When a loved one dies, it is mentally and emotionally exhausting. However, you will feel less overwhelmed if you go ahead and start on the tasks that need to be done. It is important to let others know about what has happened and insure that the deceased’s assets are handled properly and accounts are closed. Learn more about how to move forward in this unfamiliar and often difficult process.

If You are a Spouse

If you are the spouse of the deceased and everything was owned jointly with the right of survivorship or names you as beneficiary, the assets automatically pass to you without going through probate. If you are not the first spouse of the deceased, there may be additional issues that require probate to sort out. Contact an attorney to fully flesh out what needs to be done in this situation.

Find the Will

If you are not the spouse who owned all property jointly or had right of survivorship with the deceased, your first step is to determine if the deceased had a will. If they had a will that was signed by 2 witnesses in their presence, the document will need to be given to the probate court who will honor the wishes of the deceased. The probate court will appoint the executor for the will based on the deceased’s intentions.

If someone dies intestate (without a will), the probate court will help you determine which assets will go to whom. If the estate of the deceased is less than $20,000, you can file an affidavit with the Clerk of Court in your county stating your case for distribution of the assets without having to go through probate court.

If there is no executor of the will, the probate court will appoint a personal representative to manage the estate. Because the process of probate can be complicated depending on the estate and what the will says, it is advisable to retain an attorney who understands the Estate and Probate Laws more completely to represent your best interests. 

Your Duties

If you are the inheriting spouse, the executor of a will, or the personal representative of the probate court, you have many responsibilities. Most of what you will do involves finding the accounts of the deceased and paying and closing them. You must pay the creditors and then distribute inheritances to the heirs of the estate.

Get 10+ Death Certificates 

You will need to prove the death occurred. Go to the Vital Records Office in the county where the death occured to pick these up or see vitalrecords.nc.gov for more details. Make sure to bring your ID when you pick up death certificates in person.

Notify Social Security

You may receive survivor’s benefits when a family member dies. You and your family could be eligible for benefits based on the earnings of a worker who died. The deceased person must have worked long enough to qualify for benefits. Find out if you qualify for a Lump Sum payment or Survivor’s Benefits at Social Security

If you are working with a funeral director, they will notify Social Security of your loved one’s death. If you need to report a death or apply for benefits, you can call 1-800-772-1213 (TTY 1-800-325-0778). You can speak to a Social Security representative between 8:00 a.m. – 5:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. 

Notify Medicare

To report the death of a person with Medicare, notify Social Security. Also find the accounts or cards for any other health insurance or supplemental health insurance programs such as Medicare Prescription Drug Coverage (Part D), Medicare Advantage plans, or other health insurance plans. Call each company and inform them of the death. Send death certificates by text or email if they will accept them that way or mail a copy if needed.

Life Insurance

If your loved one had life insurance, you will need to contact them and find out which forms you need to file to claim the policy payout. Sometimes life insurance is attached to your mortgage. Call your bank and talk with someone about whether you receive any death benefits such as your mortgage payments.

Contact Retirement Accounts, Financial Advisers, & Attorneys

Depending on the type of assets held by the deceased, the beneficiary may start receiving benefits immediately from retirement accounts such as Roth IRA’s, employment retirement pensions, or trust fund accounts. Contact any employers to find out if they offered a pension plan or life insurance. Contact the deceased’s financial advisor or attorney for more details and to notify them of the death. You can also call banks directly to find out how to apply to set up and start the distributions.to the beneficiaries.

Notify Banks, Credit Cards, Other Accounts

Change the name for bank accounts and check for a safe deposit box. Close any credit accounts at the bank and any credit card accounts apart from the bank including any shopping accounts, even the ones without a card such as Amazon. Check for accounts that are monthly occurring on any bill statements you see. Digital accounts may contain monthly charges and there may not be a paper bill that comes in the mail. 

Look for utility bills, internet providers, cell phone companies, landscaping companies, home cleaners, and any other recurring bills. Find all bills that were in the name of the deceased and call each company to close each account or change the name to the personal representative of the deceased. 

Also change names for any insurance for homes that have changed ownership by a “Transfer on Death” proclamation in the will. Cancel car insurance or change the name to the spouse or personal representative or executor of the will.

Notify Credit Agencies

Notify the credit agencies Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion of the death immediately. You may want to consider putting a credit freeze on the accounts also just to help insure that no one tries to fraudulently take advantage of the death of your loved one. 

If you would like to do this by mail, you can send your info to one of the three credit reporting agencies; the receiving agency will notify the other two.  Include the death certificate and the deceased’s: legal name, Social Security number, date of birth, and date of death. If you are the spouse of the deceased, also include your name and mailing address, plus a copy of your identification, such as a driver’s license. If the request is from an executor for the deceased, or someone other than a spouse, include: a copy of the requestor’s identification, plus a copy of the will/executor agreement or Power of Attorney documentation.

You can mail your information to TransUnion at: P.O. Box 2000, Chester, PA 19016 or find more information at TransUnion

  • TransUnion 888-909-8872
  • Experian 888-397-3742
  • Equifax 800-685-1111

Cancel ID & Change Registration & Ownership of Vehicles

You’ll want to cancel the driver’s license or identification card record and make sure that any disabled placards or license plates are also canceled. Transfer the vehicle registration to the appropriate name. Also transfer the ownership of the title or with the lienholder who has the title for the vehicle. Visit www.dmv.virginia.gov for information on how to quickly wrap this process up.

Cancel email & Social Media Accounts

Notify social media sites and other online asset accounts such as YouTube, Behance, or Vimeo to avoid theft of assets or fraud and identity theft. Contact each account to see what their procedure is. For Facebook, you can choose to make the account a Memorial Account with a manager.

Cancel Memberships 

Your loved one may have belonged to many organizations including community groups such as the Lions Club or professional organizations such as BNI or Toastmasters. Try to think through and look for clues to give you ideas of who to notify. 

According to WRAL, you may need to “Reach out to sororities, fraternities, professional organizations, etc., the deceased belonged to and find out how to handle his/her membership status. Greek organizations may want to hold a special ceremony for your loved one.”

Notify the NC State Board of Elections

Go to NCSBE to cancel the voter id registration for the deceased. Don’t let voters who want to commit fraud do it on your watch.

Change Your Own Estate Plan

If you are the spouse of the deceased, you may want to take a look at who you have named as your durable power of attorney and healthcare power of attorney as well as who you are leaving assets to should you pass away. Make plans for any long term care you may need and take care of any details regarding your retirement accounts.

Ask for Help

Often, when we are exhausted or stressed, we forget that there are those who want to help. Contacting a knowledgeable attorney can make a difference in complicated situations involving death and inheritance of assets. If you are struggling to make sense of what you need to do, consult with us at Hopler, Wilms, and Hanna. We will be glad to point you in the right direction and help you plan the next steps in your life.

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