When we were born, we were simply signed up for a birth certificate. When we die, the paperwork is far more complicated. Our executor and beneficiaries find out just how many things we signed up for during our lives, things that now must be undone.

The following checklist may help those to whom this task falls. It may also help beneficiaries to claim everything to which they are entitled.

Just about everyone will want a copy of the death certificate. The funeral director will normally arrange to get these for you at a nominal cost. You will probably need a dozen or so. In most cases, photocopies will not do; each copy must bear the embossed seal of the registrar.

Look for a will. If the closest family members have not been told where it is, there may not be one. Obvious places to check are a safety deposit box and the family lawyer.

Insurance companies require policy numbers, full name of the insured person and a certified copy of the death certificate.

Veterans of the armed forces are entitled to a payment toward burial costs. The US Veterans’ Administration or Public Works and Government Services Canada will need full name, social security or social insurance number, and the branch of service in which the deceased served.

Dependents may be entitled to benefits if their spouse or father died on active duty. Copies of the death certificate, marriage certificate and the birth certificates of dependent children will be required.

The local social security office will want a copy of the death certificate, the person’s social security number, social security numbers and birth certificates of the spouse and dependent children, the approximate earnings of the deceased person in the year of death and his or her employer’s name. In Canada, call 1-800-277-9914. You’ll be sent a stack of forms.

Contact the person’s employer and any previous employers to find out about potential group insurance or groups savings plans and survivors’ benefits.

If there’s a mortgage, contact the issuer to see if it is insured.

Notify all creditors. Check whether loans are insured. Bank loans often are.

Notify clubs, associations and fraternal organizations. Check to see if membership entitled the deceased to insurance. This is fairly common with fraternal organizations. While you’re at it, send these organizations a write-up listing the deceased’s accomplishments. Many organizations have newsletters; editors like to give appropriate details when one of the members dies.

Look through receipts and canceled checks. Look for payments to insurance companies, investment brokers and realtors, and for deposit boxes of which you were unaware. The fact that no current payments are being made to an insurance company does not necessarily mean the policy was cancelled.

There may be others whom survivors need to contact, but this list provides a reasonable starting point.

This is just one of dozens of helpful ideas presented in The Estate Manual and its electronic counterpart, THEMES™ – estate planning’s missing link. The manual organizes the human side of estate planning. This area is often overlooked, but it makes a huge (and obvious) difference to survivors. It is an easy-to-use system for making sure nothing is left out of your planning. Learn more at http://www.estatemanual.com.

Sydney Tremayne


  • Sydney Tremayne has enjoyed successful careers as a journalist on three continents, as a government official ("Whew!" is his only comment), and as investment advisor. His first book - on investing - was a Canadian best seller.

    His most recent book, The Estate Manual, puts a human face on estate planning. It encourages readers to take charge of all the personal details -- documents, bank accounts, real estate, training an executor.

    Sydney is an Empowering Caregivers featured expert, learn more about Sydney