Financial Considerations upon the Loss of a Loved One

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1 Financial Considerations upon the Loss of a Loved One Unfortunately, making financial decisions is a reality in a time of grief. Although it is a stressful time and finances are the last thing on your mind, it is important to make wise decisions that could have a lasting impact on you and your family's financial well-being. Timely actions to take First, donʼt make any major financial decisions right away unless itʼs absolutely necessary. Defer all but the most essential financial decisions. Instead, make a list of financial issues that will need to be addressed in the coming weeks and months, and focus on those actions that you must take soon or that lay a sound foundation for financial decisions to be made later. There are a few things that you will want to do right away: Obtain multiple certified copies of the death certificate. Youʼll need to file a separate certified certificate to: Apply for death benefits Apply for retirement and Social Security benefits Settle the estate Assume sole control of assets such as bank accounts, investments, residence, vehicles, and a safe deposit box. Check for pre-arranged funeral services or final wishes. If advance arrangements were made or the deceased left a document spelling out his or her final wishes, you are a step ahead. Check to see if either of these exist. Family members and spouses do not always share this information with their loved ones. Assess your current financial situation and resources. Money might be tight until additional financial resources, such as life insurance payouts or medical insurance benefits, become available. This will be true especially if your loved one was a significant earner and you have lost critical income. You may face new expenses, such as child care, as well as funeral expenses and other one-time costs. Identify current income and savings sources you can depend on and try not to let expenses exceed that amount. Be careful not to run up debt. Make a list of your assets. Know what kind of resources you have immediately available to you. Consider:

2 Personal checking and savings accounts Life insurance cash reserves Income from employment Income from rental properties or stock dividends. If at all possible, avoid dipping into retirement accounts or selling investments for cash. Make a list of possible resources for assistance, if needed. Include: Local or state agencies State unemployment compensation Survivor funds Relatives and close friends Make sure the bills are paid. Donʼt forget that bills still have to be paid on time to avoid late charges and marks against your credit. Quickly take control of bill paying if you were not doing that task previously. Continue health care coverage. If your health insurance coverage was through your loved one, take steps to keep it in force until you can make alternate arrangements for yourself and/or your children. To avoid having coverage lapse, contact the deceasedʼs employer within 30 days of the death. You should be able to continue coverage under the group policy, through whatʼs called COBRA, though youʼll have to foot the entire premium. If you canʼt continue employer coverage, look into purchasing an individual policy. If your health insurance is through your employer and your loved one was also covered, inform the carrier of his or her death. It may reduce your premiums. Notify financial institutions and governmental agencies. Notify banks, lenders, especially your mortgage company, investment companies where you have accounts, and your insurance agent(s) as soon as possible. Also, be sure to let the department of motor vehicles and any other appropriate agencies know of the death. You are not required to notify your credit card companies and might choose not to if you think it might affect your credit limit. Identify and apply for death benefits. First, determine what benefits you are eligible for. Major sources include personal life insurance, employee life insurance, business ownership life insurance, travel insurance, accidental death insurance, veteransʼ or active-military benefits, and Social Security. Death benefits might also be due to you through credit card plans, payment protection plans for loans such as auto and home, funeral homes, auto insurers, membership in unions or professional organizations, and previous employers. For known life insurance policies, contact your insurance agent or the company. If you canʼt find the policy or arenʼt sure what coverage you have, dig through financial records, such as checkbook records for checks written to insurance companies. You can also inquire about policies you canʼt locate by calling the Life and Health Insurance Foundation for Education at , or go to their Web site at

