A Survivor’s Checklist

Things to Do After the Death of a Loved One

By Jerrold E. Slutzky, J. D., CFP®
Last Updated: May 19, 2014

No one likes to think about death, and yet we all have to face it sooner or later.  There are so many things to be done at a stressful time when survivors want time to grieve and heal.  So this checklist is meant to assist you during a time that can seem overwhelming. 
This checklist is not meant to be an exhaustive list of everything that must be done, but merely a guide to help you along the path of things to be done.   If you discover issues that need to be handled that are not addressed in this guide, feel free to contact our office for additional guidance.

We also encourage you to ask questions of the deceased's close friends and relatives to ensure that you are fully informed of the deceased's assets, debts, pending lawsuits, and any other outstanding matters that may need attention.

A Few General Comments:
1.    Each estate is unique.  Your own legal, accounting, and financial planning professionals should guide you through the overall process.
2.    If there is a Trust and you are named Trustee or Successor Trustee, the estate planning documents will most likely give you immediate access to funds possibly needed for funeral and other expenses related to the death of an individual.
3.    If there is no Trust, but there is a Last Will & Testament (Will) naming you as executor (also called a Personal Representative), you will have to wait for court appointment for access to the funds, but you should be able to get permission to retrieve the deceased’s original Will from his/her safe deposit box for filing with the Clerk of the Court.
4.    Under Florida law, the Will must be filed with the Clerk of the Court of the county in which the deceased was residing within 10 days of the date of death. 
5.    Keep in mind there are criminals out there.  Unfortunately, “obituary robberies” in which families’ houses are robbed while attending a funeral are a growing concern.  Don’t give full names or hometowns of relatives in the obituary.  And have someone stay at your home during the funeral, or at least park some cars in the driveway to make it look like someone is home. 

Within the First 24 hours:
Take your time.  Recognize that you are going through a grieving process.  Do not be rushed into any decisions.  At the immediate time of death, there is nothing that needs to happen from a legal standpoint.  You can spend your time dealing with the doctors, funeral homes and immediate family members.  Get yourself through this time and process.  In the meanwhile:
1.    Locate any estate-planning documents (Will, Trust, etc.) and review them for possible instructions about disposal of the body, use of vital organs, and funeral arrangements.
2.    Ensure that proper funeral arrangements have been made.  Locate any papers relating to prearranged funeral services or pre-purchased burial plots.  Review papers for possible instructions about disposal of the body, organ donations, and funeral or cremation preferences.
3.    Determine whether any of the deceased’s property needs to be safeguarded, such as a motor vehicle, vacant house, etc.
4.    If there are any pets requiring care, be sure to feed them, and arrange for a temporary, if not permanent, home for them.
5.    If the deceased has served in the U.S. Military, check the website www.USMilitary.about.com and search for information on Military Honors available at burial, such as a U.S. flag and Military Representative.
6.    Cancel newspaper delivery subscriptions to the deceased’s house/apartment.  A pile of uncollected newspapers is a signal to thieves that nobody is home.
7.    If you know that the deceased was an active trader of stocks, and if you know the broker/dealer (or if the deceased used an online stock-trading account, you may want to contact them to make sure any open limit orders to buy or sell stocks are cancelled (Note: They may not follow your instructions until they have confirmed the death, and that you are authorized to give instructions (as Trustee or Personal Representative)).
8.    If you have access to the deceased’s Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, or other social media, website, and/or email services, consider posting an announcement of the deceased’s passing.  And you may want to provide your own contact information for funeral information.  You probably don’t want to post the actual funeral details as this lets potential burglars know when the home may be unattended, while others are attending the funeral.

Within the First Week:

But during this time, there are some things that need to be done – Check them off as you complete them:

1.    Check with the deceased’s banks to see if they have any safe deposit boxes.

2.    File the original will with the Clerk of the Circuit Court in the County of his/her domicile (legal residence).  Florida requires this to be done within 10 days.

