By Matt Kuhn, CFA, AIF®

This is the second blog post of a two-part series on “Planning for the Inevitable.” Part 1 can be found here.

The loss of a loved one is emotionally devastating on many levels. The best defense against uncertainty and stress is to lean on existing family and social and professional relationships for support.

A common misconception after a loved one dies is that action is immediately necessary. Mistakes are often made during times of stress so before making any major decisions, talk to family, friends, and other members of your inner circle to get their input and advice. Next, enlist the help of a trusted financial advisor, attorney, and tax professional to provide the financial and legal perspectives needed to gain peace of mind relating to new circumstances.

Below is a preliminary checklist to use as a guide:

First Things First

  • Contact these individuals: family members, friends, funeral home director, priest, pastor, rabbi, or other spiritual advisor.
  • If you are a client of Harris Financial Advisors (HFA), contact us as soon as practical. HFA will coordinate with your accountant, estate planning attorney, insurance professional, and financial institutions to help update and retitle accounts, and ensure funds are accessible when needed.
  • Order 10 original death certificates from the funeral home. Check with the funeral director for guidance and instructions. Delivery usually occurs in 10 to 30 days. Funeral homes generally notify the Social Security Administration of deaths.
  • Take inventory of assets and liabilities, including real estate and personal property, as of date-of-death. If you are an HFA client, provide this inventory to HFA and we will finalize a date-of-death balance sheet and forward it to your estate attorney and accountant. Your estate attorney will prepare written estate administration instructions.
  • Tax forms that may need to be filed at death include Form 56 (fiduciary notice), Form 8822 (change of address), Form 4810 (prompt assessment), Form 4768 (request for an extension to file Form 706), IRS Form 706 (estate tax return), and a final income tax return for the decedent, so coordinating with a tax professional is critical.

Other Steps to Take

  • Notify Veterans Affairs for any available benefits, including burial reimbursement.
  • Continue to pay monthly bills and insurance premiums to ensure that coverage stays in force.
  • Notify your loved one’s employer —ask about any unpaid salary, accrued vacation days, benefit information on retirement plans, and life insurance policy payouts.
  • Contact former employers regarding any potential outstanding benefits.
  • Notify any businesses or service providers with accounts exclusively held in a loved one’s name.
  • Examine contents of any safe deposit box for instructions, policies, or valuables.
  • Handle mail — visit for options related to managing mail for a deceased loved one.

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Moving Forward

Within the year following the death of a loved one, consider making personal and financial life changes to best suit your next chapter. Have conversations about the following with your friends, family, and advisors to arrive at decisions that make the most sense for your situation:

  • Consider downsizing into a new residence.
  • Consider relocating to a new area to move closer to family and friends.
  • Coordinate an estate sale to sell possessions that aren’t needed anymore.
  • Join community clubs and organizations that allow you to expand your social circle, such as book clubs, group fitness classes, and volunteer opportunities.
  • Pursue a new hobby or a second career.

The loss of a loved one is an emotionally complex experience and requires time to grieve and heal, but you don’t have to go through it alone. Harris Financial Advisors can help with the financial and administrative aspects that come with facing this major transition. Our ongoing wealth management process is designed to effectively address the unique and specific financial needs of those who have recently lost loved ones. By partnering with a wealth manager who uses a caring, consultative process, you can address major tasks, identify life goals, and move forward with confidence.

If you would like to learn more about Harris Financial Advisors’ services, please contact us today.