Survivor’s Checklist

Living, following the loss of a loved one, can be overwhelming, at best. This list is a compilation of advice from those who became widows themselves or from individuals whose profession is helping. It is not an all -inclusive list and is not intended to be a substitute for meeting with your own estate attorney or financial advisor. Hopefully, it will give you a place to start.

  • Take your time.
    Decisions do not have to be made immediately, and you should seek professional advice regarding finances and estate matters.
  • Allow people to help you.
    You most likely have friends or family who have some experience and may offer to help. Let them support you through this difficult time.
  • Get a notebook and keep a list.
    This process will require contacting and speaking with many people and agencies. It is best to keep a log of whom you talked to, when, and what they said.
  • Obtain copies of the death certificate.
    The funeral home is responsible for completing the forms for the death certificate, and they are the best source to help you obtain copies. It can take several weeks but there are many things you can do while you wait. You will need 10-12 copies to send to credit card companies, insurance companies, the mortgage company, etc.You may obtain death certificate copies at the local County Recorder’s Office or Local Health Department, where the death occurred. There is a fee.You will need to supply the following information:

    1. Full name of the deceased person whose record is being requested
    2. Gender
    3. Parents’ names, including mother’s maiden name
    4. Month, day and year of birth
    5. Month, day and year of death
    6. Place of birth or death (city, county, state; and hospital name, if known)
    7. Reason for requesting copies of Death Certificate
    8. Applicant’s relationship to the deceased

    An online source with a fee is:

    (For future reference, if you have a minor child, you will need to carry a copy of your loved one’s death certificate and the child’s birth certificate with you for any international travel).

  • Your FIRST call is to your life insurance company.
    If your loved one had life insurance, contacting your agent or company as soon as possible will expedite the availability of funds to cover funeral expenses and immediate bills and living expenses. Your funeral home will often coordinate with the life insurance company to cover payment for services.
  • Your SECOND call is to your health insurance company.
    You would be surprised to know that hospitals and physician’s offices do not notify health insurance companies of a death, and usually they are the last to know. Keep an open file that is easily accessible to keep track of bills as they come in and how they are paid by your insurance carrier.
  • If your loved one was employed, contact his/her employer to learn about survivor benefits, including health insurance, pension income or 401K, and/or life insurance.
    The Human Resources Department is the best place to start. You may need to make decisions regarding how you want to receive pension or 401K money, and you should consult a financial advisor before deciding between a lump sum or annuitized payments which are made every year.
  • Inventory your loved one’s wallet.
    Make a complete list of your loved one’s credit cards, debit cards, phone cards, business accounts, etc. Each of these vendor companies will need to be contacted to close the account. Some may require copies of the death certificate. Check with credit card companies and business accounts to determine if there are any life insurance benefits attached to the account.
  • Decide about your loved one’s cell phone.
    Some people choose to preserve the phone and the message already existing on their loved one’s phone. Have someone do this for you before it accidentally gets erased, or the cell phone is misplaced. It may be hard to answer incoming calls, and you can choose to change the message to an announcement of the passing of your loved one with a different number to call for further contact information.
  • Review the contents of your loved one’s desk.
    Have someone help you look through office paperwork, calendars, and files to look for personal accounts, outstanding appointments, etc. As much as you think you knew everything about your loved one, there may be correspondence with a long lost friend that of which you were unaware. You may even find a beautiful keepsake that your loved one kept to remind him or her of you.
  • Update the names on joint accounts, including utilities.
    Often, the utility account is in the name of the individual who opened it. Changing the name can be difficult if the account holder has passed away. You may need to add your name to the account first. This will allow you to act as the administrator and later remove your loved one’s name. Some utility companies will require the service to be turned off and then restarted (only on paper) in order to change the name on the account.
  • Update your car insurance.
    This is easily forgotten. Now that there is only one driver, there may be a change in the cost of the policy.
  • Visit your bank to update accounts.
    Any changes and updating to bank accounts will require a copy of a death certificate, so this can wait until you have them.
  • Make appropriate changes to recurring membership fees and subscriptions.
    Your loved one may have belonged to clubs or organizations with recurring membership fees. You can usually identify them by looking through recent credit card bills.
  • Update your emergency contact.
    The first person each of us usually lists as an emergency contact for ourselves is our loved one. You will now need to update this contact as you make visits to your physician, dentist, etc.
  • Contact the DMV and County Treasurer.
    You will need to update the name on any car registration and tax records for property owned by both of you.
  • The BIGGEST HEADACHE, contacting Social Security and/or the VA.
    Anything having to do with the government is complicated and requires filling out many forms. You will definitely need certified copies of the death certificate.
    Most families will tell you that cleaning out closets and dressers is the hardest thing. Often, it is best to leave this for a while or do it in bits and pieces over time. If done to soon, you may throw things away that you wish you had kept. There may be pieces of clothing or jewelry that have sentimental value for family and friends that you can give as tokens of thanks for the help and support they have given you. Often this is a good chore for friends to help. There are many needy organizations that can benefit from your donations and will even offer to come and pick up the boxes. Some churches have volunteers that assist families with this chore. It also can be very healing.