3.    Locate the original Last Will and Testament and/or Trust, and take the time to read it.  Consult with a Florida attorney to determine what actions must be taken.  Check for an established Trust document.  Locate the deceased’s letter of instruction, if any.

4.    Locate important records and documents, such as vehicle titles, deeds, life insurance policies, driver’s license, social security card, passport, birth certificate, divorce decree, legal separation agreements, marriage license, military separation papers, citizenship, and retirement documents.

5.    Start a notebook, maintaining a detailed list of all expenses relating to the final care and/or death of the deceased.  You will probably be able to obtain reimbursement for these expenses from the deceased’s estate or trust, and some of these expenses will be deductible to the deceased’s estate for estate tax or income tax purposes. 

6.    In the same notebook, start maintaining a log of the date and amount of time you spend carrying out your duties as an executor, personal representative and/or trustee, as you may be entitled to compensation reimbursing you for the time you expend in carrying out these duties. 

7.    Contact the deceased’s financial planner, CPA and estate planning attorney.  They each need to be informed about the deceased’s passing, and each will have a role in helping you to do everything necessary to wind up the deceased’s final affairs.  The attorney will prepare any documents necessary to confirm the authority of the successor Trustee of the Trust, if any.  This will give the Trustee access to assets within the trust to cover costs of the funeral and/or other related expenses.

8.    If you have access to the deceased’s bank accounts, stop automatic payments coming out of the deceased’s bank account to pay for non-essentials, if any.  Similarly, if you have access to the deceased’s credit cards, stop automatic payments being charged to the credit card, if any.

9.    Request a minimum of ten (10) death certificates from the funeral home.  Most life insurance policies, investment and bank accounts, and related assets require an original death certificate with the claim form.  You can also visit the U.S. Vital Statistics website, which provides a listing for every state's Department of Vital Statistics.  It's located here: http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/howto/w2w/w2welcom.ht

10.  Contact all applicable insurance companies (auto, life, health). You will need the following information for each insurance policy:  the policy number and/or social security number of the deceased, the full name of the deceased, the date and cause of death, a certified copy of the death certificate.

11.  If the deceased was over 70-1/2 years of age and had an IRA account, and if the death occurred close to the end of the year, quickly verify with his/her financial advisor that he/she has taken the Required Minimum Distribution (RMD) for the year of death.  There is a 50% tax penalty for not taking this mandatory distribution prior to the end of each calendar year. 

12.  If you know that the deceased actively traded stocks online or through a financial advisor, be sure to notify the appropriate brokerage company of the death so they can cancel any outstanding limit orders.  Please be patient if they are unwilling to discuss the account with you or follow your instructions until they have received a copy of the death certificate. 

13.  Contact Post Office to make necessary changes in delivery of mail, if any.

14.  Turn off any bills set for “auto-pay” from the deceased’s checking account.

15.  Stop home delivery of newspapers, if any.


Within the Second Week - The deceased’s financial planner and/or insurance agent, if any, will often help you with the following:

1.    Make an appointment with an attorney to discuss the estate.
2.    Contact the insurance agent or agency handling each life insurance policy and request death benefit claim forms. If the deceased had a financial planner they will often do this for you. Note that most insurers will usually cut a check relatively quickly following the death of a loved one.

NOTE: Do not feel compelled to invest insurance proceeds immediately. Most insurance companies will let you keep the proceeds from a life insurance policy in an interest-bearing cash account until you have a plan for investing it.  If you know the deceased had a life insurance policy but you cannot find it, contact the American Council of Life Insurers (www.acli.com), which offers guidance in tracing missing policies.

3.    Notify all other insurance carriers i.e., health, long term care, umbrella, disability, accidental death, travel, vehicle, homeowners or renter’s insurance.

4.    Put together a list of all the beneficiaries of the insurance policies with their age, relationship to deceased and their current address and phone number.

