account on the date of death value from each financial institution.  Tax Waivers (for accounts over $25,000) must be prepared and certified by the Fiscal Office or County Auditor and presented to the bank to release funds.  All accounts date of death valuations must be reported on estate tax returns.  A surviving spouse may be able to have the accounts released without a tax waiver.

Stocks and Bonds:  These assets, even if they are held jointly with rights of survivorship, may also require the auditors’ tax waiver and death certificate.  Holders may also require an affidavit of domicile, a tax form W-9 and/or a letter of instruction with signature certified by a bank or other financial institution.

Real Estate:  Land held by the entireties, jointly with right of survivorship or in life estate may be released by filing an affidavit and certified death certificate with the auditor.  This also must be reported an estate tax returns.


You may file a joint tax return and claim an exemption for your spouse in the year of death.  (See IRS Publication 559 for Survivors)

Remove the descendants’ name from utilities and credit card accounts.

Review your own health and life insurance needs as well as your estate plan.

All of this may seem overwhelming at this very difficult time.  While some may want to address all issues as quickly as possible in order to feel “settled,” remember that most of the business is not a dire emergency.  It may be wise to wait a bit until you feel better able to cope. Also remember that help is available through your funeral home, attorney or other adviser should you need it.

Prepared by:
Marta J. Williger
Elder Law Attorney

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