The Elder Law Forum

The Elder Law Forum
After the funeral: A checklist

"My husband has died and I don't know what legal and financial steps to take," said the senior legal helpline caller. "What do I need to do?"

The death of a spouse or loved one is traumatic. It can leave the surviving spouse emotionally immobilized. When the funeral is over and family and friends have returned to the rhythm of everyday life, and the house is quiet, there is work to be done.

Here is a checklist I provided the caller:

Step 1: Obtain at least 10 "certified" copies of the death certificate from the funeral home or directly from the county vital records office. They will be required to access bank accounts, insurance proceeds, social security and pension benefits.

Step 2. Assemble copies of all insurance policies, including health, life, disability, auto, and long-term care. Examine the policies for possible benefits.

Step 3. Obtain social security numbers of the spouse and any dependent children.

Step 4. If the spouse was a veteran, obtain a copy of the honorable discharge. If a copy is not available, a copy of the discharge can be obtained from The Department of Defense, National Personnel Record Center, 9700 Page Boulevard, St. Louis, MO 63132.

Step 5. If benefits arise out of a marital relationship, obtain a copy of the marriage certificate from the register of deeds or other county office that retains marriage records.

Step 6. Obtain a copy of the spouse's will, a copy of which should be available in the office of the attorney who drafted the will.

Step. 7. Compile a complete list of the spouse's property, including real estate, stocks, bonds, savings accounts and personal property. Land titles, stocks certificates, and other financial papers are usually stored in a safe deposit box or other secure place.

Step 8. Contact the spouse's employer and make application for pension or death benefits. If a lump sum benefit is an option, consult with a financial advisor before making a choice.

Step 9. Take this checklist and assembled documents to your attorney.

(Pro bono legal information and advice is available to persons 55 and older through the USD Senior Legal Helpline, 1-800-747-1895; or

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