Protect Your Family Against Grave Robbers

Grave Robbers

Protect Your Family Against Grave Robbers

It’s no surprise that identity thieves are running rampant, however it’s a shocking fact that these scammers are using the personal information and vital statistics of more than 2,000 deceased people every day. An ID Analytics study recently revealed that the misuse of social security numbers belonging to the deceased occurs more than 1.5 million times every year. Are the identities of your deceased loved ones protected from these identity thieves?

Protect Identity Today

In the same way people provide protection for their families using funeral insurance to cover funeral costs and burial expenses and replace lost income after a death, many people today are also taking additional steps to ensure their loved ones left behind aren’t abused by scam artists.

Be proactive to protect your family. Take the proper steps to provide protection against identity theft while you are alive. Enroll in a service like LifeLock.com to monitor credit reports and inquiries, applications for utility and wireless service, and many other aspects of personal information to reduce the risk of exposure. Monitor your online bank activities, guard your social security number and private information, and keep your digital devices protected with reliable security software to deter fraudsters from gathering your personal data and vital statistics.

Make Final Preparations

Coping with the loss of a loved one is emotionally and physically challenging for most people, and on top of the grief, it often takes weeks, or even months, to notify creditors and vendors after someone dies. Unfortunately, scammers and identity thieves get started immediately after they see perform an obituary search or read a newspaper report that announces a death.

Assign a friend or relative to take charge of reporting your death immediately. Or consider hiring a funeral estate planning attorney to handle all notifications. Recommendations from AARP.com include contacting the Social Security Administration (1-800-772-1213), sending death certificates to the three major credit reporting agencies—Experian, Equifax and TransUnion—and asking financial institutions and creditors to mark accounts closed due to death. The IRS should also be notified as soon as possible to prevent fraudsters from filing for a tax refund with the deceased person’s information or claiming the deceased as a dependent on future returns.

Block the Channels

The best time to consider identity theft is before it happens. Make sure you create a love drawer with a list of everyone—businesses, government agencies and individuals who have access now, or might have acquired your information in the past. Include medical providers, lawyers, the IRS, the Social Security Administration, banks, creditors and even your landscape and pest control contractors.

Prepare a simple form letter that informs recipients of your death in advance. Assign someone to mail these letters, preferably by certified mail, immediately after your death. Ask your designated helper to cancel your voter registration card, drivers license and online social media accounts (learn more about digital estate planning).

Work With the Credit Bureaus

The credit reporting agency Experian advises that credit bureaus periodically update records with information received from the Social Security Administration to flag files when people pass away. It could take up to six months for the information to be transferred so, having someone designated to report the death is preferable to waiting for agency notification. To protect against fraud, survivors should request credit reports every few months after a loved one passes to be sure no one is trying to assume the deceased identity.

 

Talking About Death and Funeral Planning

Death and Funeral Planning

Why are Funeral Planning and Death

Considered Taboo Conversations?

There are few things in life that are certain, but one thing that can be relied upon is that we will all die. Although death is an absolute certainty for every single one of us, society at large still seems to find it difficult to discuss funeral planning, death and dying. Death has always been something of a taboo subject, but even in these relatively enlightened times it is still a topic that causes some to react with disgust, fear or denial.

As a result, to plan a funeral for yourself or a loved one can be tricky at best. It is important that everyone gets the kind of funeral plan that respects their beliefs and wishes.  However, if these are not discussed in advance, it is difficult for those left behind to know how the best ways to handle these difficult decisions after a person has died.

Fear of Death and Dying

It’s understandable that, as a species intent on survival, we are reticent about discussing our inevitable demise. Fear of death can encompass a number of things including concerns about grief and loss, worry about pain or suffering, fear of the unknown, and bereavement.  There is also the sense that in death, things that an individual values such as family, friends and loved ones will be lost.

Many people have superstitious beliefs concerning death and dying that can hinder their willingness to talk about their end of life plans and preferences – and what should happen after they’re gone. The belief that talking about death is somehow “tempting fate” or will hasten death is common and will cause problems with making clear plans for what should happen after death.

Some deaths are more predictable than others, and those people who are diagnosed with a medical condition with a prognosis of shortened life may be in a better position for terminally ill planning since they have “some” idea of how much life they have left. Still, even those people for whom death is imminent may not wish to talk about it.

Death and Money – The Perfect Storm of Taboos

If there is one topic that draws an equal amount of discomfort for open discussion, it is an individual’s personal financial affairs. In working through a funeral planning checklist, the subjects of money and death are brought together in a clash of two of the strongest taboo subjects for discussion in polite conversation.

