Survivor’s checklist: What to do after the loss of a loved one

When you suddenly find yourself in unfamiliar territory – after the death of a loved one – we can offer assistance to guide you through the financial aspects of this event. The basic action steps are similar in all situations; however, every family dynamic is different, and various twists and turns can be expected for survivors to navigate.

Hopefully being given the responsibility of fulfilling the last wishes of your loved one comes with little to no surprises, and you find the deceased has put into writing exactly what they intend for their legacy. Perhaps, you have even had the opportunity to review their documents and discuss those wishes in advance. A significant part of successful financial planning after a family member passes falls on leaving clear instructions for this difficult and vulnerable time, and this can be one of the greatest gifts you leave behind.

Nonetheless, there will also be situations on the other end of the spectrum – due to lack of planning, the misconception that there aren’t enough assets to worry about or the belief that if you don’t talk about the end of life, you don’t have to worry about it. Not delineating your wishes can lead to disruption, both financially and emotionally, after you are gone.

The following checklist can provide guidance to survivors as well as act as a roadmap for estate planning if you do not already have your estate prepared or need to update your will and information.

Who to Call

In the event of a loved one’s passing, make sure to contact the following people or places to notify them of the individual’s passing.

  • 911 or the hospice agency/in-home nurse, as applicable
  • Family/friends
  • Funeral home for final arrangements
  • Family or Estate Planning Attorney to identify and obtain will and trusts
  • Accountant, Financial Planner or Investment Advisor
  • Business partners/employees
  • Social Security (800-722-1213)

What to Locate

A summary of some of the most important information for survivors to gather is below:

  • Copies of estate direction documents (wills, trusts, powers of attorney)
  • Birth certificate, marriage certificate and military records, if applicable
  • Contact list, logins and passwords for online accounts
  • Financial records
    • Annuity contracts
    • Bank statements
    • Bearer bonds
    • Brokerage account statements
    • Checkbooks
    • Deeds
    • Disability policies
    • Life insurance policies
    • Long-term care policies
    • Pre/post-nuptial agreements
    • Retirement accounts statements (pensions, IRAs, 401(k)s, etc.)
    • Stock certificates
    • Tax returns
    • Title documents
    • 529 plans
    • Safety deposit box

Determine any additional assets

  • Real assets (cars, boats, etc. and their titles)
  • Annuities being paid out
  • Real estate ownership
  • Business interests
  • Notes receivable
  • Collectibles (art, rare cars, gold, silver, diamonds, etc.)

Determine outstanding liabilities

  • Mortgages
  • Taxes owed
  • Car payments
  • Credit card debt
  • Unpaid medical, utilities
  • Notes payable

Please note that survivors are not generally responsible for debts of the deceased unless the survivor is the spouse or co-signer on a loan or official debt agreement.

Next Steps

Once you’ve established and identified the above information, it’s important to register the deceased’s will with the courthouse. Note that, in these circumstances, living trusts are not interchangeable with wills. Next, you’ll file insurance claims. You will need a death certificate for every policy.


After completing the above steps, be sure to notify the following companies and individuals of your loved one’s passing.

  • Life insurance companies
  • Annuity contract issuers
  • Pension benefit providers/former employers
  • Social Security/Medicare
  • Creditors (executor of estate responsibility)
  • Residence manager (if loved one resided in an apartment)
  • Utility providers
  • Subscriptions
  • Bank (to cancel any automatic debits that apply to the deceased)

File final tax return for deceased or estate

The final step for survivors that are handling this process is to first and foremost, remember to take care of yourself – everything doesn’t need to get done in a day or a month. Make sure, further, to file the deceased’s final tax return at an individual and estate level.

For additional information or help during this process, please contact your Sikich Financial Advisor. We are here to support you during this time.

This publication contains general information only and Sikich is not, by means of this publication, rendering accounting, business, financial, investment, legal, tax, or any other professional advice or services. This publication is not a substitute for such professional advice or services, nor should you use it as a basis for any decision, action or omission that may affect you or your business. Before making any decision, taking any action or omitting an action that may affect you or your business, you should consult a qualified professional advisor. In addition, this publication may contain certain content generated by an artificial intelligence (AI) language model. You acknowledge that Sikich shall not be responsible for any loss sustained by you or any person who relies on this publication.

About the Author