A Checklist for the Challenge of Losing a Loved One

Given that many of our client relationships are longer term, we naturally work with clients during both the good times and the challenging times in their lives. The loss of a loved one is among the most difficult ordeals we all go through, requiring the fortitude to focus on what our society and government require of us at a time of heightened emotion and grieving. The following general checklist is intended as a useful resource should you experience the loss of a loved one (referred to as the decedent). Of course, your estate planning attorney should direct you with specifics that are tailored to the decedent’s planning documents and the jurisdiction involved. However, we believe there is value in knowing ahead of time, at least in a broad sense, what some of these estate-related steps might be.

1. At time of death: Funeral arrangements and notification of advisors

If the death occurred in a hospital, nursing home or assisted living facility, the medical or facility staff will coordinate with your chosen mortuary or funeral home to transport the body. If the death occurred at home, most states require a qualified medical professional to make the official pronouncement of death. Call the decedent’s physician or the county coroner’s office. You will also need to arrange for transport of the body, according to the coroner’s instructions, to the mortuary of choice.

If the decedent had funeral/burial plans, these should be followed. If not, the Personal Representative (also called Executor/Executrix or Administrator, depending on the state) should make the arrangements.

If you are the Personal Representative (PR), you will need to consult with the decedent’s advisors, including their attorney, accountant, portfolio manager and other advisors, before distributing assets or notifying any government agencies (such as Social Security) or any banking, insurance, credit card or financial service firms. However, the PR should begin to safeguard assets and property as soon as possible. Do not remove or distribute any property before opening the estate or being named successor trustee. Contact these trusted advisors within the first couple of days after death.

A note to PRs: You will probably end up paying for some (or a lot) of the expenses related to the death out of your own pocket. Save the receipts as these expenses will be reimbursed from the decedent’s estate or trusts.

2. The first week after death: Secure home and locate important documents

Complete the funeral and burial arrangements. This may include transfer to another location, memorial services, etc.

Obtain death certificates. The most common way of obtaining death certificates is through the funeral home. You may need more copies than you think (e.g., one for every institution where the decedent had accounts). You can get more later through the county where the death occurred, but it’s easier to get them directly from the funeral home. Information needed for a death certificate may include the following details about the decedent:

  • First, middle and last name (possibly maiden name, if applicable)
  • Home address
  • Social Security number
  • Date of birth
  • Date of death
  • Age
  • Gender
  • Race/ethnicity
  • Marital status
  • Spouse’s first and last name (if applicable)
  • Highest level of education
  • Place of birth
  • Mother’s and father’s names
  • Military service information, if applicable

Secure the decedent’s home if they lived alone. This could include arranging for mail to be forwarded to the PR, having pets cared for, removing perishables and securing all vehicles, electronic devices, etc. If the PR lives far away from the decedent, arrange for a trusted individual to check on the home regularly.

Secure the decedent’s digital assets (e.g., social media, email accounts, websites, etc.) and be extra cautious regarding any incoming emails with bills—some will likely prove to be fraudulent, but others will be legitimate (refer to the section below entitled “Beware of unethical actors”).

Locate decedent’s will and/or trust documents. These are often held in a safe deposit box or safe, but the decedent’s attorney may have a copy as well. If you believe they are stored in a safe deposit box, an heir or beneficiary can ask the bank to open the box to search for a will or burial instructions.

Locate important documents, such as the following:

  • Funeral or burial plans
  • Safe deposit rental invoices and keys
  • Credit card, utility, phone, insurance, homeowners association (HOA) and any other statements that need to be paid on a timely basis
  • Life insurance policies
  • Bank account statements and checkbooks
  • Financial (brokerage) account statements
  • Pension or retirement account statements
  • Income tax returns (if you cannot find them, the decedent’s accountant should have copies)
  • Deeds and/or mortgage statements
  • Military records, if applicable
  • Marriage, birth, death and divorce certificates, as applicable

3. Within a month of death: File claims and notify key organizations/agencies

Meet with attorney, accountant and financial advisor. If necessary, the attorney will help obtain letters testamentary for the PR/Executor, issued by the court, which will give the PR authority to administer the estate (such as accessing safe deposit boxes, transferring titles to cars, houses, etc.).

File any life insurance claims.

File any outstanding medical insurance/Medicare claims.

Cancel credit cards, prescriptions, newspapers and magazines, etc. Check the statements to see what recurring charges, such as HOA fees, insurance payments, etc., are tied to the credit cards, as these must be paid out of an estate or trust account until the assets are disposed of.

Contact all three credit monitoring services (Equifax, TransUnion, Experian) and obtain copies of the decedent’s credit reports—they will want copies of death certificates/death notices.

Contact the Department of Motor Vehicles to cancel driver’s license, if applicable.

Contact Social Security/Medicare if these agencies have been making payments to the decedent. If payments were made after death, the PR can easily refund these—it happens all the time.

Contact the Registrar of Voters to cancel voter registration.

Final tip: Beware of unethical actors

Once an obituary or death notice is published, unsavory characters often appear by mail, phone, email or even in person to take advantage of grieving families. Be on the lookout for unscrupulous telephone and mail solicitations. Unexpected invoices may arrive that are actually fraudulent. Offers to assist with Social Security and Medicare are usually ruses designed to take advantage of the situation.


Founded in 1994, Segall Bryant & Hamill (SBH) provides professional portfolio management of domestic and international equity, fixed income, and balanced portfolios, as well as alternative investments to institutional, intermediary, and private wealth clients. Our clients benefit from the expertise of our professionals, who have navigated diverse and challenging market environments and are experienced with all aspects of wealth planning. We understand the complexities that can come with managing your wealth. That’s why we take a comprehensive approach to the advice we give and the assets we manage on your behalf. This approach includes a personalized financial plan and tailored portfolio of individual stocks and bonds researched by our institutional investment team.


This information is for educational purposes and is not intended to provide, and should not be relied upon for, accounting, legal, tax, insurance, or investment advice.  This does not constitute an offer to provide any services, nor a solicitation to purchase securities. The contents are not intended to be advice tailored to any particular person or situation. We believe the information provided is accurate and reliable, but do not warrant it as to completeness or accuracy.  This information may include opinions or forecasts, including investment strategies and economic and market conditions; however, there is no guarantee that such opinions or forecasts will prove to be correct, and they also may change without notice.  We encourage you to speak with a qualified professional regarding your scenario and the then-current applicable laws and rules.

Advisory services are offered through Corient Private Wealth LLC and its affiliates, each being a registered investment adviser (“RIA”) regulated by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”).  The advisory services are only offered in jurisdictions where the RIA is appropriately registered.  The use of the term “registered” does not imply any particular level of skill or training and does not imply any approval by the SEC. For a complete discussion of the scope of advisory services offered, fees, and other disclosures, please review the RIA’s Disclosure Brochure (Form ADV Part 2A) and Form CRS, available upon request from the RIA and online at https://adviserinfo.sec.gov/. We also encourage you to review the RIA’s Privacy Policy and Code of Ethics, which are available upon request.

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