When a loved one dies, it can be such a stressful and lonely time. There are so many decisions to be made, and none of them will be easy.
When you’ve just gone through a life changing ordeal, you don’t want to make any sudden and potentially bad choices that could affect the rest of your life negatively.
You need to take time to process and carefully think through the decisions you’ll be confronted with, and then take whatever next steps may be necessary.
Here are several pieces of advice that we would like to impart to make things easier:
1. Don’t Make Quick Decisions
Now is the season of having to make some major decisions.
Regarding yourself, your kids, your extended family, funeral arrangements — many of your plans and much of your future may have changed with the death of your loved one.
Don’t let anyone force you into any quick decisions.
2. Don’t Skip Making a Funeral Budget
A traditional funeral can easily cost $15,000.00 and up. This is not a cost to take lightly, and it may be another expense that you can’t afford.
On top of the funeral home bill for the final arrangements, you will also have a cemetery bill. The cost of the plot, opening and closing fees, and the cost of a headstone, are just a few.
If your loved one has a life insurance policy and requests a nice funeral service, honor their wishes. But, that doesn’t mean you need to go overboard or spend every penny that you receive as the beneficiary on funeral costs.
Keep these things in mind:
Don’t go with the first place you call unless it happens to be the service with the best options for your family.
Pick and choose the services and merchandise you want. You don’t have to take everything that is offered by a funeral director. They are there to help you with your decisions.
Remember, financial institutions like credit card companies charge interest. If at all possible, pay with cash, check, or a debit card.
Stick to your decisions, and don’t let anyone talk you into “overspending.” The last thing you want to feel during the services is regret.
3. Don’t Distribute Any Remaining Assets
The probate process takes time and must be completed before assets are distributed. It can be helpful to seek local council to help with the legal processes. A few main questions to consider:
Have all taxes been filed? If the appropriate taxes haven’t been filed and paid, the IRS may have no time frame to initiate an audit.
This could result in you having to pay out of your own pocket if there aren’t enough assets in the estate to cover unpaid debts or expenses.
Is there any real estate? There are expenses to maintain a property or to sell it. These expenses have to be taken into consideration when deciding how to proceed with an estate plan.
Are there creditors? This can be a huge problem if there is a valid claim and no more assets to cover it because they have been distributed too quickly. Consider seeking out financial advisors or family members with financial background to help settle the accounts.
4. Don’t Let Anyone Into Their House
Don’t allow anyone to come into the decedent’s home and remove anything. The estate’s named executors or successor trustee must approve before items may be removed.
Also, you must be aware of the unscrupulous people that watch the papers for obituaries. There are always people that want something for nothing. A grieving person can be very vulnerable, especially after a sudden or unexpected death.
Only the surviving spouse, immediate family members, or close friends should be allowed to come and go.
Don’t leave any important legal document out in the open, either. If any of these made it into the wrong hands, you may end up dealing with identity theft. These documents would include, but not be limited to:
- Social Security Card
- Birth Certificate
- Copy of the Death Certificate
- Marriage License
- Life Insurance Policies and Enrollment Forms
You may have had to provide all of this to the funeral director at the time of planning the funeral or memorial service. Once you get back home, put them in a safe and secure place.
It’s important to understand that no one has the legal right to anything that the decedent owned unless they are the executor or administrator of the estate.
A word of caution, posting your loved one’s obituary on social media is a great way to get the news out, but please don’t include your address for the whole internet to see. Doing so could invite trouble right to your doorstep.
5. Don’t Expect Reimbursements from the Estate
Funeral expenses are often put ahead of any other debt the estate may have. These expenses even supersede taxes the estate may owe.
You may be able to collect the debt of an estate by making a claim against it, but you’ll have to file a written request for the estate to reimburse you the money owed. You will have to go under oath, though, and give details of the amount and any payments that have already been made.
If there isn’t enough in the estate to meet all of the creditors, claims will be paid in order of priority.
6. Don’t Talk to Anyone About Possible Inheritances
I am from the old school views on discussing money with people. Just don’t. It’s never a good idea to discuss what you receive as an inheritance. Whether it be money, vehicles, property, or anything else, it’s no one else’s business.
