What To Do When A Death Occurs

The time immediately following the death of a loved one can be overwhelming; grief and bereavement are complicated by a seemingly endless number of tasks. The days immediately following the death will be focused on the funeral or memorial service arrangements. Soon after, however, various financial and legal issues must be addressed. Many people find it very difficult to be sure they have taken care of everything. Here is a Quick Action List of tasks that are likely to need your immediate attention:

  • Call Unity Mortuary at (865) 637-8811.
  • If your loved one was a veteran, you may be able to get assistance with the funeral, burial plot, or other benefits. For information on benefits, call the Veterans Administration at (800) 827-1000. Also, the phone number for your local Veterans Agency is usually listed under Town Offices. You will need a copy of the deceased’s discharge papers. See our extensive Veterans page under the Services tab.
  • Obtain 10 to 15 certified copies of the Death Certificate from your funeral director. You can also get additional copies later online at: www.vitalrec.com/tn.html or at your city hall.
  • If the deceased was receiving Social Security benefits, notify your local Social Security office of the death, since these benefits will stop. Overpayments will result in a difficult process of repayment. If you are a surviving spouse, ask about your eligibility for increased benefits. Also, check on benefits that any minor children may be entitled to receive.
  • Contact the health insurance company or employer to terminate coverage for the deceased while continuing coverage for others covered through the policy.
  • Contact the life insurance company(ies) for all policies. You will need to provide the policy number and a certified copy of the death certificate and fill out a claim form. If the deceased is listed as the beneficiary on any other policy, arrange to have the name removed.
  • If the deceased was employed, contact the employer for information on pension plans, credit unions and union death benefits. You will need a certified copy of the death certificate for each claim.
  • Return credit cards of the deceased with a certified copy of the death certificate, or notify the credit card company if you, as the survivor, want to retain use of the card.
  • Seek the advice of an accountant or tax advisor about filing the deceased’s tax return for the year of the death. Keep monthly bank statements on all individual and joint accounts that show the account balance on the day of death, since you will need this information for the estate tax return.
  • Arrange to change any joint bank accounts into your name, if you are the survivor. If the deceased’s estate is in trust, check with the Trust Department or Customer Service at the bank.
  • Arrange to change stocks and bonds into your name, if you are the survivor. Your bank or stockbroker will have the forms.
  • Make sure that important bills, such as mortgage payments, continue to be paid.

What To Do When A Death Occurs (Detailed List)

Americans arrange for more than two million funerals each year. Some people spend more for a funeral than for any other single “item” they buy. According to the National Funeral Director’s Association, the average cost for a funeral in 2010 is $7,323 and does not include vault, cemetery, monument or marker, or miscellaneous items, such as flowers, burial clothing, or newspaper notices. It may well be the third most expensive purchase for most people after a home and a car.

Here are some tips for cutting funeral and burial costs while maintaining the dignity and spirit of the occasion. There are also suggestions of other things to check on after a death occurs.

