By Alexis Levitt, Esq

There are so many tasks to handle when someone dies: closing bank accounts, sorting personal belongings, selling a home… just to name a few. While it helps to know that your funeral director will notify Social Security and Medicare about the death (one less thing to worry about), what else needs to be done now?

First and foremost, take a deep breath. Then:

Secure any real estate.
Lock all doors, make sure all motion sensors and timed lights are working; keep up with yardwork and ice and snow removal; contact homeowner’s insurance about changing to a “vacancy” policy; secure valuables and personal possessions; remove any guns from the home (the police station will typically hold them for you).

Contact the supplemental health insurance company to report the death.

Contact the prescription plan (Part D) company to report the death.

Contact Social Security to increase the surviving spouse’s benefit, if applicable.
You should know that Social Security will withdraw their most recent payment from the decedent’s bank account.

Contact any pension to stop payments (or convert to surviving spousal benefit, if applicable).

Gather statements on all assets.
To discover the decedent’s assets, search their desk, drawers, filing cabinets, and other locations where you believe important documents may have been stored. Be sure to closely monitor the decedent’s mail.

Other factors to consider.

If the estate is valued at over $25,000, you should probably contact a lawyer to help you probate the estate. There is no rush, it’s okay to schedule this appointment a month or two out.

If this is the death of the first spouse and there is a surviving spouse, and if the combined assets of both spouses (his/hers/joint) exceed $1 million, DO NOT start retitling assets into the surviving spouse’s name. Wait for your lawyer’s instructions on how to handle accounts.

Once you start working with a probate attorney, she will explain what happens next, such as tax deadlines and how to handle expenses. She can guide you through the entire process. However, if you follow the above list, you’ll get through those first days and weeks.

About the Author.
Alexis Levitt practices elder law, special needs planning, estate planning, and veteran’s benefits. She sits on the board of the Massachusetts chapter of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys and represents it on the Massachusetts Coalition for Serious Illness Care. Alexis also sits on the board of the Norwell Council on Aging. Her office is in Norwell. You can reach Alexis at (781) 740-7269 or visit her website and blog for more information at