“What Do I Do Now?” When a Loved One Passes — Funeral Planning Checklist Part 3

May 22, 2015

Key Notifications and Inquiries

In two recent posts I’ve shed light on issues, matters and tasks requiring prompt attention and action when a loved one passes. Formally notifying third parties of the death and making appropriate inquiries concerning your loved one’s property or contract rights are among these important tasks.

First, those closest to the decedent are usually in the best position to know or pinpoint the third parties to be notified and any contract or property rights to be exercised, managed, settled, closed, etc. So, if you’re responsible for managing your loved one’s affairs after death, and don’t know important details about their life, affairs, and business, you should first get together with those who do know your loved one best and review the facts of life. Important questions about the decedent to review include:

  • Is there an employer(s)?
  • Was he or she self-employed?
  • Are there business partners?
  • Are there important clients?
  • Does a union represent the decedent? Was he or she a union member?
  • Does a professional association represent the decedent? Was he or she a union member?
  • Do you have the decedent’s social security number?
  • Are there any life insurance policies?
  • Are pension benefits available or an ongoing issue?
  • Are affairs already under a lawyer’s management? Are important files or documents in the possession of a lawyer?
  • Are funeral, cemetery, or monument services prearranged and under contract?
  • Was your loved one a member of a church, synagogue, or mosque?
  • Was your loved one a member of the military?

Employer — If your loved one was employed/working when he or she died, notify the employer(s) of the death and provide instructions for release of the decedent’s personal property and to-be-paid compensation. Also notify the employer’s benefits administrator and human resources department, establish their point of communication with decedent’s executor (or estate representative), and inquire about the employer’s process for managing the employee’s affairs, including any forms and releases that must be completed and filed to properly conclude/close/settle the employee/employer relationship.

Ask about benefits and pay still due (including vacation or sick time, disability income, etc.) and if dependents remain eligible for company benefits. Also, verify whether the employer provided any insurance policies for the decedent, named beneficiaries, and procedures for filing a claim.

Social Security — Contact the Social Security Administration and submit a formal notice of the death. The friendly folks there will tell you how to submit that notice, and can provide information about eligibility for SS coverage and benefits, including that available for family members, and the procedures, forms, and requirements for ensuring that rights are exercised properly.

Unions or Professional Associations — Also call any unions, professional or service organizations your loved one belonged to. It’s possible that life insurance or other benefits are available through these organizations, and an inquiry about status is appropriate.

Pension Administrator — Contact any pension administrators and submit a formal notice of the death in accord with procedures, make sure that any final payments due are properly directed, and inquire about other submissions required to ensure that the rights of successors in the pension benefits, if any, are properly exercised and protected. Be sure to ask about and verify the procedures, forms, and requirements for ensuring that all pension rights, privileges and benefits are exercised properly.

Business Partners, Clients —Identify those who were regularly doing business with your loved one and let them know about the death. In each case inquire about unresolved issues, open contracts, and incomplete obligations at issue and create a record of any potential obligations of the decedent that may affect the estate, or, likewise, any claims the decedent may have arising out of these business relationships—e.g., partnership revenues, project fees, receivables. Of particular importance is whether any rights need to be exercised in writing within a certain time frame after the death. Timelines for exercising rights are easy to overlook during the stressful period following a death. This information will be important for the executor and the executor’s lawyer, when it comes to managing the estate’s affairs.

Life Insurance Companies — Find the deceased’s life insurance policies, if any, and contact the company or its agent. Ask about formal notice and time requirements, procedures, forms required, and authority for submitting a claim.  Usually beneficiaries or their guardians submit (sign) the claim forms and related paperwork (like a copy of the death certificate and a statement to establishing proof of claim). Remember to ask about payment options. You may have a choice between receiving a lump sum or the having the insurance company place the money in an interest-bearing account from which you can write checks.

Lawyer — Contact any lawyer representing the decedent in business matters, litigation, or estate matters and notify them of the death. Ask the lawyer for any original documents and files belonging to the decedent, and ascertain what if any continuing authority over the decedent’s affairs the lawyer may retain by contract or other arrangement with the decedent. Ask for evidence of any continuing authority over the decedent’s affairs asserted by the lawyer.

Funeral, Cemetery, Monument Providers — Your lost loved one may have already paid for funeral, cemetery or monument services. Ascertain if any such pre-arrangements exist (by looking for relevant transaction documents or contracts) and if they do contact the provider, provide a notice of the death, and ask about what information or paperwork the provider requires to initiate any processes and activities necessary to fulfill their obligations and implement the arrangements made. If changes to pre-arrangements are appropriate, inquire about options and procedures to update existing documents and terms and plans.

Religious Service Providers — If your deceased loved one was a member of a religious organization arrangements may have already been made for funeral related services. Contact the church or other religious organization and provide a notice of the death, and ask about any prearranged or available services or programs, what information or paperwork is required to conduct such services. If changes to pre-arrangements are appropriate, inquire about options and procedures to update existing arrangements and plans.

Military — If your deceased loved one served in the military, gather appropriate records of service and contact the appropriate service to ascertain eligibility for military funeral honors, or request funeral honors be arranged through the funeral director. The funeral director will contact the appropriate Military Service to arrange for the funeral honors detail. Section 578 of Public Law 106-65 of the National Defense Authorization Act mandates that the United States Armed Forces shall provide the rendering of honors in a military funeral for any eligible veteran if requested by his or her family. The honor guard detail will, at minimum, perform a ceremony including the folding and presenting of the flag of the United States to the next of kin and the playing of Taps (played by a lone bugler, or by audio recording.

 

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