5.    Contact the deceased’s current and previous employer(s) to find out whether or not there are any retirement plans or group life insurance policies or other survivor benefits available to the survivor(s) and request the necessary claim forms.

NOTE:  Many companies make every attempt to help the families of their employees after a death. They may cut you a check right away for wages owed, vacation pay, sick pay, and life insurance benefits.  If the death was the result of an accident on company time, there may also be accidental death and dismemberment benefits.

NOTE: Also notify the state Worker’s Compensation Department, if the deceased is receiving benefits.

6.    Gather all of the deceased’s bills and expenses that are coming due, bank and brokerage statements, and last year’s tax return.  Determine if any bills must be plaid immediately.  Contact creditors who are demanding immediate payment and notify such creditors of the death.
7.    Locate and organize notes regarding assets and liabilities, such as promissory notes, loans, business interests, patents, and royalties.
8.    Check with banks and credit card companies to see if there was additional life insurance connected with the deceased’s loans and accounts. (E.g. mortgage insurance on the deceased’s home).
9.    Notify all credit card companies of the death of the deceased.
10.  Cancel any credit cards on which the deceased was the only signer.
11.  Obtain bills for last illness from hospital, hospice, and other medical providers.
12.  Contact all of the financial institutions that hold any assets of the deceased. Tell them you need the date of death values on each asset in each account.  Ask them to send you a copy of this information.  Note the name, phone number, and address of the individual assisting you.
13.  Locate and secure any items mentioned in a governing document, Will or Trust or documents of title.
14.  Do a careful search of the deceased’s home for other important documents and potential hiding places.  Literally look behind every picture, under and behind drawers and dressers, fan through the pages of books on shelves (a popular place to hide currency), inside toilet tanks, under carpets, and don’t forget behind air vents, up in the attic, in the garage, basement, and any other storage units.  Do a similar search of the deceased’s vehicle(s).
15.  Contact the Veterans Administration for applicable benefits for the deceased and/or surviving spouse and dependent children.  You will need the following information: certified copy of the death certificate, copy of your marriage certificate (spouses only), copies of the birth certificate for dependent children.

16.  If the deceased was retired from the military, contact the Defense Finance and Accounting Service (Cleveland, OH) Casualty Assistance Line to report the death and check for survivor annuity (SBP, RSFPP). You will need the following information: a certified copy of the death certificate, a copy of your marriage certificate (spouses only), and copies of the birth certificate for dependent children.
17.  Contact Social Security to check on survivor benefits. You will need the following information: A certified copy of the death certificate, Social Security Number of the deceased, Social Security Number of spouse/dependents, birth certificates for spouse and dependent children, approximate earnings of the deceased in past year/last employer.
18.  If monthly benefits were being paid from Social Security via direct deposit, notify the bank or other financial institution of the beneficiary's death.  Request that any funds received for the month of death and later be returned to Social Security as soon as possible.
19.  If benefits were being paid by check, DO NOT cash or deposit any checks received for the month in which the beneficiary died or thereafter. Return any such checks to Social Security as soon as possible.
20.  A one-time payment of $255 is payable to the surviving spouse if he or she was living with the beneficiary at the time of death, OR if living apart, was eligible for Social Security benefits on the beneficiary's earnings record for the month of death.  If there is no surviving spouse, the payment is made to a child who was eligible for benefits on the beneficiary's earnings record in the month of death.
21.  Notify any other organization paying retirement, pension, or paying a monthly annuity of the death.  Verify whether the survivor is entitled to continue receiving the payments subsequent to the decedent’s death, and whether they are full or partial payments.
22.  Contact Civil Service Office of Personnel Management if the deceased was an active or retired employee of the Civil Service.
23.  Contact the holder of home/real estate loans for possible mortgage insurance coverage. Notify all creditors of the deceased's estate of the death. Check on credit life insurance.
24.  Contact any fraternal organizations, unions, or associations the deceased may have been a member of for assistance and to determine benefits.
25.  Review financial paperwork for other details (check stubs, canceled checks, stocks and bonds, real estate, safe deposit boxes, etc.)  Caution: Do not open any safe deposit boxes without first consulting with an attorney.
26.  Consider contacting the “abandoned property” division of any state in which the deceased has lived to see if there were any assets that have escheated to the state.  In Florida, the site is https://www.fltreasurehunt.org.  To find the links to the appropriate agency in other states, see:  http://www.unclaimed.org.
27.  If you are a spouse of the deceased, you should review your own life insurance policies to ensure that ownership and beneficiary designations are still current.  If your spouse was the named beneficiary of your policy, you may want to name new beneficiaries to avoid the assets from possibly going through probate upon your death.  Also be sure to review your own present type of insurance and amount of coverage with a financial professional.
28.  Similarly, if you were the joint tenant or beneficiary of any other accounts or assets in which the deceased had an interest, action should be taken to re-title the asset in your name alone, in your Trust, if any, or to name new beneficiaries.

