Key Financial Steps to Take After a Loved One Dies

The author of 'When Someone Dies' explains what to do if you find yourself in charge of an estate

by Miriam Goodman • Next Avenue
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“Here I am a trained lawyer and I couldn’t believe how little I knew about the details of settling my mother’s estate,” said Scott Taylor Smith, a San Francisco attorney and banker. “I made mistakes that cost money and time and couldn’t find resources that could help, so I wrote a book based on what I learned.”
Smith’s new book, When Someone Dies: The Practical Guide to the Logistics of Death, is a valuable resource for anyone dealing with the financial and personal consequences of a loved one’s death. I spoke with Smith about what he learned the hard way as executor of his mother’s estate and asked him to share his advice for others thrust into a similar position:
Perhaps the hardest part of dealing with the financial details after a death is that you are still in mourning and neither your head nor your heart is ready to make these types of decisions. So where should someone begin?
First, determine if the deceased prepaid his or her funeral expenses to a funeral home. If there is no prepaid plan, the first thing you should do as the executor is open a checking account for the estate so you can use it to pay for the funeral or memorial service.
You will need a tax ID number for the estate to open this account and can get it by calling the Internal Revenue Service or going to the IRS website.
The next task is to find the person’s investment accounts and bank or credit union accounts. Death is not cheap and as executor, you will be faced with many expenses that must be paid right away. If you can access the person’s computer, you may find he or she used a financial program and everything will be listed there.

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