Ask a Planner: Practical steps following death in family
The death of a loved one is a difficult time for everyone close to that individual. During this emotional time, it can be difficult to know what steps are necessary to take care of the final arrangements for your loved one. Here is a summary of some of the tasks to help you organize and take action during this transition.
Who should be notified first? Ideally, among those who should be notified right away are the decedent’s physician, clergy, attorney, executor of the estate, relatives, friends, employer of the deceased, and insurance agent.
If there is a will, there most likely is a person who has been named executor to carry out the decedent’s wishes. It is important not to make decisions hastily that you may later regret. Ideally, you should select someone who is the chief coordinator to organize the efforts. Having the team leader delegate responsibilities will lessen the workload for the leader and help the other team members feel included in the process.
First consider the arrangements for a funeral or memorial service. Attempt to determine the decedent’s wishes. Contact your local funeral home or memorial society. Your loved one may have made prepaid funeral arrangements.
Determine if the decedent made their wishes known either in writing or verbally. If the deceased knew they were dying, they probably did communicate their wishes. If it was a sudden death, chances are they did not. Communicate to your friends and family what your plans are for the service.
When you submit information for an obituary, you may want to state a preference for charitable donations in lieu of flowers. Be sure to make a list of everyone who sends a gift, whether a donation, flowers and cards, so you can acknowledge his or her kind gifts.
If your loved one made prepaid funeral arrangements, figure out what costs have been prepaid. Your original documents should spell this out. The funeral home and cemetery may also have documentation of the prepaid program.
Among the actions to consider: select a burial or memorial service, order a death certificate, set the time and location of services, select clergy if desired, invite people to speak at the service, select desired readings and music, provide information for the eulogy and arrange funeral transportation.
Veterans, members of the service and their dependents can be buried in a national cemetery for free. Check with the Department of Veterans Affairs to determine if your loved one was receiving disability payments; they may be entitled to an allowance toward burial and funeral expenses along with a ceremonial American flag, headstone and presidential memorial certificate. For information, contact: www.va.gov or call (800) 827-1000.
Dealing with the many decisions needed right after the death of a loved one is difficult, but with some organization, you can move through these tasks so you can focus on celebrating the life of your loved one.
Sarah Rieger is a certified financial planner and member of the local Financial Planning Association chapter. Readers are invited to submit questions on financial planning to be answered in this space each Tuesday. Send questions to