When someone you love dies, the job of closing out his or her personal, financial and legal affairs might fall to you. It’s a stressful task – typically involving an avalanche of paperwork – and it typically comes at a time when you’re least prepared to handle it.
That’s why our first recommendation for what to do when a family member dies is the most important: Consider delaying all financial decisions for at least six months. During this time, devote yourself to your grief and your family. Spend time with loved ones – not lawyers, accountants and bankers.
Keep in mind that the vast majority of financial, legal and tax issues can wait months before they need attention, so don’t feel as though you’re under pressure to make decisions quickly. You don’t even need to open the mail – it too can wait. While there are things you need to know if you’re the executor of an estate, you’ll learn that many things, like monthly bills, are not a top priority after a family member dies.
Of course, some things need to be handled right away. You may take the lead in planning the funeral and then hand off the financial details to the executor. Or you may be the executor. If you’re the executor, enlist the help of three specialists: an estate attorney, your financial planner and the deceased’s accountant. (Some states let you appoint co-executors who have special expertise to work with you.)
There are a few administrative tasks that should be addressed. Follow this after-death checklist for survivors as a starting point – or ask a trusted friend or key family member to help you go through it quickly and easily.