By: Ann Davis-Rowe
I recently got to talk about taxes here. Now, on to that other certainty of life.
Information/Paperwork to Gather:
When someone close to you dies, on top of all the emotional labor, there’s a lot of paperwork to go through – or find, or order – too.
Firstly, there are the immediate To Do’s:
[While you are dealing with these immediacies, please enlist help as far as notifying friends and family and arranging for care of pets or other dependents. People will want to help. Let them]. In a perfect world, the above decisions would be known – especially the organ donation part – and in writing and easy to find in the decedent’s paperwork.
Even if not, items you will need to find in order to get this information (and more), include:
As you progress into probate and closing the estate, you will also need multiple certified copies of the death certificate. These may be available through your funeral director, or you may have to go to city hall/a vital records office in your town.
“Probate” is the judicial process of closing an estate. If the deceased’s will specified an executor for their estate, that person would lead this process. The good news is that even if your loved one died without a will – or they had a will and you were named as the executor – a probate lawyer will be able to help you through the details. All you have to do to start is to contact your local courthouse, and they should be able to direct you to an appropriate lawyer.
Part of the probate process is to close all accounts – which is where those bills and asset information listed earlier will come in handy.
If there are bills that can’t be paid by the estate, unless you co-signed for a loan or credit card or own property with the deceased, you will generally not be responsible for paying the debt (unless you are the spouse and live in Arizona, California, Idaho, Louisiana, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, Washington state, or Wisconsin, as they are community property states). Your probate lawyer will come in very handy here.
Note that debt collectors may still try to bother you anyway. Ignore them if they are not going through the proper channels to file a claim. Also note that disbursements from life insurance and retirement plan payouts go directly to the named beneficiaries no matter what, even if the estate has debts to pay.
Besides closing accounts, you will want to notify the following places of the deceased's passing:
In addition, you will want to have the deceased’s mail redirected to your (or the executor’s) address, if necessary, and have their name added to the Direct Marketing Association’s “Deceased – Do Not Contact” list. You can do the former at your local post office and the latter here.
Filing Taxes for the Deceased
Even if your loved one dies this early in the year, you’ll still have to file a tax return next year, for the individual, and, if there are investments or rental properties in play and the estate generates more than $600 in annual gross income, also for the estate. As per usual, it’s always best to speak to a tax professional for this sort of complicated matter.
Handling Online Accounts
In this age of the Internet you’ll also want to make decisions about social media and other electronic communication, such as turning their Facebook page to a memorial, canceling email accounts and websites – or continuing to keep their website open and transferring the payment to you, if they had an active site you’d like to keep as an archive.
For more details, I recommend AARP’s checklist here. And, of course, always defer to your probate lawyer, financial planner, and other professionals.
Preparing for Your Own Post-Life Plans:
Now is a good time for you to examine your own post-life plans.
No matter where you are in planning your estate or dealing with someone else’s, keep in mind that while it’s never going to be the easiest situation, you’re also not the only person who’s ever had to deal with it. Funeral directors, probate lawyers, and even credit card companies deal with death on a regular basis and are there to help. So are your friends and other loved ones. You don’t have to do this alone.