Financial steps to take after the death of a parent, spouse or loved one

As you manage through this difficult time, consider these steps to help get your loved one’s affairs in order.

The days, weeks and months that follow the loss of a loved one can be overwhelming. In addition to coping with your own grief and potentially planning a memorial service or funeral, you’re likely to face many financial decisions.

With the understanding of your overall financial goals and needs, we will help you navigate the financial steps to take after the death of a parent, spouse or other loved one.

Here’s how to get started:

In this article: 

Get help from estate planning professionals

  • Contact us to help you evaluate how the death of your loved one affects your financial situation and coordinate with other professionals.
  • Contact your loved one’s estate attorney to see if they have an estate plan that will let you know who is serving as executor of the will, whether there is a trust (and who is serving as trustee) and who has been named guardian of any minor children or dependents.
  • If you have been named executor of your loved one’s will, consider hiring an attorney and tax professional to help settle the estate.

Some other situations in which you may need to enlist the help of professionals:

  • If the person dies without a will, the state they lived in may appoint a personal representative to settle the estate, though you can often apply to be named as the personal representative. Talk to an attorney about the rules in your state if you want to take on the role.
  • If the estate is complex, going through an estate settlement process or being challenged, enlist help. In such cases, you can enlist the help of an attorney who specializes in probate matters. Since each state's laws governing estate matters differ, work with an attorney with experience in the state and county where the estate is being settled.

Advice spotlight

Take this time to update your own estate planning documents, too. If the person who passed was your durable power of attorney, health care proxy, executor, heir or trustee, you'll need to name a new person in their place. 

Locate and gather records

  • Obtain multiple copies of the certified death certificate. Some companies will not accept photocopies (though digital copies may be accepted). This is common with insurance policies and annuity contracts.
  • Locate a local notary, as they may be needed for several issues in settling estate matters.
  • Locate and secure important personal documents such as driver's license, social security card, passport, birth certificate, divorce decree, legal separation agreement, marriage license, military separation papers, citizenship and retirement documents.
  • Find contact and account information for all online accounts and subscriptions. Contact companies instead of logging into your loved one's online accounts to confirm how to close accounts or get access to any information or documents that you need. Many of these accounts will likely have restrictions on access after the death of the account owner.
  • Check with the person’s bank to see if they had a safe deposit box.
  • If you’ve been named as the executor or personal representative, obtain a certificate of appointment to document your authority to act (remember, the rules vary from state to state so you will need to work with an estate attorney).
  • If your loved one owned securities, such as stocks, you will typically need a special certification, known as a medallion signature guarantee, to authorize the transfer of those assets.

Update financial accounts

  • If your loved one was working at the time of death, another important financial step is to contact their employer to discuss any pay or benefits that may be due, including any employer-sponsored life insurance. (You also may need to contact pension administrators, annuity companies or former employers that may have provided a group life insurance policy or retirement plans such as a 401(k).)
  • Notify the life insurance company holding your loved one’s policy. If you are the beneficiary, you’ll need a death certificate and policy numbers to make any claim.
  • Contact financial organizations where your loved one had any single-owner accounts to determine how to transfer the assets and close accounts.
  • Contact financial firms or organizations where you have joint financial accounts with your loved one, including investment, banking and credit card accounts. Find out how to update ownership and beneficiary designations. (You can review and update your beneficiaries for Ameriprise accounts at
  • Update or cancel home, auto and health insurance policies. If a policy is needed to maintain certain assets while the estate is being settled — such as with a home or car — confirm coverage requirements.
  • Contact the Social Security Administration about survivors’ benefits, eligibility for a one-time death payment or to stop the deceased’s benefits.
  • Investigate veterans’ benefits (if applicable) and possible assistance with burial costs for veterans and their spouses.
  • Contact all three major credit bureaus about the death to reduce the risk of identity theft.
  • Cancel automatic or recurring payments for companies and services, including for utilities, phone, cable and internet, media subscriptions and club memberships.
  • If you’re the executor, consider opening an estate checking account to pay bills and receive assets associated with settling the estate. Consider working with an attorney and tax advisor for direction on how to title the account and if you need to create a tax ID number.

Review the status of real estate and other property

  • Find out if there are any debts or liens on the person’s properties and consult with an attorney who specializes in estate settlement.
  • Decide how the person’s assets and property will be maintained during the estate settlement process.
  • Update any property titles for real estate. If property was owned in multiple states, review the probate process in each state. (For non-resident states, ancillary probate may be necessary.)
  • Locate the title and registration for any cars, so that you can update the vehicle title and registration; cancel the person’s driver’s license.

Get support when you need it

During this challenging time, we will guide you through the financial implications and help to coordinate other professionals and services you may need to put your loved one’s affairs in order.

Questions to discuss with us

  • How should my estate plan be updated to account for the death of my loved one?
  • I’m expecting an inheritance. What strategies should I consider to manage my new assets?
  • Can you refer me to a tax professional and/or attorney to help me in the wake of my loved one’s death?