After watching what happened to a few of her friends, John's mother was finally willing to talk about end-of-life issues and her wishes. The discussions certainly helped during her final illness because John knew what types of care she preferred and how to pay for it. After she passed, he knew what type of funeral she wanted because they had talked about it. They followed the advance directive and end-of-life textbooks to the letter, and his mom left this world knowing that she had prepared her son for her passing. However, despite her forward thinking about planning, she never wanted John to be involved in her financial matters. She refused to even discuss it and John was uncomfortable asking. Now that she's gone, he knows where her will is, but he has no idea what other accounts, insurance policies or other sources of income or debt she had.
One of the hardest things to do after the death of a loved one is deal with financial and legal issues at the same time you are dealing with grief. It can be difficult enough managing your own financial affairs in good times, but managing someone else's when you have no knowledge of the history or how they were set up is even more difficult in emotional situations. If at all possible, have frank conversations with aging loved ones about who will manage financial and legal situations after they die and help them set up accounts and related arrangements in a way that will make the transition easier.
If a loved one has passed and you have not had these conversations, you will likely have to do some detective work. Knowing where to look and who to talk to will help you gather all the pieces of information you will need.
You will need to go through all of your late loved one's paperwork, including her checkbook, her desk, filing cabinets and any folders you may find as you try to recreate her financial history. You will be looking for old account statements, tax returns, policy documentation - anything that will help in your search for bank accounts, retirement accounts, investments and loans. Your loved one's mail also can be a source for statements or other account information, and her attorney, financial planner or personal banker will be able to help you gather as much information as possible.
A checkbook can tell you if payments have been automatically deducted from the account to pay the premiums for insurance or other accounts. You may find automatic deposits from other accounts or investments. You also can ask the bank where your loved one had her checking account if there is a safe deposit box that may contain important papers. Since some bills are paid in advance, you will need to check for deposits or payments that should be returned by a landlord, cable company, etc.
You'll need a death certificate from your state's Department of Health or Office of Vital Statistics to move any of your loved one's assets, even those used to pay for the funeral services. You should order at least 10 copies to keep on hand for various applications. To file for various benefits, you also will need important papers such as recent copies of federal tax returns, military discharge papers, a marriage license or marriage certificate, a certified copy of a birth certificate and the deceased's social security number. If you do not have these items, you will need to know your loved one's full legal name and address, social security number, birthplace and date of birth, father and mother's full names and veteran's discharge paperwork.
If your loved one was a member of an organization, such as the Masons or Shriners, check with them to see if there is a life insurance policy or other death benefit. While pension benefits usually are available only to the spouse of the deceased, in certain circumstances the deceased's children could be the beneficiaries. It's worth checking into. The Mid-America Pension Rights Project, part of ProSeniors, a nonprofit organization, provides free pension help to persons of any age. You can reach them at www.proseniors.org/oh_pension.html or call 1-800-488-6070.
Executors, legal representatives or members of the deceased person's immediate family may file a search request with the Ohio Department of Insurance's missing policy search service to find life insurance policies purchased in the state. You can call the Department's toll-free consumer hotline at 1-800-686-1526 for more information.
Contact your area agency on aging at 1-866-243-5678 for resources on long-term planning, including information about advance planning and legal assistance. The ProSeniors Legal Hotline, at 1-800-488-6070, provides free legal information, advice and referral for residents of Ohio age 60 and over. If you have a question that cannot be answered over the phone, the Legal Hotline will try to refer you to an appropriate source for more in-depth assistance.
Many families put off talking with their parents about their finances because they don't want to appear like they are butting in on their parents' affairs or being greedy or distrustful. You may be afraid of their resistance or you may be afraid of starting a fight, but you should be more afraid of a crisis happening before you and your parents are ready. Start by learning about the issues and options, so that you can start the conversation armed with basic knowledge and ready resources.
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