Losing a loved one is always painful and many families feel overwhelmed — not just by the tragic loss, but also by everything that needs to be done at an already difficult time.
A life insurance policy can help with many financial needs such as funeral expenses or outstanding medical expenses. But it can also be helpful to refer to a checklist when someone dies to be sure you’ve addressed other important details.
Disease and illnesses remain among the leading causes for deaths in Canada, which can add to caretaking responsibilities but can also give you time to plan for the possibility.
Here are some steps to consider and things to do when someone dies.
If your loved one’s condition allows, discuss end-of-life wishes. Some people may wish to be buried. Others may wish to be cremated. Maybe your loved one would like their ashes scattered somewhere important to them.
These are among the important topics to discuss if you haven’t done so already. Also, talk about topics like organ donation and inheritances and discuss including these wishes in a will. Some families establish a trust to fund financial aspects and details of final wishes.
Planning ahead reduces stress on surviving family members and helps ensure you follow the final wishes of loved ones as closely as possible.
Prepare an Advance Healthcare Directive
Also known as a living will, an advanced healthcare directive gives written guidance on end-of-life medical treatment. As an example, some people may (or may not) want certain medical procedures or medications to prolong life. However, health conditions may prevent a loved one from giving this guidance at the time a decision must be made. An advance healthcare directive spells out these wishes in a legal document.
What to do immediately after someone dies
Notify family and friends. Reach out to family members and friends of your loved one. Also, let neighbours know as well as the family doctor and groups of which they were a member. Many of us belong to churches or other groups.
If your loved one worked, contact their employer as well so they can communicate with coworkers. The employer’s human resources team can guide you on the next steps regarding pay or benefits.
Contact the person’s insurance agent and attorney
You may or may not know if a loved one left a will or had a life insurance policy. Reach out to their insurance agent and attorney to find out if you’re not sure.
The insurance agent can guide your next steps if there is a life insurance policy or final expense policy in place. Don’t cancel other policies like home or auto policies if someone else is listed on the policy.
Your loved one’s attorney likely knows if your loved one made a will, a trust, or an advance directive. Their attorney can guide your next steps on respecting the wishes detailed in each of these documents. They may also know of a life insurance policy that may have been written with a different insurer than other policies.
Obtain essential financial and legal documents
It’s time to gather some documents, possibly including a will, life insurance policies, marriage certificates or birth certificates, and a death certificate. The funeral home typically provides a death certificate, which you'll need to execute life insurance policies.
You’ll need to provide documentation to banks, insurers, investment brokers, or government agencies. Keep these documents someplace safe because you may need them more than once while putting your loved one's affairs in order.
Review bills to pay
If you live in a different household, look into getting mail forwarded so you can address any bills that need attention. Utility bills, loan statements, mortgage bills and other important items need to be paid until the accounts are cancelled or the assets are transferred. The estate executor can pay for these items while they work toward settling the estate.
The proceeds from a life insurance policy can help bridge the gap on remaining bills. However, if you can’t pay on time, reach out to the vendor or financial institution to learn your options and next steps.
Other insurance policies
If you are the spouse or a co-owner of an insured asset like a home or car, reach out to the insurer to have the policy changed to your name. You’ll need a death certificate from the funeral home.
If you aren’t the co-owner, the existing policies must be cancelled. The insurance provider can advise on the next steps and required paperwork. It’s also important for the new owner of the home or cars to start new policies as soon as possible.
Mortgage companies and banks
Reach out to the bank or mortgage provider to transfer ownership or close the account. In some cases, you may need to start a new loan in your name if you are the new owner.
If you don’t have joint account access, you’ll need the death certificate provided by the funeral home.
Close any personal accounts
It’s important to close personal accounts as well. Fraudsters can use personal accounts to attempt identity theft. In other cases, closing the account helps prevent late fees and other charges that can be costly and time-consuming to unwind.
- Equifax and TransUnion: To prevent identity theft, send a copy of the death certificate to Canada’s main credit bureaus: Equifax and TransUnion. Your local consumer affairs office can provide up-to-date contact information.
- Driver’s license: Cancel the driver’s license for the deceased. Each province may have a different process. You’ll need to provide the death certificate.
- Email and other online accounts: Reach out to website administrators to cancel unneeded email or online accounts. Again, you may need to provide a death certificate.
- Credit card accounts: Outstanding credit card balances must be handled as part of estate settlement. Forward any statements with outstanding balances to the estate administrator. If the account was shared, notify the credit provider. Contact the credit provider to cancel any other credit accounts and prevent the account from being used by someone else.
The death of a loved one poses challenges we might not anticipate, but with some advance planning, you can make their passing less stressful. Each family has a different financial situation and may need to attend to action items not listed above. Online insurance services like Dundas Life, make the process of buying a life insurance policy hassle-free and tailored to your family’s needs.
If possible, discuss final wishes with your loved one as well as financial matters that may need attention. This helps you build a strategy to ensure you’ve respected your loved one’s wishes while also handling estate issues carefully.