No one wants to think about sad events such as the death of a loved one. Your heart tells you there’s no good time to deal with the related tasks, but your head knows that it’s better done at a time when you aren’t dealing with a loss as well.

To assist you, here’s a checklist that you can use to help guide you now and in the future as needed.

Collecting Important Papers
These are papers that you should have on hand or know how to locate them easily. Not all of them will relate to your situation.

  • Wills, letter of instruction.
  • Two dozen or so, certified copies of  the death certificate.
  • Tax returns for the past five years.
  • Retirement accounts, insurance policies, stock certificates.
  • Bank, brokerage and mutual-fund statements.
  • Any employer-related benefits information, including stock plans.
  • Trust documents.
  • Powers of attorney.
  • Deed or lease agreements to the house, farm, other related facilities.
  • Other real-estate deeds, leases and rental agreements.
  • Business partnership agreements.
  • Automobile titles, registration, loan and lease agreements.
  • Most recent mortgage statement.
  • Equipment and other warranties.
  • Prenuptial agreements.
  • Birth certificates, including those for minor children.
  • Marriage certificate.
  • Military discharge papers.
  • Social security cards or numbers.
  • List of credit cards.
  • Other “official” or government papers.
  • Review prior tax returns and checkbooks to identify other assets.

Short-Term Cash Requirements
You will need some cash on hand for the following items: Funeral or memorial service; estate-tax returns must be filed within nine months; cancel credit cards in deceased’s name; establish credit in your own name if your spouse has died.

Within the First Month
You should plan on collecting your assets within the first month of the related death. Consult your attorney to interpret the will and move the estate through probate. Your tax professional should value the assets and file the necessary state and federal estate-income-tax returns.

Send a letter to insurance companies with a copy of the death certificate and policy numbers for the forms necessary to file your claim. This could include:

  • Insurance such as life; accidental death; travel insurance; creditor life insurance, including mortgage and credit cards. Also, group life insurance purchased because of the deceased’s relationship with a trade, professional association or club.
  • Visit the local Social Security office to file for monthly benefits and investigate other governmental benefits that could be available to you.
  • Visit the local Veterans Administration office to file for related benefits (if applicable)  such as monthly payments or burial allowance.
  • Notify the deceased’s employer’s employee benefits department if applicable.) This could include retirements, pension, 401K, last paycheck, unpaid bonuses, commissions, remaining vacation or sick leave, life or medical insurance, deferred or workers’ compensation, stock options, savings plan. Request a copy of the employer’s employee handbook to identify other possible benefits. Recall any former employers or unions.

Re-evaluate Your Position
This applies especially to people who have lost a spouse.

  • Determine your net worth, your monthly spending plan and your risk tolerance.
  • Make sure you are adequately insured, including Medicare benefits and long-term-care insurance.
  • Update your beneficiary designations.
  • Notify your bank that joint accounts need to be changed.

Choosing Your Executor
Selecting someone to serve as your executor is a critical decision, and one that’s easy to put off. The duties and challenges of an executor are complex. The individual is responsible for a range of functions:

  • Have the will admitted to probate; attend the proceedings.
  • Assemble the related assets; safeguard the related assets.
  • Appraise the property.
  • Make payment of claims.
  • Accounting, auditing and distribution of estate assets.

It’s always a challenge to deal with these sorts of issues, but you’ll have much greater piece of mind if you’re prepared.

This column is produced by Financial Planning Associates, and is provided by R.Hutton Cobb, a Wachovia Securities financial advisor in Greenville, N.C.