Schwab MoneyWise ®
Schwab MoneyWise®

Handling Finances After Loss

What to do after losing a loved one.

Our Two Cents

Beware of anyone preying financially on surviving family members, or trying to steal the identity of the deceased by keeping a close watch on their accounts. Look for claims by unknown individuals who lack documentation.

When a loved one dies, whether it was unexpected or not, everything else can seem insignificant. Though the natural inclination might be to put things off, there are important legal and financial matters that need to be handled right away.

Whether you're a spouse, partner, parent, sibling, or close friend, knowing the steps that need to be taken can help you do your part with love and compassion—and help avoid unnecessary complications. Find out more specific information about losing a spouse here.

Financial steps to take

Consult with a professional advisor about estate matters.

It's helpful to discuss estate settlement and inheritance with an expert. If an estate planning attorney, accountant, or financial advisor hasn't already been involved, one should be carefully selected right away. When choosing a professional advisor:

  • Interview several in person.
  • Ask about their educational and professional background, the size of the firm, how long they've been practicing, and what licenses they hold.
  • Request a written explanation of hourly rates and fees.

Request 10 or more certified copies of the death certificate.

In most cases, several copies of the death certificate will be needed to claim benefits from Social Security and insurance companies, and when dealing with banks and brokerage companies. These can be obtained from the county registrar, health department, or funeral director.

Locate and organize important legal and financial documents.

Some of the important documents your loved one’s affairs include:

  • Will, trust documents, and letter of instruction, as well as any codicils or amendments
  • Funeral and burial instructions
  • Social Security number
  • Birth, marriage, and death certificates
  • Bank, brokerage, and retirement account statements
  • Stock certificates or bonds
  • Documentation of business ownership interests
  • Pension plan information
  • Life insurance policies and annuities
  • Prior income and gift tax returns
  • Real property deeds and motor vehicle titles
  • Casualty and/or property insurance policies
  • Health insurance information
  • Outstanding bills or obligations
  • Inventory of household goods and personal belongings

Many people don't know the real value of their estates or the legal complexities of how their assets and liabilities are held. The financial inventory worksheet (PDF) and personal net worth worksheet (PDF) will help you, or whoever is responsible, get the information needed to make smart financial decisions about the estate.

Notify financial institutions.

Get in touch with banks, investment firms, mortgage holders, department of motor vehicles, and other institutions to let them know about your loved one's death as soon as possible. This reduces the potential for someone to use the deceased's name illegally.

Apply for a Tax ID.

A Tax ID needs to be applied for in order to ensure that probate estates and trusts are properly reported and accounted for.

Try and split these responsibilities to avoid taking on too much. Reach out to those who were also close to the deceased and divide roles if possible.


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The information on this website is for educational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for specific individualized tax, legal, or investment planning advice. Where specific advice is necessary or appropriate, consult with a qualified tax advisor, CPA, financial planner, or investment manager.

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