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Friday, June 17, 2011

10 things to do following the death of a loved one

It's a tough task for most of us - trying to take care of practical things when all we really want to do is grieve. Adding to the difficulty of staying focused on what needs to be done are the influx of telephone calls and flowers, family members coming to town to attend the funeral, and the need to attend to the emotional requirements of everyone around you. No wonder legal issues and paperwork take a back seat.

This list is designed to make the first few days or couple of weeks after the death of a loved one a little bit easier. The list should help you figure out what you really do need to do right away and what can wait a bit. It should help ensure that nothing important gets left out.

1. Make funeral arrangements. It's up to the executor named in the will to make funeral arrangements even if that executor isn't the next of kin. Most of the time this isn't a problem, as we know who our loved one has appointed to look after the estate.

2. Look at immediate money issues. This might include paying for the funeral, or paying urgent bills such as a heating bill for the deceased's house in the middle of winter. If the funeral bill (and some other bills) are taken to the deceased's bank, the bank will likely pay the bill from the deceased's account, providing of course there is enough money in the account. Make sure that if the deceased had joint bank accounts with his or her spouse, you talk to the bank to ensure that joint accounts aren't frozen.

3. If the deceased's home is vacant, secure it and notify the insurer. Make sure that insurance is kept in place on the home. Later on during the administration of the estate, you can worry about discontinuing insurance, but for right now, make sure it stays in place.

4. Check the safety deposit box. This is a good place to look for the original will, but you might also find letters written to loved ones to be opened on death, valuables, or important papers. Make sure nobody takes any of this except for the executor named in the will! If you aren't the executor, don't touch it. If you are applying to the court to be an administrator because there is no will, don't touch anything until you have that court order in your hands.

5. Find the original will. Assuming that the deceased had a will, you will need the original to apply for probate. Even if you don't plan to apply for probate because all assets were joint with the deceased's spouse, it's a good idea to find the will. Anyone who finds the original will MUST give it to the executor named in the will.

6. Get copies of the Death Certificate. There are two types of certificates. One is issued by the provincial government and is called a Death Certificate. This is available through registries, but you have to wait a few days until the registry receives proof of the death and registers it. The other type of certificate is called a Funeral Director's Statement of Death. Because you get this from the funeral home, you can get it very quickly.

7. Have the deceased's mail redirected to the executor. This is more important when the deceased lived alone than when the deceased was living with a spouse.

8. Place an obituary in the local newspaper. Most families like to place a notice to let friends, clients, neighbours etc know of the death in time to attend the funeral.

9. Notify various parties of the death and cancel coverages. Some of these must be done fairly quickly, such as notifying the federal and provincial governments when the deceased was receiving benefits. Notifying them has the effect of stopping monthly payments such as CPP and OAS. You should also notify the deceased's bank quickly. Other notifications you should consider are (depending on the circumstances) the deceased's employer, life insurance company, provincial health care plan, private health care plan, landlord, motor vehicle registry, credit card companies, Veteran's Affairs, doctor's office, and all utilities in the deceased's name such as telephone, cell phone, electricity, internet etc.

10. Apply for the CPP death benefit. Forms for this are usually supplied by the funeral home. This benefit is available to anyone who was eligible for CPP retirement or disability benefits. It isn't a huge amount of money but it was designed to help pay for funeral costs. The application should be made by the executor, if you know who that is going to be. Otherwise next of kin can apply.

This list was condensed and adapted from Chapter 1 of my new book, Alberta Probate Kit.

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