Losing a loved one rose and candle

Losing a loved one can be overwhelming and emotionally draining. And in the wake of that loss, money may be the last thing on your mind when you’re dealing with making arrangements and picking up the pieces.  

It’s wise to put off major decisions while you’re grieving  –  conventional wisdom recommends taking a year to heal. But the truth is you may find yourself having to make important personal and financial decisions during this inherently difficult period. 

However, there are steps you can take – with the help and guidance of family and friends as well as professional advisors – to tend to those important matters. Use this guide to help you remember the details that may need to be addressed in the near and long term and remember that you won’t have to do this all alone  –  we’re available to help. When you’re ready.

Immediately After a Loved One’s Passing

During the initial weeks after the loss, your main concern should be your own well-being and that of those you love. While many other decisions can be postponed, there are practical matters that may need your attention.

Let those close to you know about the loss. Call family, friends, and spiritual counselors for emotional support.

Contact the funeral home and confirm final arrangements. Hopefully, your loved one has expressed his or her final wishes, and some of the arrangements have already been made or even paid for. If not, look for a letter of instruction or the will for guidance.

Arrange for bereavement leave with your employer as well as care and support for any minor children, giving you time to attend to details. Of course, pets should be considered, too.

TIP If final arrangements haven’t been made, ask for help calling several funeral homes for quotes on services (these can vary widely). Remember that veterans and their spouses can be buried in a national cemetery for no charge, or you may receive an allowance from the VA for a funeral held elsewhere.

Place an obituary in the local paper and invite those you’d like to attend the services. Note if you prefer donations instead of flowers and track any donations, flowers, and cards received. Ask for help inviting others, so you don’t have to do it all yourself.

Contact your financial advisor, insurance agent, estate attorney, and accountant for estate planning documents, such as a will and trusts, and other relevant documents, such as deeds and titles. When you meet with these professionals, bring any information you have regarding your loved one’s finances, taxes, and debt.

Locate any marriage, birth, or adoption certificates, and military discharge papers, which you may need to apply for benefits.

Obtain certified copies of the death certificate. The family doctor or medical examiner should provide these within 24 hours of the death. It is recommended to obtain at least 20 copies as you will need them for a variety of future tasks. The funeral home should complete the necessary form and file it with the state.

Inform your loved one’s employer,  if applicable,  and arrange to retrieve personal belongings. Collect any salary, vacation, sick pay, or workers’ compensation owed and ask about continuing health insurance coverage and potential survivor benefits for a spouse or children.

If the deceased was self-employed, make provisions for the short-term continuation of the business and obtain copies of legal documents. This may mean activating insurance policies intended to offer a safety net during this time.

Remove personal items from the safe deposit box and distribute articles to their intended recipients. Once the death notice is printed, the bank will seal the safe deposit box and use the contents to settle the estate’s debts.

TIP Important documents may be held in a safe deposit box. If you aren’t an authorized key holder, petition the probate court for an order to open.

Report the death to the Social Security Administration and file for survivor benefits.  It’s important not to accept any of your loved one’s Social Security payments after the death; however, you may be eligible for survivor benefits. Visit ssa.gov or call 800.772.1213 for more information.

Create a list and secure tangible personal property, such as jewelry, guns, furniture, and artwork, and protect them. If probate is necessary, the executor must file an inventory and appraisal of assets within 90 days following the death. Existing insurance policies may still cover the home and car during the probate process.

Locate insurance policies and file claims as needed.

Arrange for income from any retirement, union, veterans, or Social Security benefits. Contact past employers regarding pension plans and 401(k)s, and contact any IRA custodians or trustees.

TIP Get organized and take notes. Keep a folder with all the documents you’ll need and a notepad to record important information and conversations.

One To Six Months After

As you continue to transition, there are some decisions you will begin to face to tie up any loose ends and start focusing on life again.

Make sure mortgage and insurance payments continue to be made.

Notify utility and service companies.

Review all account titling. Remove your loved one’s name from any joint accounts and transfer them to your name (you’ll need a death certificate). Any automatic payments or debits should be reassigned before closing the accounts.

Locate and file the will in state probate court.

Begin settling the estate. Work with close advisors to pull together all necessary documents to determine the contents of your loved one’s estate. If you’re the executor, you will need to file an inventory and appraisal for all tangible property with the probate court within 90 days of the loss, as well as an account of any income to the estate, expenses, and distributions from the estate.

Notify creditors and close any credit cards necessary.

Work with your financial advisor and other professionals to determine how you want to handle any inheritance and reevaluate your financial needs. Look at your sources of income and make necessary adjustments to investments while maintaining access to enough cash to cover living expenses. If you like, consider setting up a memorial or charitable donation as a lasting tribute to your loved one.

Close any email, social media, and online accounts still in your loved one’s name.

Send thank-you notes to those who sent flowers, food, donations, or who were especially kind to you after the loss.

Let Them Know

Notify the entities and individuals who have financial relationships with the deceased. They may include:

  • Banks, credit unions, and credit card companies
  • Social Security Administration
  • Department of Veterans Affairs, if applicable
  • Pension administrators
  • Investment companies
  • Life insurance companies
  • Mortgage and auto loan providers
  • Utility providers

TIP The estate should pay any outstanding debts and bills, which lowers the total value of the estate and could lower any subsequent inheritance taxes.

Six Months To One Year After

The death of a loved one may cause you to consider whether you’ve made the necessary preparations for passing on your legacy. Start by reviewing and updating your estate plan, especially if the loved one you lost was among the original beneficiaries.

Work with your financial advisor and legal professional to deal with any probate issues. 

Talk to a tax professional about what taxes need to be filed on behalf of the deceased. Usually, a filing is required within nine months of the loss.

Change the titles on tangible property.

TIP Click here for a copy of our Family Love Letter to help you simplify matters and provide your loved ones with pertinent information at a time of need.

Plan for yourself, your children, and your extended family. Review your own estate plan, including insurance policies, legal documents, investment plans, etc., and revise as necessary; then schedule a time for you and your family to go over these details with your financial advisor. If your child is in college, contact the financial aid office to see if a change in financial circumstances could improve the aid package.

Everything in Writing

This checklist is meant to help surviving families deal with practical matters during what can be a difficult time. It is not exhaustive and should be viewed only as a starting point for compiling your personalized list to ensure your loved ones will be taken care of in the future.


  • Banks, credit unions, and credit card companies
  • Social Security Administration Department of Veterans Affairs, if applicable.
  • Pension administrators Investment companies
  • Life insurance companies Mortgage and auto loan providers 
  • Utility providers


  • Living will or advanced medical directive 
  • Medical or healthcare power of attorney 
  • Long-term care insurance


  • Birth/marriage/death certificates 
  • Divorce and custody agreements 
  • Durable power of attorney 
  • Funeral instructions
  • Security codes, keys, usernames, and passwords to accounts (e.g., safe deposit boxes, safes, alarm codes, online accounts for social media, email, phone, utilities, cable, auto loans, insurance, etc.)
  • Family love letter and letter of instructions – include essential financial and personal details, from your worldview to special end-of-life requests. 

We’re Here to Help

Of course, this is simply a guide to help you and your family address the most common issues that arise after a loss. Your Gratz Park Private Wealth advisors understand that your situation may be different, and we’re available to help you work through any decisions that need to be addressed now and further down the road. Let us know when you’re ready.

Raymond James and its advisors do not offer tax or legal advice. You should discuss any tax or legal matters with the appropriate professional.