What to Expect
Grief & Guidance
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After a funeral, grieving family members often ask us, "What happens next? What's ahead in the near future for me?" These questions are important, and we'd like to tell you what we tell them. Here's what happens after a funeral.
The funeral or memorial service is over. Things have begun to grow quiet; maybe the phone isn't ringing as much as it was, or fewer people are stopping by to check in on you. Your loved one's death continues to become more of a reality. And the very thought of facing your life over the next few weeks and months fills you both with loneliness and a sense of dread. It all feels like way too much to deal with, and we'd like you to know that right now it's okay to take care of yourself first.
In fact, let's just say that you've got two important things to do in the coming weeks and months. One, as much as possible, you need to practice exquisite self-care. Second, you need to spend some time focused on completing the paperwork which will officially change the status of your loved one with banks and creditors; employers, insurance companies, and mortgage holders.
This can be a slow process; so be prepared for the “long haul”. And then there are those on-going obligations which you're unable to shift: caring for the children or grandchildren; See why you need to strike a balance, giving a bit of extra weight, whenever possible, to “self-care” activities?
In those times when you're resting, you might want to think of one or two people who would be willing to help you deal with the paperwork left in the wake of your loved one's death. Be sure to write down their names as they come to you; early bereavement is notorious for causing confusion. In fact, keep a pen and pad of paper with you to jot down those other important thoughts that will surface when your brain is in “idle”.
Let's be honest here; the degree to which your grief leaves you vulnerable, as well as the amount of "paperwork" you will have to deal with both depend on the relationship you shared with the deceased. If you are the surviving spouse, a daughter or son–or have been declared as the designated executor–the responsibilities you have over the death paperwork will be much more extensive than if you were merely a loving niece, nephew or friend.
In her book Elsewhere, writer Gabrielle Zevin wrote “I have so much paperwork. I'm afraid my paperwork has paperwork.” Her words, while comical, provide a fairly accurate look at the amount of paperwork which may lie ahead of you right now. Those of us who are extremely well-organized should have less to deal with; the unorganized among us...well, that's another story. Here is a checklist of the tasks you may be facing in the coming weeks:
Get organized. Locate and safeguard as many of the documents listed below (be sure to put each into in a designated set of file folders, and keep them within easy reach):
1. Before you do anything, get a notebook. You'll want to record the date and time of every phone conversation, email or postal communication; if you did it, write it down. Be sure to include the full name of the person you spoke to, their job title; and their employer identification or extension number.
2. Request certified copies of the Death Certificate. Speak with one of our funeral professionals to determine just how many you may need.
3. Check to see if deceased had left a will. This may require contacting the family attorney, checking your safe deposit box or home safe; or the state Will Registry.
4. Get the mail redirected, if applicable. Visit the United States Postal Service website to learn more about how to submit a Change of Address form or stop by your local post office.
5. Stop health insurance coverage. You may need to provide them with additional information, so keep your file folders handy.
6. Contact employer or union. Determine if there are any death-related benefits available, ask (and answer) questions, and change any relevant contact information.
7. Make sure to pay the bills. Some folks have their bills paid automatically, but if this isn't the case here, you'll need to take care of them before they become delinquent. If you fear delinquency, you may wish to speak with a utility representative to work out a payment plan.
8. Initiate probate. Even if you're not the executor, if you have an interest in the estate, it's possible for you initiate probate court proceedings (but only if the designated executor of the estate fails to do so in a timely way). You may want to find and hire an estate settlement attorney. For more information on how to find an attorney, read our Legal Advice page.
9. Notify utility departments. Depending on the situation, the accounts may be closed, or the account owner's name and contact details changed.
10. Transfer title of real and personal property. Whether it's an automobile, boat, motorcycle, RV, or plane; you'll need to inform your state department of motor vehicles of the change in ownership. At the very same time, notify any related vehicular or personal property insurance companies of the change in status.
11. Close or modify credit card accounts. You will probably need to provide each of them with a certified copy of the death certificate. Again, keep that set of file folders handy.
12. Contact life insurance companies. Not everyone has life insurance; but some people have more than one policy. No matter how many policies were in force, you will probably need to provide each of them with a certified copy of the death certificate for each claim made.
13. Notify other policy holders of the change in "Beneficiary" status. If your loved one was a designated beneficiary on the insurance policies; investment or banking accounts of other individuals, then you'll need to notify them of the death of a beneficiary.
14. Arrange to close or modify bank accounts. Depending on your relationship to the deceased, you may be entitled to convert into your name.
15. Change stocks and bonds into your name. Again, this depends on your relationship status to the deceased. And again, you'll need to provide certified copy of the death certificate to all organizations involved.
16. Report the death to other agencies. Depending on the age or military status of the deceased, you may need to notify either the Social Security Administration or the Veterans Administration (or both). Other agencies of interest include membership organizations (professional or avocational associations, Masonic lodges, Rotary or Toastmasters clubs, gym and golf course memberships, Costco-type memberships, and dating sites–just to name a few).
17. Tend to their digital estate. If they were active on social media, you'll need to inform the specific networking sites of the change in status. You will need to close email accounts as well as any online banking portal or investment accounts. For more information on dealing with digital death, visit The Digital Beyond or Death and Digital Legacy.
We've had the privilege of serving many families over the years, and during that time we've found that the time after the funeral is different for everyone involved. If we can be of assistance to you during this challenging time of change and adjustment, simply pick up the phone and call us at 502-863-3550. We'll do our very best to support you.
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