  • If you do not know whether the deceased made and paid for funeral and burial arrangements, call local and nearby funeral homes and ask if they have any record of such arrangements. Be sure to examine all papers of the deceased and look for funeral and burial contracts. Neglecting to check out the possibility of such arrangements could result in unnecessary expenditures for the survivors.
  • If the deceased and the family of the deceased are extremely poor, check with the local county government to see what financial assistance for burial might be available.
  • If the deceased lived at your address, ask someone to “house-sit” while you are at the funeral. Burglars learn where the deceased lived and the time and date of the funeral by reading the obituary column and, assuming that no one will be home, take advantage of such absences A house-sitter could prevent the loss of personal property.
  • If the deceased was a veteran, the spouse of a veteran, or a dependent child of a veteran, check immediately after death with the nearest Veterans Affairs office to determine whether the deceased is eligible for burial in a National Cemetery. Also ask about benefits available for funeral and burial expenses, and if a grave marker or headstone is provided. Generally, a survivor is eligible to receive an American flag to use in the funeral and to keep afterwards. If you are the surviving spouse or a dependent child of a veteran, ask about survivor’s benefits.
  • If the deceased was a participant in the Social Security System, contact the nearest Social Security office as soon as possible after the death and apply for any benefits for eligible survivors. Also, apply for the lump-sum death benefit.
  • File claims for payment with all life insurance companies with which the deceased had policies.
  • Collect from insurers any funeral/burial/death benefits payable to survivors.
  • Check with the deceased’s present and all previous employers to determine what benefits, if any, might be payable to survivors. Such benefits might include life insurance, accidental death insurance, pension benefits, and payments under Worker’s Compensation Insurance. Also, be sure to collect pay for any unused vacation and sick leave.
  • Contact the deceased’s labor union, if applicable, and collect any death or survivor’s benefits due. Ask whether the labor union provides any financial assistance with funeral and burial expenses for the deceased or with living or educational expenses of the survivors.
  • Check with the company with which the deceased carried medical/health insurance. Free accidental death and dismemberment insurance is sometimes provided to those participating in group medical/health plans. The death and dismemberment insurance might be sponsored and administered by an organization other than the medical/health insurance company, such as that sponsored and administered by the National Association of Government Employees. If the death was an accident, normally the payment will be made to a designated beneficiary.
  • File for any pension/retirement benefits due to survivors.
  • Check with community credit unions, credit unions at all places where the deceased had been employed, and possibly other credit unions regarding deposits or life insurance. Discuss payment of the money in the accounts and apply for insurance benefits.
  • Check with insurance companies with which the deceased had automobile insurance and homeowners insurance to determine whether any death benefits, such as payment of funeral and burial expenses, are payable under the policies.
  • Check with the deceased’s automobile club to see if any life insurance or other benefits are due the survivors.
  • Contact all companies with which the deceased held credit cards and apply for any death benefits that are due. For example, some credit card companies automatically carry accident life insurance on card holders. The insurance may be collected by survivors, for example, if the cardholder had charged his or her airline ticket on the credit card and was subsequently killed in a crash of the aircraft or died within a specified time following the accident.
  • If the deceased died in an accident on a trip arranged by a travel agency, survivors may be eligible for payment of death benefits from the agency. Some travel agencies automatically provide accident life insurance coverage to persons who purchase airline tickets through the agency. Check with the agency to see whether the deceased was covered by such a policy. If so, apply for benefits.
  • Submit any medical claims for the deceased to health insurance companies and/or Medicare for payment or reimbursement.
  • Collect any death benefits due survivors from various organizations, associations, clubs, and other groups to which the deceased belonged. Some of these may have provided free or inexpensive life insurance on the deceased as a membership benefit.
  • Check on all debts of the deceased. Some debts may carry credit life insurance that will pay any outstanding balance.
  • Contact the deceased’s insurance agent(s) (automobile, personal property, medical, disability, homeowners, and others) to discuss notifying insurance companies of the death, cancelling policies, requesting refunds of premiums.Cancel orders for unwanted goods and services ordered by the deceased and collect any applicable refunds.
  • Turn in season tickets (for sports or cultural events) that were held by the deceased (and request refunds.
    Cancel magazine and newspaper subscriptions and book club memberships held by the deceased and request refunds, if appropriate.
  • Cancel memberships in clubs and organizations to which the deceased belonged and request refunds, if appropriate.
  • Cancel hotel reservations, trip and tour reservations, and airline reservations for the deceased and request applicable refunds.
    If the deceased was a college student, cancel enrollment and request refunds of prepayments for such things as tuition, room and board, laboratory fees, and activity fees.
  • Cancel scheduled medical and dental appointments for the deceased. Some medical practices charge for no-shows. Canceling the appointments will preempt your having to request a waiver of such charges.
  • If the deceased was living alone in a rental unit, contact the landlord and cancel the lease. Ask for any applicable refunds, such as the security deposit and rent paid in advance.
  • Check copies of income tax returns filed recently by the deceased to determine whether refunds are due. If the refunds are not received, you should follow up. (Check with your lawyer, tax accountant, IRS, and State Tax Office for instructions on filing final tax returns for the deceased.)
  • If the death of the deceased was the fault of someone else, check on the possibility of benefits payable under liability insurance carried by the person at fault. Also, consider whether a lawsuit should be brought against the responsible party. Consult a lawyer.
  • Collect the total amount or accept periodical payments for debts owed to the deceased.
  • Be cautious of strangers offering help during your bereavement, particularly those wanting to help you handle or invest your money. If possible, put off making major financial decisions until you can think clearly and logically.
  • If the deceased was your spouse, check with all appropriate sources of survivor’s benefits to determine whether you would lose your benefits upon remarriage.

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