Financial Checklist When a Parent Dies A parent's death can be devastating if you're not prepared

The COVID-19 pandemic shined a light on an uncomfortable reality – we’re all going to die one day. Death is difficult to accept, but we all deal with it throughout our lives. It’s not just our own death that, but the death of parents that can really get to us. Estate planning isn’t easy, and even if you’re the probate beneficiary, no inheritance will bring back your only parents.

If you’re lucky, your parents planned ahead and already have things laid out for their surviving family members. Often, that isn’t the case, though. In fact, only 25% of people have a will, according to a joint survey from and YouGov. This can leave you dealing with a complicated situation while you’re grieving.

Here is a checklist with sensible steps to take when you lose a loved one.

1. Keep Emotions in Check

The most important tip to keep in mind is to mind your emotions. You’ve lost a loved one who truly mattered, and that is going to have an effect on your decision-making skills. The last thing you want to do is make a decision you’ll later regret, so keep a cap on your emotions.

Sometimes, grieving leads people to jump into (or out of) a relationship, move in with a loved one, or make a major purchase. Avoid any high-pressure situations where you may be taken advantage of in your vulnerable state. This includes putting a hold on major purchases, moves, or any other big decisions for at least six months while you process the death.

2. Get a Hand

You shouldn’t face this situation alone – you need to seek as much professional help as appropriate. If your parents had a financial advisor or attorney, consult with them as your point of contact, as they will need to track down any financial accounts and other obligations left by your deceased parent. Even if you have to depend on other family members, lean into it.

Trying to do everything yourself is a recipe for disaster. You’re going to face challenges, and it takes away from your own life. Maintain your sanity by involving someone else, even if they’re just helping keep a checklist of things to do.

3. Request Multiple Death Certificates

When someone dies, a death certificate is issued. You’re going to need this to prove your parent is dead. In fact – you’ll need at least 20 copies to be sure. This is because most companies and organizations need the death certificate to close accounts and handle any personal business, and there are multiple forms used – certified, long-form, short-form, etc.

Which version is needed depends on the entity – often a simple death notice in the newspaper is enough to notify friends and family. Meanwhile, the mortgage company, life insurance company, or any debt collectors may require a certified copy before acting. Make sure you have plenty of copies to take care of any of existing business.

4. Call Involved Stakeholders

Just because you’re aware of your parent’s death, doesn’t mean the rest of the world is. For the next six months, you’re likely to continue stumbling across new accounts and affairs. If they were still working, you’ll even need to call their employer to notify them of the death. Before you do, perform some due diligence and look into any employee benefits and plans they’re a part of.

There’s a chance that a surviving spouse, caregiver, or family member can benefit from employer plans. Your parent may have had a life insurance policy, along with a retirement plan that lists you as a beneficiary. Get all the information you can from the internet, then call their human resources department to handle business.

5. Locate and Read the Will (If It Exists)

Although only a quarter of American adults have a will, locating any legal documents will be key. A will or trust serves as a guide for any impending financial decisions. The probate will ensure assets and property are distributed according to the will for larger estates, although smaller estates often don’t use them.

If you’re named as the executor of the estate, you’ll want to keep track of any death-related expenses. This is tracked on your tax return. In fact, taxes are going to be a big key in how quickly you move on from the death, so you’ll want documentation.

6. Gather Any and All Documents

Dig through your parents’ belongings to find any evidence of financial accounts. This includes bank and investments, retirement, mortgage and loans, tax returns, bills, and insurance policies. Any documentation is helpful in notifying the proper parties and getting everything due to your deceased parent.

The more information you have, the easier it’ll be to clean up any loose ends on the backend, which is the next step you need to focus on.

7. Tie Up Loose Ends

While your parent’s death may have been sudden, cleaning up afterwards is going to take time. No matter how thorough you are (and how much they prepared in life), there are bound to be loose ends. Non-recurring bills and other one-time issues will likely trickle in for the next six months or more.

It’s recommended that you continue checking the mail and looking for any other incoming accounts or loose ends for at least three months after a parent dies. This ensures you’re not caught off guard down the road by something, and that leaves one last step.

8. Prepare for the Next

Like we said at the beginning, death is inevitable. If this is your first time dealing with a family member’s death, use the lessons learned to apply to the next one. It’ll make things go more smoothly and help you set guidelines for your kids to deal with your own death.

We always learn by doing, and as unfortunate as the circumstances, the death of one parent helps you prepare for the next. It helps prepare for your own, so be sure to learn from everything you’re doing, even when you’re grieving.

Death is a part of life, and it can’t be avoided. Losing a loved one can be devastating, but their passing is just the beginning. With due diligence and elbow grease, you’ll be prepared to handle whatever comes next. Nobody wants to think about death, but being prepared for it can save your life.


Dr. Brian Penny is a former Business Analyst and Operations Manager at Bank of America turned whistleblower, troll, and freelance writer. You can find his work in Cracked, High Times, HuffPost, Lifewire, Forbes, Fast Company, and dozens of other places, although much of it is no longer under his name. Dr. Penny loves annoying fake media.

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