When a loved one dies, your life will suddenly change as you take on new responsibilities. You should make choices carefully to avoid making a bad time even worse, and have a fresh look at arranging your own affairs.

One of your first tasks should be to call the lawyer and accountant of the deceased who will advise you on what to do next. Meanwhile, gather vital records for the deceased such as the birth certificate, marriage certificate, military discharge papers, social security number, records of personal property, bank accounts, investments and real estate owned.

Once these papers are in hand – along with the death certificate – more phone calls need to be made:

Employer or Union (past or current)
. If the deceased was still working, the survivor may be due benefits like life insurance, bonus and vacation pay. If this person was collecting a pension, payments may now go to the surviving spouse.

Social Security Administration (www.ssa.gov). If the deceased left a surviving spouse and/or unmarried children under 18, they may be eligible for monthly benefits.

Veteran’s Administration (www.va.gov). Assuming the deceased was in the military, the VA may help with burial expenses and determine whether a national cemetery can be used.

Insurance Company. You’ll want to know about any insurance payoff that is due.

Assets. Inventory personal property like bank accounts, life insurance policies, 401K plans, investment accounts, jewelry, fine art and real estate.

Creditors. Some creditors, like credit card and mortgage companies, provide life insurance for their customers. Check to see if the deceased was enrolled in such a program.
Finally, it’s time to review your own affairs. A lawyer or financial advisor can help ensure your wishes are followed with minimal impact from taxes and legal fees.
Will. Be sure to name an executor who is responsible since this person will carry out your wishes when you’re gone.

Guardian. Choose a guardian(s) for your minor children. Make appropriate financial provisions for them. Also, write a letter to the guardian(s) stating how you want your children to be raised.

Trust. Consider setting up a trust to manage assets for the future benefit of your beneficiaries. Designate a trustee to run the trust.

Health Care Directives. Prepare a living will and health care proxy to explain your wishes concerning measures you want taken to artificially sustain your life.

Power of Attorney. Select a power of attorney to make decisions on your behalf if you become incapacitated.

Insurance. Review your insurance needs. Choose primary and contingent beneficiaries.

Bank Accounts and Pension Plans. Review and update your beneficiary designations.

Organize and Inventory All Important Documents. Store documents, such as those listed above, in a safe and secure place. Inform family members or a trusted friend of the contents and location of these documents.

In short, try to avoid leaving a headache for whoever someday settles your financial affairs – hopefully many years from now.

Claudette E. Paäge is president of Paäge et Cie Business & Personal Management Services Ltd. (www.paageetcie.com). She is also the author of No Time Like Now, A  Guide to Organizing Your Life, a booklet to help you arrange key documents and plan for emergencies. Excerpted from Balance, The Magazine about Getting and Staying Organized.


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