3 Decide how you want to collect life insurance benefits. When applying for life insurance benefits, you may need to decide how you want to receive those benefits. Some of these decisions are irrevocable so weighing the options ahead of time is important. Options include taking a lump sum payment, setting up installment payments, delaying the payout, or setting up an annuity. Most people opt for the lump sum payment and then get advice on investing the money. If this will cause a problem for any reason, opting for a delayed payout might be a good choice as you can receive interest on the amount due you in the meantime. Just be sure the financial health of the insurer is good and that you canʼt earn higher interest elsewhere. If you are unsure of which option might be best for you, get professional advice. Determine which Social Security survivor benefits you qualify for. Surviving spouses, and sometimes ex-spouses, caring for children under age 16 can start collecting monthly benefits from Social Security. Unmarried children under age 18, up to age 19 if still in high school, also are eligible for benefits. Widows or widowers, and in some cases ex-spouses, no longer caring for children may also be able to collect monthly benefits, starting as early as age 50. Dependent parents 62 or older may be eligible as well. In addition, you can collect a small death benefit. Determine the extent of employee benefits. Check as soon as possible with the human resources department of your loved oneʼs employer to see what benefits or money may be due to surviving family members. These amounts or benefits may include unpaid salary, bonuses, commissions or deferred compensation, unused vacation or sick days, life insurance benefits, specialty insurances such as cancer coverage, stock options, pensions, and plans such as 401(k) and 403(b). File for veterans and military survivor benefits if applicable. As a surviving spouse or child of an active-duty member or retiree, you may remain or be eligible for certain military benefits. These might include funeral benefits, medical care, commissary privileges, dependency and indemnity compensation, survivor annuity, and veterans mortgage life insurance. If an owner or partner, take care of business affairs. If the deceased owned or owned an interest in a business, get a trusted employee, friend or family member to make sure necessary transactions are handled and/or arrangements are made to notify people of a temporary closing. As soon as possible, consult with the companyʼs attorney, any partners and key employees to make decisions about moving forward without the deceased. Other plans and arrangements to make As much as you may feel that it doesnʼt matter what happens now that your loved one is

4 gone, in time your grief will become more manageable and you will likely want to get back into living life to its fullest. As you slowly heal emotionally, begin to give thought to planning for your new future by tackling the following: Settle the estate. In most states, you have nine months from the date of death of your loved one in which to settle their estate but the sooner this is done, the better. If there was no will, a probate court will decide to whom their estate will be distributed. Don t forget about taxes. An income tax return on behalf of the deceased must also be filed. Check for specific deadlines that apply to your situation. Organize financial records. Youʼve already done some of this work by collecting records to apply for death, disability or pension benefits. Now collect the rest of your financial records, such as investment and retirement accounts, vehicle titles, deeds and other financial documents. Identify all potential assets or liabilities. Determine what debts are owed and what your net worth is. This will help clarify your overall financial picture. Develop a budget. Make a list of your monthly and annual expenses and compare it to your new or expected monthly income. If you will need to cut back, think about where. If your income allows, decide how much you can put aside into savings each month, especially if you will have annual bills like real estate taxes to pay. Start a special account for these types of expenses. If find yourself temporarily unable to meet some financial obligations, contact creditors as soon as possible to explain the situation and work out a repayment plan. Discuss the situation with your family. Discuss changes in household finances with your immediate family, including children. Together, talk about ways that life and spending will be different, especially if the changes will be significant. Transfer ownership. If you held property jointly with your deceased loved one, and plan to keep it, transfer ownership to your name only. This includes bank accounts, investment accounts, real estate, automobiles, etc. Also make the change on loans, mortgages, utility accounts and so on. You may also want to obtain credit cards in your name in order to establish your own creditworthiness, especially if your loved one was the main account holder. Research your options. Do not make major decisions, especially concerning large, lump sum insurance payouts, without thoroughly investigating and considering all your alternatives. Using it to pay off a mortgage, for example, may not be the best choice although it may seem attractive to not have a mortgage payment to worry about. Above all, do not let anyone, including

5 family members, talk you into putting large sums into questionable investments or business opportunities. Educate yourself. Regardless of whether you use professional financial advice or not, take the time to educate yourself about investments, taxes, property transfers and all other aspects of personal money management. Maintain control. Actively participate in decisions regarding your finances and property. Never hand over control of your finances to friends or relatives. Listen to their advice, but remain responsible for all final decisions. Seek professional advice if you are in doubt. When you feel confident that you know what your goals are and how you want to get there, proceed slowly with the help of a trusted advisor. Update wills and beneficiaries. If your existing will was joint with your spouse, you will need to revise it. If you donʼt have one, have one drawn up. Youʼll also likely need to change beneficiaries on your own personal and group life insurance, retirement accounts, trusts, annuities and other documents. Powers of attorney and guardianships also may need to be changed. Review your life and disability insurance. Make sure you have enough insurance to protect you and your family in the event of a disability and/or your premature death. Benchmark Community Bank tries to make the advice on its Financial Answer Center as useful and reliable as possible. Information has been gleaned from a number of expert resources. However, the purpose of this advice section of the website is to provide customers and visitors with general guidance and useful tips only. It doesn't necessarily deal with every important topic or cover every aspect of the topics with which it deals and might not be relevant or appropriate in all circumstances. It is not designed to provide professional advice and should not be relied on as such. If in any doubt, you should consult an appropriately qualified expert for specific advice before acting on any of the information contained in the Answer Center.

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