Getting Organized When There is a Death in the Family

Recently I’ve helped several clients and families who have lost loved ones. I’ve organized financial files, taken away car loads of donations and helped address envelopes for sympathy acknowledgement cards.

Losing a family member can be a very challenging time, and so much has to be done so quickly. We know that losing a loved one means you will need help with meals, arrangements, notifying relatives and friends, and general household help. But it also means that you need to manage an awful lot of documents and important papers. This has caused me to reflect on how being organized can help ease the stress during this time.

Ahead of time:

  • Organize your tax files and keep them in one place, easy to find. (I had one client who passed away, and her family was very grateful that we had financial papers in order.)
  • Keep your investment and IRA statements organized and easy to find. If they are all online be sure someone else can access them.
  • Be sure someone you trust has access to a copy of your will, your safe or safety deposit box (which should be organized) if you have one, and your passwords for key accounts.

After the loss of a loved one:

  • Keep all the important paperwork for funeral arrangements in one file.
  • Also keep one folder with the death certificate and keep a list of who has been notified, such as the bank, investment advisor, life insurance agent and social security.
  • Get a system in place for acknowledging the sympathy cards. Create a pre-printed “thank you” card, perhaps with a photo of the loved one, for your acknowledgements.
  • Get help from family, an organized friend or your professional organizer to keep the papers in order.

Several checklist are available online, such as these, to help with the important logistics and financial next steps: