Guide
Financial Guide
Phase 4: Post-caregiving - Tying up financial affairs after death
Written by Suzanne Boutilier

It may be a surprise to find that the funeral may not end our tour as a family caregiver.  There still may be a lot of financial caregiving that will fall into our laps. Especially if we’re also the executor of their will or if they didn’t have a will. Tying up their financial affairs can take months or even years. Thankfully, there are professionals who can help us with this chore. Let’s take a look at the financial caregiving duties we may have to take on, as outlined by AARP.

Find Their Will & Trust

If they have a will and/or trust, the first thing we need to do is find it. A good place to start the search is their safe deposit box. For a fee, a probate attorney can assist in retrieving this and any other important documents from the bank that holds the safe deposit box. The will identifies the executor—the person who’s assigned to ensure that the stipulations and wishes in the will are carried out. This can include disbursing their assets, paying taxes, and paying debts.

Take the Will to Probate Court

The executor will work through the probate process with the oversight of the city or county probate court.

Consider Hiring an Estate Attorney

The executor can choose to hire an estate attorney who can help navigate the probate process. It’s not necessary to work with an attorney, especially if the estate is small. But if it’s worth more than $50,000, an Attorney’s assistance may be worth the fee.

Forward Their Mail

If they weren’t living with us, we need to ask the post office to forward their mail to our address. This way we can stay up on any important bills or notices.  While the family may not be financially responsible for those bills, they may need to be paid out of the estate. The estate attorney can explain what needs to be paid, from which account, and when.

Take Inventory of Their Assets

We need to know what assets we’re dealing with in order to make sure everything ends up where it’s supposed to. We can write a list of all of their belongings, or walk through their home with a video camera and visually record them. Some assets may be hard to track down. We should scour their tax returns, mail, email, brokerage and bank statements, insurance policies, deeds, and titles. Every drawer, box, closet, and cabinet could hold a clue to an unknown asset. Pro tip: some people hide valuable items or even cash in their home for safe keeping. Reach inside shoes, pockets, pitchers. Peer into curtain rods, look under drawers and yes, lift mattresses.

Contact Their Accountant

We may need to file a tax return for the estate and a final income tax return on their behalf. Their existing accountant, if there is one, should already have the necessary information, so it may be wise to work with them during this part of the process. 

Access government benefits, assets, bank accounts, & insurance benefits

Once we have copies of the death certificate and the probate process has begun, the executor can start accessing portions of the estate to cover these end-of-life costs. Certain accounts or assets may also require a letter of administration or letter testamentary, which have to be issued by a court.

Cancel Unneeded Services

Canceling subscriptions, utilities, or services that won’t be used can be done easily and without a death certificate.

Stop Social Security Checks

We need to contact  the local Social Security Administration to inform them of the death so they stop the benefit checks. We should also ask if any family members may be eligible for SSA death benefits, as well. SSA will notify Medicare.

Notify Credit Bureaus

To prevent identity theft, we should send a copy of the death certificate to one of the three major credit bureaus: Equifax, Experian, or TransUnion. The one we notify will share that information with the other two.

Cancel Their Driver’s License

The Department of Motor Vehicles must be notified to ensure they cancel their driver’s license. This will help reduce the possibility of identity theft. The DMV requires a copy of the death certificate for this. We should keep the license, however, in case it’s needed to close any of their accounts.

Close Credit Card Accounts

The credit bureaus will close accounts upon notification of the death. However, contacting each credit card company individually can help learn about any outstanding balances that are due. We can then share this info with the executor.

Cancel Insurance Policies

Any home, auto, or health insurance policies need to be terminated and any unused premium returned. 

Close Email Accounts

Accounts should be closed to prevent identity theft and fraud. If we know their log-in credentials, we can log in and do this ourselves. If not, we can contact the email provider for instructions on how to proceed.

Remove Them from Voter Rolls

Each state and county has its own process for removing a deceased voter from the rolls. We need to contact the state and county directly to learn what needs to be done to complete the process. 

It looks like a lot to do. Because it is. The more information about our loved one’s financial accounts we can gather while they’re alive, the easier this process will be. If we’re in one of the earlier stages of caregiving, we should talk with our loved one now about the importance of understanding their full financial picture. It will help to collect all of their account information and contact numbers in a notebook or spreadsheet. Ideally, we’ll also gather their login credentials. And we need to make sure we know where a copy of their will and/or trust is. If they’re resistant to any of this, we can explain that we’re trying to ensure that we’re able to carry out their wishes properly. 

At RubyWell, we’re building tools to help family caregivers save, find, and earn money while providing care. Right now, you can access coupons for up to 80% of prescription prices with our prescription savings tool. And we’re currently building a comprehensive and easy-to-use MA benefits navigator, where you’ll be able to discover unused Medicare Advantage Supplemental Benefits. If you’d like to be among the first to hear about future products, join our waiting list. 

Continue reading:

Phase 5: Retirement Reset - Planning For Our Future Care

Review:

Introduction: What to Expect on the Financial Journey Through Family Caregiving

Phase 1: Oh! I’m a caregiver - The early days

Phase 2: In the trenches - The daily challenges of providing care

Phase 3: End of life - The transition out of caregiving

Phase 4: Post-caregiving - Tying up financial affairs after death

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Phase 5: Retirement Reset - Planning For Our Future Care
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Written by Suzanne Boutilier
Suzanne Boutilier has been working and writing in the caregiving space since 2021. She also helps her sisters care for their aging father.
Reviewed by Elyse Dasko
Elyse Dasko is a leading communications strategist in age tech, caregiving and the longevity market.