When You Have Received the Death Certificates:

1.    Process Life Insurance Claims

2.    Notify Social Security of the death, and if appropriate, apply for survivor Social Security Benefits at 800.772.1213 (and/or the Veteran’s office at 916.731.7300 if applicable) and inform them of the death of the individual. Otherwise you will be required to pay back any monies that are overpaid to the deceased. Many times the funeral home will have notified Social Security.  Confirm with them whether or not they have done this for you.

3.    Close credit card accounts and destroy credit cards.

4.    Notify banks and brokerage firms and remove the deceased’s name from any joint accounts.

5.    Meet with the deceased’s financial planner or yours, as appropriate, to develop a long-term investment plan for the estate assets, including any life insurance benefits to be received.


Within the Next Few Weeks after Death:

1.    Gather and organize all legal and financial documents:

a.    Estate planning documents, such as Wills and Trusts;
b.    Bank accounts owned by the deceased, individually or jointly;
c.    Investment or Brokerage accounts owned by deceased, individually or jointly;
d.    Mutual funds owned by the deceased, individually or jointly;
e.    Annuities and/or Life Insurance policies owned by the deceased;
f.     Certificates of Deposit in the deceased’s name, individually or jointly;
g.    Stock Certificates registered in deceased’s name, individually or jointly;
h.    Any promissory notes under which deceased was entitled to receive payment;
i.      Titles to motor vehicles and/or mobile homes that are listed in deceased’s name;
j.      Deeds to real property, vacation homes, time shares, etc. in deceased’s name;
k.    Any appraisals of jewelry, artwork, coin collections or other valuable personal property owned by the deceased.

2.    Gather all current and/or past due bills, statements, claim forms, etc.  Obtain the account balance on mortgages, loans, checking and savings accounts and investment accounts as of the date of death.
3.    Set up an initial meeting with the attorney, CPA, and financial planner to identify what needs to be done and coordinate who will do it.
4.    Gain access to and inventory any safe deposit box.
5.    Bring original Will, financial documents balances, death certificates, and inventory of safe deposit box to meeting with attorney.
6.    Some of the tasks that will need to be addressed include the following:

a.    File the original will with the Clerk of the Circuit Court in the County of his/her domicile (legal residence).  Florida requires this to be done within 10 days.
b.    See an attorney to determine whether a petition for probate of the will must be filed.
c.    Begin to prepare for filing the estate tax return (Form 706). Some of the forms and documents you have been collecting will be needed by your CPA or attorney to document date of death calculations for that return.
d.    Your attorney or CPA can assist you with finalizing and understanding any legal documents and/or forms that you have received.
e.    The financial planner and estate attorney can also assist you with funding the trusts (if applicable) and with making distributions to any beneficiaries.
f.     The financial planner and CPA can help you make IRA and pension plan election decisions.

