Change can be very difficult at times. A death in the family can be especially traumatic. It may feel as though the world should stop to mourn your loss, but it does not.
The world still turns, day still follows night, buses and subways still run. Yet, for the family who has experienced the loss, the world may have been turned upside down.
Just when grief strikes, the family has additional burdens to bear. It is helpful to have a handy "to do" list, so that in the panic and grief of the moment, nothing is overlooked.
Here is a list of action items that will help guide family members when there has been a loss of a loved one:
. The hours after the death of a loved one can be particularly traumatic. Make sure family members have friends or loved ones with them. Arrange care for any children or adults needing assistance.
. Call the funeral director and clergy to set up appointment to discuss funeral arrangements. Before the meeting, be sure to check to see if the deceased left behind funeral/burial instructions.
. Obtain several copies of the death certificate.
. Get the word out. Notify immediate family, close friends, the employer and any important business colleagues.
. In the next few days, gather the deceased's important papers, including the will or trust and any life insurance contracts or retirement plan documents. Arrange for an appointment with a qualified estate- planning attorney, who focuses his practice in estate planning.
During this appointment, the person appointed by the will (the "personal representative") or trust (the "trustee") can arrange with the attorney for commencement of the trust administration or probate process. The remaining action items are directed to the person appointed in the will or trust.
. Contact the deceased's employee benefits department, so they can begin processing any benefits. They will need to know the deceased's name and Social Security number, your name and contact information, and the cause of death.
. Contact the deceased's local Social Security and Medicare offices with the information above.
. If the deceased had life insurance, have the beneficiary contact the life insurance company with the above information. (The life insurance carrier may refuse to speak with anyone other than the beneficiary.) Ask if any additional information is necessary to commence the claim. It may be possible to receive a partial payment to cover expenses prior to the processing of the claim.
. If the deceased was ever in the military, notify Veterans Affairs to see if surviving family members are eligible for any benefits due to the death.
. Keep a record of any expenditures you and the immediate family make. This may be helpful on future tax returns.
. Do not change title to assets without consulting a qualified estate-planning attorney. Changing title can have unexpected income, estate and property tax consequences.
Remember: Members of the deceased's immediate family may be in a very emotional state. They should not sign or agree to anything committing to a significant purchase or lending large sums.
The hours and days after a loved ones' passing can be especially difficult. Keep this list handy so that you will not forget any major items. Don't go through this alone. A qualified estate- planning attorney can help guide you through the often-difficult process after the death of someone close to you.
Robert J. Kulas is a member of the American Academy of Estate Planning Attorneys and the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys. He has been engaged in the practice of law in Florida for the last 25 years. For more information or to attend an upcoming seminar, call (772) 398-0720.