When A Death Occurs

The time immediately following the death of a loved one can be days of intense sorrow and emotional stress. The Funeral Director may act as an advisor on many of the immediate problems; he has the knowledge and experience to relieve a family of needless worry and care.

The Death Certificate

The Funeral Director files the Death Certificate with the county clerk and obtains the burial permit. Certified copies of the Death Certificate may be required as proof of death in settling claims. Additional copies of Death Certificates may be obtained for a nominal charge.

Social Security

Social Security claims should be filed within the month of death or the following month at the nearest Social Security Administration office. Claims for the lump sum death benefit must be filed within two years after death or benefits will not be honored. There is no charge for the Administrations’ assistance in the filing of claim papers.

The Social Security Administration requires the following information:

  1. Certified copy of Death Certificate or Statement of Death (form SSA 271).
  2. Decedent’s employment record for the past year (W-2 form).
  3. Personal income tax returns (if self-employed).
  4. If married, Marriage Certificate.
  5. If divorced, divorce decree.
  6. Decedent’s Social Security number.
  7. Birth Certificates of minor children (under 18).
  8. Proof of age if over 60 (Birth certificate or Religious Record recorded before age 5).

Note: Consult your local Administration office about other proofs which may be acceptable. DO NOT DELAY applying if all documents are not available.

Inquire about the following benefits:

  • Lump sum payments to surviving spouse, son or daughter entitled to benefits.
  • Benefits to widow/widower over 60.
  • Benefits to widow/widower with dependent children.
  • Benefits to decedent’s minor children.
  • Benefits to disabled widow/widower as early as age 50.
  • Very rare, but if no widow or children, benefits may be payable to surviving dependent parent, if parent is receiving over 50% support from the deceased.
  • If a widow/widower, 60-64, is receiving disability benefits based on his/her on earning, it may be possible to obtain benefits based on his/her deceased spouse’s earnings. If your divorced spouse dies, you can receive benefits as a widow/widower if the marriage lasted 10 years or longer and you are age 60 or older (or age 50 if you are disabled.) You do not have to meet the length-of-marriage rule if you are caring for a child under age 16 or disabled who is getting benefits on the record of you former spouse.
  • Medicare.
  • Call 1-800-772-1213 nationwide for help with questions about Social Security.


IF THERE IS A WILL, the deceased is said to have died “Testate”…the executor must file the will with the Probate Court within the time prescribed by statue and proceed with probate and distribution of the estate. The services of an attorney are advisable.

IF THERE IS NOT A WILL, but there is property, the deceased is said to have died “Intestate”…an administrator is appointed by the Probate Court and the estate is distributed according to the State Statute of Descent and Distribution.

IN EITHER CASE, an attorney should be consulted.

U.S. Veteran’s Benefits

Anyone who was a member of the military at the time of death, or honorably discharged from the military, is subject to a number of benefits which should be investigated.

The following veteran’s benefits should be checked:

  1. Pension to the widow and minor children.
  2. Partial reimbursement of funeral expenses.
  3. Burial in national cemetery.
  4. Burial Flag and grave marker.
  5. Some states may have additional benefits. Check the local Veteran’s Administration office.

Documentation required for benefits:

  1. Copy of Death Certificate.
  2. Veteran’s discharge papers (DD-214)
  3. Itemized funeral bill receipt.
  4. Marriage Certificate.
  5. Birth Certificates of minor children.

Veteran’s benefits information is available from a Funeral Director, a Veteran’s office or forms may be obtained from the Veteran’s Administration, Washington, DC 21230.

Veteran’s life insurance claims should be made at the same office where other benefits are applied for.

Estate and Gift Taxes

If the assets left by the deceased exceed certain minimums, the estate may be subject to Federal and/or State Inheritance taxes. An attorney will answer specific questions.

Real Estate

The services of an attorney are advisable in ALL real estate matters.

Real estate owned jointly by husband and wife is automatically transferred to the survivor, but a certified copy of the death certificate should be filed with county authorities in connection with the real estate deed.

Property which is solely in the decedent’s name, or owned jointly by the decedent and a party other than the surviving spouse, may require probate action whether or not a will exists.


Contact the agents of all insuring companies. Agents will supply the necessary claim forms. All policies (even those that have lapsed) should be examined, seeking any extended coverage. Any survivors’ Life insurance policies which name the deceased as a beneficiary should be changed.

Bank Accounts

The survivor of joint bank accounts can usually withdraw from the account without legal procedure. In large estates there may be federal and state taxes requiring releases from government officials. A bank account solely in the decedent’s name may require probate action of consent to transfer from a government agency. For small amounts, some banks have forms which permit payment of the balance toward funeral expenses if no other assets require probate. Consult an attorney concerning the legalities of a survivor withdrawing from a joint account.

Safety Deposit Box

When a death occurs, a safety deposit box provides the tight security the name implies. A safety deposit box, held jointly or in the deceased’s sole name, will be sealed until a county, state, or bank official can take inventory. The bank must know date of death, interest of person making inquiry, whether the key is available and whether the box was rented in the deceased’s sole name or jointly with others. Consult the bank and an attorney regarding legal procedures.

Savings Bonds

Single Ownership Bond that is held in the sole name of the decedent must generally be probated.

Beneficiary (one owner, payable at death to a beneficiary). If beneficiary dies, first, no action required unless new beneficiary or co-owner is added. Proof of death is required for redemption or re-issue.

Co-Ownership (two names on bond). Survivor becomes owner; a beneficiary or co-owner may be added.

Consult a tax advisor, banker and/or attorney.

Stocks and Bonds

Stocks in the deceased’s sole name require probate action. Stock owned jointly may be transferred to the surviving owner by presentation of a certified copy of the Death Certificate to each company in which stock is jointly owned. A broker or baker can assist you. Contact an attorney or tax advisor for information regarding tax issues.

Individual Retirement Account (IRA’s)

If the decedent was paying into an Individual Retirement Account (IRA), the amount in the account will go to the beneficiaries. Consult employers or an attorney regarding the status of retirement plans and survivor benefits.

Automobile Title

If the deceased was sole owner of a titled automotive vehicle or trailer, it is part of the estate. Transfer of title information can be obtained from an attorney or the local license bureau.

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