This guide is intended to assist you during a very difficult time. In the course of your efforts to settle the deceased's estate you may discover issues that need to be attended to that are not addressed in this guide. We encourage you to ask questions of the deceased's close friends and relatives to ensure that you are fully informed of the deceased's assets, debts, pending lawsuits, and any other outstanding matters that may need attention.
Survivor's Guide to Probate
The following is a list of issues that may need to be addressed when dealing with the decedent's estate:
1. Contact all applicable insurance companies (auto, life, health). You will need the following information: the policy number and/or social security number of the deceased, the full name of the deceased, the date and cause of death, a certified copy of the death certificate.
2. Request approximately 10 certified copies of the death certificate. If possible, request at least one without the cause of death on it for the probate court. Check with the funeral home director for assistance. You can also visit the U.S. Vital Statistics website, which provides listing for every state's Department of Vital Statistics. It's located here - http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/howto/w2w/w2welcom.htm
3. Locate the original Last Will and Testament and consult with a Florida attorney to determine what actions must be taken. Check for an established trust.
4. Contact the Veterans Administration for applicable benefits for the deceased and/or surviving spouse and dependent children. You will need the following information: certified copy of the death certificate, copy of your marriage certificate (spouses only), copies of the birth certificate for dependent children.
5. If the deceased was retired military: contact the Defense Finance and Accounting Service (Cleveland, OH) Casualty Assistance Line to report the death and check for survivor annuity (SBP, RSFPP). You will need the following information: certified copy of the death certificate, copy of your marriage certificate (spouses only), copies of the birth certificate for dependent children.
6. Contact Social Security to check on survivor benefits. You will need the following information: certified copy of the death certificate, Social Security Number of deceased, Social Security Number of spouse/dependents, birth certificates for spouse and dependent children, approximate earnings of deceased in past year/last employer.
If monthly benefits were being paid via direct deposit, notify the bank or other financial institution of the beneficiary's death. Request that any funds received for the month of death and later be returned to Social Security as soon as possible.
If benefits were being paid by check, DO NOT CASH any checks received for the month in which the beneficiary died or thereafter. Return the checks to Social Security as soon as possible.
A one-time payment of $255 is payable to the surviving spouse if he or she was living with the beneficiary at the time of death, OR if living apart, was eligible for Social Security benefits on the beneficiary's earnings record for the month of death. If there is no surviving spouse, the payment is made to a child who was eligible for benefits on the beneficiary's earnings record in the month of death.
7. Contact deceased's employer for possible group insurance or additional benefits.
8. Contact Civil Service Office of Personnel Management if deceased was an active or retired employee of the Civil Service.
9. Contact the holder of home/real estate loans for possible mortgage insurance coverage. Notify all creditors of the deceased's estate of the death. Check on credit life insurance.
10. Contact banks and/or credit unions for any insurance coverage on loans. Check on savings and checking accounts.
11. Contact any fraternal organizations or associations the deceased may have been a member of for assistance and to determine benefits.
12. Review financial paperwork for other details (check stubs, canceled checks, stocks and bonds, real estate, safe deposit boxes, etc.) Caution: do not open any safe deposit boxes without first consulting with an attorney.
13. If you are a spouse of the deceased, you should review your own life insurance policies to ensure that ownership and beneficiary designations are still current. Review your present amount of coverage and type of insurance with a financial professional.
Important Phone Numbers and Websites
The following is a list of phone numbers and web sites that you may find useful.
1. Social Security: 1-800-772-1213 www.ssa.gov
2. Veterans Administration 1-800-827-1000
3. Civil Service Personnel Management Office 1-888-767-6738
4. DFAS Casualty Assistance Office (Cleveland) 1-800-269-5170
5. Office of Service Members Life Insurance 1-800-419-14736.
6. U.S. Vital Statistics - a site that provides a listing for every state's Department of Vital Statistics (a good resource for information on ordering certified copies of death certificates.) http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/howto/w2w/w2welcom.htm
7. Dept. of Public Debt, U.S. Treasury, for information on the transfer of ownership of U.S. Treasury bills, notes and bonds. http://www.publicdebt.treas.gov/sav/savdies.htm
8. Florida Clerk's of Court. A site that lists all of Florida's 67 Clerk's of Court websites http://dlis.dos.state.fl.us/fgils/coclerks.html
9. Florida Tax Collectors. A site that lists all of Florida's County Tax Collectors websites. A good resource for obtaining the status of county taxes on a Florida property. http://www.floridataxcollectors.com/TaxCollectors.cfm?CountyID=68
10. Florida Property Appraisers. A site that lists all of Florida's County Property Appraiser's websites. http://www.myflorida.com/dor/property/appraisers.html
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