You can save yourself embarrassment, prevent hurt feelings, and a possible liable suit just by keeping quiet.
Even if you were Uncle Fred’s favorite and everyone expects you to “get it all,” it is just poor form to discuss Uncle Fred’s will with other friends or relatives.
7. Don’t Contact Their Bank
If you contact the bank before speaking to an estate planning attorney (a certified specialist in estate planning), you risk having the accounts frozen.
Frozen accounts could delay direct deposits, automatic payments, and even your mortgage payments. Your credit cards, debit cards, and lines of credit may be frozen or just terminated with no further notice.
Telling the bank too quickly can cause some severe problems that can take money, time and legal help to rectify, so it’s always best to contact your attorney first and foremost on how to proceed.
8. Don’t Contact Their Utilities
By telling the utility companies of a death, you risk having the power, water, and gas turned off before you’re ready for them to be.
It’s not much help to you if you can’t see to sort through photos, possessions, etc. No running water to use the facilities, have a drink or wash up. No heat or air conditioning either.
Once again, it is best to consult an attorney who specializes in estate planning to help you navigate.
9. Don’t Cancel Their Insurance Policies
Whether you are part owner of a property or executor of the estate, you don’t want to lose any of the estate’s assets to fire, natural disaster, flood, or some other catastrophe.
You want to make sure that there is no lapse in any of their insurance policies. Protect your future by keeping the policies in force.
10. Don’t Use Their Vehicles
Now that the owner of the insurance has died, the policy may be invalid. It’s just good practice not to drive the vehicle unless your name was also on the insurance.
This goes for loaning it out or giving it away. I can’t stress enough how important it is to speak with an estate planning attorney.
11. Don’t Pay Their Creditors
When someone passes away, their estate is required by law to pay their debts. This includes credit cards.
Creditors have a full year after a death to collect the debts owed by the decedent. If the estate doesn’t have enough money to pay, the debt will usually go unpaid.
12. Don’t Pay Bills from Your Own Account
As stated above, debts are owed by the deceased person’s estate. By law, no family members should have to pay the debts of a deceased relative from their own bank accounts.
If there isn’t enough money in the estate to cover the debt, it usually just doesn’t get paid.
That being said there are some instances where you will be held responsible for unpaid debt:
- If you are the executor/executrix or personal representative of the estate, and didn’t follow probate court’s instructions
- If you cosigned a loan
- If you are the spouse of the deceased and live in a community property state
- If you are the spouse of the deceased and live in a state that requires you to pay off certain kinds of debt. An example would be healthcare.
13. Don’t Delay Notifying Social Security & VA
Typically when someone dies, the funeral home notifies the Social Security Administration of the death.
It is usually up to the family to notify the VA or any pension plans. Notify both entities as soon after the death of your loved one as possible.
14. Don’t Forget About Their Pets
Remember and take care of the loved one’s fur babies. They will need looking after after the loss of their owners.
If you are not able to take over their care, consider re-homing them with close family members or a friend who is looking to adopt a pet.
Please keep in mind that pets will grieve, too. So if a beloved animal is acting strangely or having a difficult time, have patience. Animals need time to work through the upheaval that they are experiencing.
15. Don’t Overdo It
Now that a loved one has died and you need to get so many things taken care of, remember to take care of yourself. Don’t over exert yourself physically and emotionally; and don’t overextend yourself financially.
Try to seek as much support as you can from your attorney, trusted family members or friends, or others that you know can be relied upon. Surround yourself with those who care for you and wish to do best by you and your lost loved one’s wishes.
Related: How to Plan a Funeral Step-by-Step
Karen Roldan has been in the funeral industry since 2006, and a licensed funeral director and embalmer since 2008. She is currently licensed in the states of Indiana and Pennsylvania.
She attended Worsham College of Mortuary Science in Wheeling, IL, and graduated with an associate degree in Mortuary Science.
Karen enjoys wring about the funeral industry because her passion is helping families in their deepest time of need. She feels being a funeral director is a calling and she is proud to fulfill this role.
Karen is a wife and the mother of four sons. She, her husband and their youngest son call Pennsylvania home.