According to AARP, today’s average funeral costs can run upwards of $10,000.  Clearly this is no small consideration when facing things like funeral estate planning and finding the money to pay for the essentials after a death. In addition to adding the stress of finding this money to the worry about doing the right thing, you also have the drawbacks of not discussing how to plan your funeral with loved ones when the opportunity has always been available.  So these drawbacks significantly outweigh the discomfort of talking about things that are often left unsaid.

An Open Conversation About Death

Although it is hard for some people to talk about dying, it is an extremely important conversation to have. Without an understanding of what a person’s wishes are for their end of life funeral arrangements, families can be left in a difficult position of trying to second guess what their loved one would have wanted after their death. Don’t leave it too late to have the conversation.

If you preplan a funeral, it gives you the opportunity to talk about preferences, funeral costs, and the way in which you want to be remembered.  This includes even the little details such what you want to say in your obituary, what kind of memorial service you would like, what to put on your monuments or head stone, or even new memorial technology for gravestones.

Getting your funeral plan, preferences, and finances in place early means that both the dying person and the family left behind have the peace of mind to knowing that the right thing was done, and the funeral plan and money are available to ensure the deceased’s wishes are fulfilled.

Conclusion

Death and dying is one of the final taboos for discussion in our society. However, making sure that everyone is clear about what they want in death and their wishes for their funeral can bring peace of mind to all concerned.

Article contributed by Memorials of Distinction

Death of a Loved One Funeral Planning Checklist

Plan a Funeral

Death of a Loved One Checklist

Checklist to Help Families Get Through a Difficult Time

Losing a loved one is arguably one of the most difficult experiences in life.  In addition to coping with the grief and loss, there are also a variety of challenging tasks and important financial decisions to be completed, some of which include:

– Making final arrangements

– Reviewing funeral costs and funding options

– Settling an individual’s estate and heirlooms

– Notifying family, friends and co-workers

– Working with various companies and government agencies

– Providing important vital statistics for insurance claims and death certificates

– Securing the financial security of the remaining spouse

Time-Sensitive Tasks

Contact all close family members, friends, co-workers and clergy first.  This is not only important to notify them of this loss, but because you will need their help with funeral planning and emotional support.

Begin working with the family and loved ones to arrange the funeral, burial or cremation and memorial services Since everyone knows that death is a guaranteed event, my hope is that financial professionals have properly planned and prepared their clients and prospective clients in most of these End of Life arrangements ahead of time.

Review all of the important paperwork and documents to identify any instruction containing their final wishes. In most cases, these key End of Life and estate planning instructions can be found in his or her Last Will, Living Trust, or other estate planning preparations.

Notify family, friends, co-workers and loved ones of the final arrangements.  These final arrangement notifications should include details such as cultural and religious rituals, funeral etiquette details, and funeral flowers or donation preferences.

Notify the decedent’s place of work, professional organizations, unions, associations, military branch, and any other organizations where he or she may have been a member or volunteer.

Recommend that each of the decedent’s loved ones notify their own personal employer and arrange for bereavement leave.

Make sure that an obituary is created in your local newspaper as well as on the Internet.

Promptly begin obtaining certified copies of the death certificate. In most cases the family doctor or medical examiner provides a death certificate within 24 hours of the death. The next step is for the Funeral Home and/or Funeral Director to complete the form and file it with the state. Note: Be sure to request and obtain many original copies, since photocopies are not always accepted. These death certificates become important for tasks such as applying for benefits and settling an estate.

Be sure to review all financial affairs, particularly focusing on estate planning documents such as a Last Will or Living Trust, deeds and titles, marriage certificates, birth and adoption certificates, military paperwork and other relevant documents.

If applicable, locate and contact the decedent’s estate planning attorney for all copies of estate planning documents, particularly the originals.

Contact the decedent’s local bank to verify if they had a safe-deposit box.  Note: If the decedent did not leave behind instructions or details regarding who is authorized to open their safe deposit box, you can petition the probate court for an order to open.

Contact the Social Security Administration to report the death.  Also note:

– If your loved one was receiving any benefits via direct deposit, request that the bank return funds received for the month of death — and thereafter to Social Security as well.

– Do not cash any Social Security checks received by mail. Return all checks to the Social Security Administration as soon as possible.

– Surviving spouses and other family members may be eligible for a lump-sum death benefit and/or survivor’s benefits. You can visit www.ssa.gov for more information.

Prepare a comprehensive list of all of the decedent’s assets.

