The death of a loved one is always stressful, whether or not it is expected. Hopefully, if you will be in charge after a loved one dies, you have been told about your appointment and given the relevant information that you will need. If not, here is a list of the first things you should do:

1. Check the Safety Deposit Box.

Be aware the having the key to the box is not enough. You must either be a joint renter of the box or have a probate court issue you a Petition and Order to Open Safe-Deposit Box. That order will allow you to remove only the will and/or the deed to a burial plot. The other contents of the box cannot be removed unless you are appointed by a probate court as the personal representative of the estate.

2. Cancel Social Security.

Often the funeral home will perform this service, but verify that it has been done. Be aware that if the person died before the expiration of the entire month for which benefits were last paid, the government will automatically debit the account for the ENTIRE month’s benefits.

3. Cancel all credit cards and retail cards to prevent unauthorized use or identity fraud.

4. Have mail forwarded and newspaper subscriptions terminated.

5. Check for benefits.

If the deceased had employee benefits from a former employer, contact that employer and find out how to collect. If there is a life insurance policy, find out how to make a claim for the death benefits. If the deceased was a veteran, check for burial benefits here.

6. Verify that insurance is in effect.

Check and make sure that the insurance is current on the home, cars and personal property. If the premiums are paid by automatic debit, make sure there are sufficient funds in the appropriate account so that the coverage does not lapse.

7. Secure important property.

You may want to remove valuables and important paperwork from the deceased’s home and put them in a more secure place. If the deceased had a cottage or recreational vehicles, make sure they are winterized or protected from theft.

8. Start a list of creditors. When cash is available, you will know who to pay first.

9. Keep track of your time. You will be entitled to be reimbursed for the time you spend as a personal representative, trustee, etc.

10. Contact other advisors.

The deceased's financial planners, CPA, attorney, insurance agent, etc. are often good sources of information about available assets and liabilities. Be sure to enlist their help.

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