By Renee LaViness
When you lose a loved one, emotions and obligations take over and life isn’t “normal” for a while. Here are some suggestions to help your family. Keep all important documents together, whether in a safe, at a friend’s house, or in a safe deposit box. Make sure designated family members will be able to access the documents when needed. A safe deposit box won’t help if nobody is allowed in without a key that is not available. Likewise, a household safe is no good if the survivor has no clue it exists or has no means to access the contents. It is important to know that a Power of Attorney is only good while the loved one is ALIVE. You cannot have a power of attorney over a dead person. Many people are shocked to learn their control of important matters ended when their loved one died. If retirement, military, disability, social security, or other benefits are received on a regular basis, the organizations/companies should be contacted as soon after the person’s death as possible. Most funds sent after a person dies will have to be returned to the entity that sent it. Where is the deed? The car title? Credit card bills? The utility company information? What about passwords for internet sites or other memberships? Make these items easily accessible to the person who is expected to handle them. If burial plans have been made, it is important to leave information identifying the cemetery, funeral home, cremation/burial choice, gravestone plans, whether funeral or memorial gatherings paid for, and any other related information. Which companies hold the life insurance policies? What do they need before they will pay the beneficiaries? How can they be reached? The funeral home will need information for the death certificate, such as date/location of birth and death, where the deceased will be buried, parents, spouse(s), children, siblings, date of marriage, who survives, who is already deceased, and who to contact for more information. If a basic obituary is already written, they will appreciate the help. In most cases, obituaries/death notices can only be submitted by funeral homes, but families can offer the information. The funeral home will also need to know how many certified copies of the death certificate are needed. Insurance companies, bills, and others may require a certified copy. Some others may accept a photo copy. Order them through the funeral home when you are giving them the rest of the information. A will or living trust will help heirs and legal authorities honor the deceased’s wishes as closely as possible. They also help reduce family squabbles over who gets what. If possible, make it clear who will inherit large items such as the house, cars, major financial investments, vacation house, etcetera. If the family knows these things in advance, they will often discuss and become more comfortable with such plans in future conversations. Avoid keeping secrets which can create anxiety of the unknown and often results in ugly situations. It is important to leave a list of family and friends to be notified, along with their contact information. Try to keep it updated. After a death is not the time to hunt for Uncle Joe’s address or wonder if Great Aunt Phoebe is still alive and which state she lives in. When final plans are handled in advance, family members should have much less stress and interruption in their lives. Just a little FYI: I’m not a lawyer, and I’m not offering legal advice in the above blog. I’m only sharing information and suggestions from my own experiences in dealing with the death of parents and grandparents, as well as friends’ shared experiences. Please consult an attorney for legal advice.