6 Steps When a Loved One Passes

marriage and family

When a loved one goes home to the Lord, it’s often a time of great confusion, as well as grief. What needs to be done, and when? Simply making funeral arrangements can be difficult enough, but then there’s an estate to settle, and many find themselves unprepared. 

Before we get to the financial steps you should take when a spouse or other loved one passes, there’s a very important spiritual step to take— prayer. You should always invite God to be a part of your financial affairs and decisions, but especially now as you begin the process of settling your loved one’s estate.

It is enough simply to pray for wisdom in this challenging time. James 1:5 teaches, “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. 

Romans 8:28 reveals just how much the Lord wants to guide and strengthen you. It reads, “The Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.”

After a time of prayer, you’ll feel more confident and ready to take on the challenge of settling your loved one’s estate. Here are the 6 steps you need to take:

1. Get a copy of the death certificate.

This is the legal record of your loved one’s death. It’s usually prepared by a medical examiner and provided to you by the funeral home you’re using for the burial. You may also obtain a copy at your county vital records office.

It may take a few weeks to obtain the death certificate, but if you haven’t received one by that time, contact the funeral home or records office to check on it. You must have a copy of this document to begin the other steps in this process and it’s especially important if you’re the executor of the estate because most of the actions you’ll take require a copy of the death certificate.

2. Once you have that document, you can take it and a copy of the will down to your county probate office and file a petition to begin the probate process.

If you’re the executor, you can then begin carrying out the deceased’s last wishes as specified in the will.

If there is no will, things get more complicated. You’ll still take the death certificate to probate court and petition the court to begin the probate process. You can also request to be named administrator of the estate, but there’s no guarantee the court will honor that request.

The probate court will then decide, according to state law, how the deceased estate will be divided up among the heirs. You may want to have an estate attorney help you through the process of distributing the assets. We recommend getting someone with the Certified Kingdom Advisor® designation.

3. Next you notify the deceased’s financial institutions and advisors.

If your loved one had a financial advisor, that person can be a huge help in determining what assets are involved. You can also check the current balances when you notify financial institutions of your loved one’s death.

You may discover that some assets can pass directly to beneficiaries without going through probate. Check with administrators of retirement and standard brokerage accounts for transfer on death or TOD instructions. For banks, check for payable on death or POD instructions. You’ll probably have to provide a copy of the death certificate to get the funds released. 

You should also notify the three credit reporting agencies, Equifax, Transunion and Experian of your loved one’s passing. Again, you’ll need the death certificate. They will close those accounts. Get copies of the reports and check to make sure everything is in order and that there are no fraudulent accounts or transactions.


4. Contact the deceased’s life insurance company or companies.

You’ll need the death certificate here, too. Also, cancel other types of insurance, such as auto or disability that are no longer needed.

5. Notify any affected government agencies.

Interestingly, the funeral director often notifies Social Security of a decedent’s death. Check to confirm that has happened and also notify Medicare and the Veterans Administration if necessary.

6. Get started on the deceased final taxes.

You should seriously consider bringing in a CPA to help you with this. This process is likely to be far more complicated than your regular, annual tax filings. Again, we recommend getting someone with the CKA® designation.

This seems like a lot to do, but you can get through it if you take it one step at a time and ask for help along the way as you need it. Remember to pray for guidance and know that you are never alone. Romans 13:5 assures you, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.”

About the author: Rob West is CEO of FaithFi, a nonprofit organization dedicated to teaching others how to integrate their faith and finances. He is also the CEO of Kingdom Advisors, a professional association promoting the integration of a biblical worldview into financial practices.