Within Two to Six Months:

  1. If automobiles are held in joint tenancy, change motor vehicle titles to reflect ownership only by the surviving joint tenant.  Notify insurance company and lender of the change.
  2. If individual stocks or bonds, brokerage accounts, bank accounts, etc. are held in joint tenancy, or have a named beneficiary, contact stockbroker and/or bank to change their records to reflect ownership only by the surviving joint tenant or beneficiary.

Some Final Things to Consider:

  1. When you are ready, taking charge of the financial affairs can be a very healing process. It gives us focus and empowerment when we may need it the most.
  1. If applicable, contact a human resources (HR) representative of the deceased’s employer for help with retirement plans.  A surviving spouse will usually be able to roll over money from the deceased spouse’s retirement plan into his or her own IRA.   In most cases, doing so will make sense, but if you are considerably younger than your spouse you may want to keep the assets in your spouse’s retirement plan. That may allow you to tap into those assets at a younger age without penalty.  Discuss this with your financial advisor before making any irrevocable decisions as the tax consequences can be substantial.
  1. Make sure you have sufficient cash on hand. One of the biggest concerns immediately following a death in the family is making sure the survivors have enough cash to meet their current expenses as well as funeral costs.  You may want to take part of your life insurance proceeds or other death benefits and increase your cash reserves.  Try to have at least six months’ worth of living expenses covered in a money market or other very accessible account.  This will help ensure that you are not too rushed into making other major financial decisions right away.
  1. Consider creating a lasting memorial.  One of the most healing experiences for survivors is to find a way to honor the people they have lost. Whether it’s through a brick paver in a memorial walkway, a scholarship in the name of your loved one at his or her alma mater, or a donation to a favorite charity, creating a tangible remembrance is an important part of paying tribute to those who have blessed our lives.
  1. If you wonder if you could benefit from any type of bereavement counseling or other support, you probably could. Please feel free to ask your financial professional for a list of community resources.  Don’t overlook the vital role your church, synagogue or mosque may play in providing spiritual and social support for you and the family involved.
  1. For many, particularly those who are not the chief financial decision maker in the household, professional financial counseling may be a comfort. Be sure to carefully screen financial advisers before you agree to work with them.
  1. After having gone through all of this, if you have not already done so, you may want to treat this as your wake-up call to create your own estate plan, and take whatever action may be needed to make your own passing easier on your heirs and loved ones.  Be sure to encourage your friends and family members to do the same. 

We hope this checklist has been helpful to you.

Please let us know if we can be of further assistance to you.



Jerrold E. Slutzky, J.D., CFP®
Attorney at Law
Slutzky Law Firm
20719 Sterlington Drive, Suite 103
Land O’ Lakes, FL 34638
(813) 909-1515
Important Phone Numbers and Websites


The following is a list of phone numbers and web sites that you may find useful:

1.    Social Security: 1-800-772-1213

2.    Internal Revenue Service:  1-800-829-1040

3.    Veterans Administration 1-800-827-1000

3.   Civil Service Personnel Management Office 1-888-767-6738

4.   DFAS Casualty Assistance Office (Cleveland) 1-800-269-5170

5.   Office of Service Members Life Insurance 1-800-419-14736.

1.    U.S. Vital Statistics - a site that provides a listing of every State's Department of Vital Statistics (a good resource for information on ordering certified copies of death certificates).

2.    Dept. of Public Debt, U.S. Treasury, for information on the transfer of ownership of U.S. Treasury bills, notes and bonds.

3.    Florida Clerks of Court:  A site that lists all of Florida's 67 County’s Clerks of Court websites

4.    Florida Tax Collectors. A site that lists all of Florida's County Tax Collectors websites. A good resource for obtaining the status of county taxes on a Florida property.  

5.    Florida Property Appraisers. A site that lists all of Florida's County Property Appraiser's websites.

20719 Sterlington Drive #102
Land O Lakes, FL 34638
529 Harbor Grove Circle
Safety Harbor, FL 34695
The Slutzky Law Firm, Jerry Slutzky, Attorney at Law