There can be enormous stress and emotional trauma brought on by the death of a loved one. Some of the smallest tasks can be overwhelming with any added stress. Knowing where to turn next can be of great help in a time of trouble. We hope that you will use this list as a reference to guide you through some essential steps that should be taken following a death.
1. Social Security Administration
Contact the Social Security office to notify them of the death. You may be eligible for Social Security death benefits. Call the Social Security Administration at 1-800-772-1213 for further information.
2. Veterans’ Benefits
Contact the Office of Veterans Affairs at 1-800- 827-1000. If your loved one was a veteran, you may be eligible for assistance with the funeral, burial plot, or other benefits including pension payments and financial aid for education costs.
3. Safe Deposit Boxes
If the deceased had a safe deposit box, contact the bank to transfer possession to you. Safe deposit boxes may include a will or other important items needed for probate or the distribution of assets. If you are unsure whether the deceased had a safe deposit box, check with the bank where the deceased held accounts.
4. Wills, Trusts, or other Estate Planning Documents
Find any estate planning documents including any wills or trusts. These may be kept in a safe deposit box, a safe within the home, or a file containing other important documents.
5. Gather Important Documents
Find any important documents pertaining to your loved one’s affairs that may be needed. Gather any deeds, business agreements, bank account information, tax returns, earning statements, birth and marriage certificates, Social Security card, vehicle registration, loan payments, bills, or other important papers.
6. Take an Inventory of Assets
Determine the existence of any of the assets held by the decedent. Maintain an inventory of the assets. Such assets may include:
- Bank accounts
- Life insurance policies
- Stocks and bonds
- Retirement accounts: 401K, IRA accounts, etc.
- Real estate
- Any personal belongings
- Business interests
7. Take an Inventory of Liabilities
Determine the existence of the decedent’s liabilities, and maintain an inventory. Liabilities may include:
- Household bills
- Medical or funeral expenses
- Other secured obligations
8. Maintain Proof of Payment for Expenses
Hold onto any receipts, bills, invoices, and canceled checks for payment of any expenses. The individual appointed as the personal representative must supply evidence of payment to the probate court.
9. Hold onto Documents and Mail of Decedent
Keep any documents including life insurance policies and certificates. Hold onto these documents even if the policyholder stopped paying because the policy may still apply. Also, keep any mail or letters as they may be needed later to prove payment or ownership of assets.
10. Secure Assets
Secure any valuable personal property of the decedent. If any property is distributed before taking inventory, it can be very hard to keep track of the property. Also, keep paying insurance for any property including a house or car in order to ensure that the assets are protected during the probate process.
11. Save Obituary Notices
Save any obituary notices because insurance companies may require a dated publication to process claims.
12. Order Death Certificates
Order at least ten death certificates. Family members, legal representatives, or others with a documented reason can obtain certified death certificates at the Tennessee Office of Vital Records. Insurance companies, banks, Social Security Administration, and others all require a certified death certificate.
You will need to file the decedent’s tax return for the year of the death. There are a number of other tax issues that are implicated with a death. Be sure to consult with an estates attorney.
14. Minor Children
If the decedent has minor children and the other parent has died, a guardian may be nominated in the will. A guardianship will be required for children under 18 who will be receiving money or valuable property according to the will.
15. Talk with your Tennessee Probate Attorney
Your Tennessee probate attorney can let you know if any probate proceedings will be necessary. Your attorney can also answer any questions that you may have.