Who Should Receive Notification when the Estate Owner Dies?
Sending notifications of the decedent’s death is the estate executor’s responsibility. You should notify all entities as soon as possible, but heirs-at law, beneficiaries, government agencies, creditors, and individuals or organizations with whom the decedent did business should take priority. The decedent’s family and professional advisors can be a resource for important information and estate planning documents.
Contact the following entities and individuals at your first convenience:
Heirs-at-law and beneficiaries: Identify the heirs-at-law, who inherit if the decedent didn’t have a will, and the beneficiaries, who inherit under the will, as soon as possible. If no will exists, you must notify the heirs-at-law of your petition for probate. If a will does exist, notify the heirs-at-law and the beneficiaries.
Get the contact information for these inheritors. The surviving spouse or other family members can help you determine the heirs-at-law. The beneficiaries are spelled out in the decedent’s will.
Attorney, accountant, and other professionals: Contact the decedent’s attorney, accountant, investment advisor, insurance agent, and other pertinent professionals. Each may have information that can save you hours of searching for essential documents and personal information. You can usually get their names from the decedent’s surviving spouse, family members, or personal papers.
Social Security Administration: Call the Social Security Administration or contact the local SSA office to report the decedent’s death. If the decedent received benefits by direct deposit, notify the bank of the decedent’s death and request that it return any funds it receives for the month of death onward to the SSA.
Don’t close the bank account that’s receiving direct deposits before any Social Security checks have arrived and been returned to the SSA. If the decedent received benefits by check, don’t cash any checks for the month of the decedent’s death or later. Return them to the SSA.
Veterans’ Administration: If the decedent was receiving veterans’ benefits, report his or her death to the administration. Inquire about burial entitlements and benefits that may be available to surviving family.
Pension and retirement plans in which the decedent had an interest.
Employer and employees, if applicable.
United State Postal Service: File a change of address form with the post office, indicating where the decedent’s mail should be sent and signing it as executor. Or, if the decedent’s surviving spouse maintains the same residence, ask him or her to send pertinent mail to you. The spouse may elect to pay bills that are in the decedent’s name and seek reimbursement from the estate, but they should save copies for you.
The decedent’s landlord, if applicable: Notify the landlord of the decedent’s death. If the surviving spouse (if any) doesn’t want to continue the lease, vacate the premises as soon as possible after proper disposal of the decedent’s effects. Review the lease; some leases may have a provision for termination upon death.
Creditors of the decedent, including credit card companies: Notify creditors of the decedent’s death and the new address for statements. The surviving spouse should make the payments on any joint debts, if possible, so that his or her credit rating isn’t affected. You can pay the spouse back later from estate funds. Any surviving spouse should have credit cards in his or her own name.
Utilities: Transfer utilities to the surviving spouse’s name. If no spouse survives, have the utility bills mailed to you until the decedent’s residence is empty, and then shut them off.
Membership organizations of which the decedent was a member.
Sending notifications of death is time consuming. You can save yourself some time by creating a form letter that can be modified easily for each recipient. Keep it on your computer desktop and revise it as needed. You can keep saved electronic copies of each letter sent in a folder on your desktop so you can easily identify who you’ve sent letters to. Make sure that you organize all this correspondence.