Losing a spouse or loved one is challenging; add on the volumes of paperwork, phone calls, financial affairs, memberships, creditors and such that need to be dealt with and it is flat-out overwhelming.
I caught up Tisha Diffie, founder of After the Fact – Final Affairs, LLC to find out what an executor or surviving spouse needs to do to handle things correctly after the loss of their loved one. (After the death of her father Tisha founded her business because she herself was overwhelmed and she saw how easy it is for survivors to make costly mistakes.)
Tisha provided the following tips to help a surviving spouse or child get things in order.
5 things that should be done right after the death of a spouse.
- Call the 3 credit agencies and put a fraud alert on the Social Security number.
- Run a final credit report on the deceased from all 3 credit agencies.
- Keep the primary credit card and the deceased drivers’ license with you.
- Punch a hole in the drivers license and passport.
- Get all the paperwork together for the insurance companies.
5 things that should NOT be done right after death of a spouse or other loved one
- Don’t cancel the deceased's primary phone right away.
- Don’t cancel the primary credit card right away.
- Don’t inform everyone about the death right away.
- Don’t put an obituary in the newspaper unless it’s necessary, and then keep it simple.
- Don’t make any major decisions without consulting a professional first.
- BONUS: Have the mail forwarded to a 3rd party. Volume increases after death for about 6 – 8 months.
When people forget important steps in closing out an estate, it can catch up with them later, as Tisha shared with this client story (real names not used, of course):
“Bert and Millie were married for 47 years. Bert passed away four years ago and left his wife financially secure. She hired a financial advisor, updated her trust documents and made some updates to her home. She never canceled anything, changed names, or looked for missing money, nothing.
Three years later, she started getting collection notices for charges relating to her deceased husband, collection calls from debt collectors, demand letters, e-mails asking for information about her deceased husband and many other issues. She was stressed, frustrated, upset and mentally unprepared for this situation.
She called us and after a consultation hired us to help.
The first thing we did was go back to the date of death and look at what was going on then. We back-tracked bills, letters, appointments and other items left open. We reviewed memberships, subscriptions, hospital records and papers that had never been sorted. We notified credit agencies, services, churches and other businesses that he had been involved with. Ultimately, we discovered that his identity was stolen through a local business. We have since cleaned up his credit, closed all open accounts, took care of the debt collectors and we continue to take care of other open items."
Problems could be avoided if heirs sought professional help earlier in the estate-closing process. Most people only have to handle final affairs a few times in their life, and with little widely available knowledge of what to do, it is easy to make mistakes.
For example, most families make the following incorrect assumptions when wrapping up a loved one’s affairs:
- They assume canceling the credit cards, utilities and service workers is the first thing you do.
- They assume the hospital will let the doctors and health providers know about the death.
- They assume because the wills and trusts are completed, everything is done and the attorney will handle the mundane items.
- They assume because the estate is small, there isn’t a lot of work to be done.
If you or someone you know has lost a loved one or spouse, consider the following questions when deciding whether you want to tackle final affairs on your own.
- Do you know how to run a final credit report on the deceased?
- Do you know how to properly inform the credit agencies?
- Do you know how to handle identity theft of the deceased?
- Do you know how many times to put a fraud alert on a deceased persons credit report?
- Do you know what else could possibly happen that needs to be taken care of?
- Do you know how long this is REALLY going to take?
One of the most fascinating things Tisha shared: the crazy places they find money! She and her team have an exhaustive checklist they use to search for hidden items – and more often than you might think they find stuff.
Sometimes money is taped to the underside of desk drawers, buried in the back yard, and once, gold bars were found dry-walled into the wall behind the desk. A hidden note left the clue as to where to find them.
I can tell you I’ve personally helped many clients through the loss of a spouse or parent. It is a tremendous amount of work. If there was ever a time I would want professional help, this would be it.