If applicable, be sure to put safeguards in place to protect any key property.

Make sure any mortgage payments and insurance premiums continue to be paid while the estate is being settled.

Regarding the decedent’s place of work, be sure to:

– Request to receive their belongings.

– Inquire about collecting any salary, vacation or sick pay owed.

– Ask about continuing health insurance coverage and potential survivor’s benefits for their spouse and/or children.

– Review all employer, union, or association death benefits details.  Be aware of the fact that if the death was work-related, the decedent’s estate or beneficiaries may be entitled to workers compensation benefits.

Contact the decedent’s past employers regarding any pension plans, survivor benefits, as well as any other forms of defined benefit or defined contribution retirement savings plans.

If the decedent was a military veteran, inquire about any potential eligibility for burial and memorial benefits. This can be accomplished by contacting the Department of Veterans Affairs by either calling (800) 827-1000 or visiting their website www.va.gov.

Contact any IRA custodians, trustees, and guardians. Be sure to review and confirm all of the IRA beneficiary designations, as well as understand all of the IRA distribution options.

Locate and review all life and funeral insurance policies, which could include individual insurance, group life insurance, mortgage insurance, auto credit life insurance, accidental death and dismemberment, credit card insurance and annuities.

Contact each insurance company to find out the necessary procedures and documents needed to file claims.

Promptly contact all credit card companies to notify them of the death and, assuming there are no other names associated, cancel all credit cards.

Retitle all jointly held assets such as bank accounts, automobiles, stocks and bonds and real estate into the surviving parties’ name.  If the decedent was an owner, principal, or had a controlling interest in a business, review all corporate documents and details. Be sure to check to see if there are any additional business agreements such as a buy-sell agreements, split-dollar agreement, etc.

Tasks to Be Completed Within 9 Months:

If the decedent created a Last Will or Living Trust, be sure to file these documents with the appropriate probate court. If there was any real estate owned out of his or her state of domicile, be sure to file ancillary probate in that state also.

If the decedent did not leave behind a Last Will or Living Trust, contact the probate ask the court or a probate attorney for instructions and assistance.

With regards to any of the decedent’s creditors, be sure to notify them by mail as well as by placing a notice in the local newspaper.  Any debtor’s claims must be made within the statute of limitations.  Although this varies from state to state, the standard time is usually 30 days from actual notice. Once a claim has been made, be sure to insist upon proof of all claims.

With regards to estate taxes, you may be required to file a federal estate tax return within 9 months of the date of death. Due to the fact that state laws vary, there is the possibility that state estate tax and/or inheritance tax returns may need to be filed.  Federal and state income taxes are due for the year of death on the normal filing date, unless an extension is requested. Should there be any existing Trusts in place at the date of death, a separate income tax return may need to be filed. It is highly recommended that all financial professionals and their families seek the advice of seasoned tax and estate planning professionals.

Tasks to Be Completed Within 9 to 12 Months

One of the most important tasks, which can often be overlooked or postponed, is to update your own estate plan — or your client or prospective client’s estate plan — if someone was a beneficiary or appointed as an agent, trustee or guardian.

Along the same lines, it is also extremely important to revise and update all beneficiary designations on the decedent’s or surviving parties retirement plans. This includes accounts such as IRAs, Transfer-on-Death (TOD) or Payable-on-Death (POD) accounts, pension plans, life insurance policies, annuities and any other accounts on which the decedent was named as a beneficiary.

Review the impact of the “big picture” financial situation, which includes changes in the household income, expenses, budget, as well as short and long-term goals and objectives.

Review the families insurance needs, including the insurance amounts, types, beneficiary designations and most importantly, any needs for insurance.

Reevaluate whether or not the existing investment options still make sense. This includes reviewing details such as existing asset allocation, goals and objectives, risk tolerances, income and estate taxes, income distribution and legacy planning.

Other Key Considerations

Although this is a matter that most families and loved ones wish to complete and have behind them, take your time and do not try to rush the settlement of a loved one’s estate. When it comes to estate planning and distribution, there are many important decisions that must be made in compliance with the Last Will or Living Trust and applicable state and federal laws. This is exactly why it is so important to seek the help and advice of an experienced estate planning attorney.

If your client, prospective client or loved one did not leave behind any End of Life plan with regards to their final plans and preferences, you can visit www.funeralresources.com and www.memorialtechnology.com. These are family-focused resource centers that contains the large majority of information most families seek help for when it comes to funerals, burials, memorial services, End of Life Planning and much more.

Christopher P. Hill, Founder