During the First Three Months
Change Title or Ownership
After a death, you may need to transfer ownership or change the title on property, or modify documents.
If you owned a house with the deceased and there is a mortgage outstanding, you’re now responsible for that debt. It may well be your largest single personal obligation. If there is mortgage insurance on the loan (a type of credit life insurance), your house will continue to be paid for. All or part of the outstanding balance may be payable by the insurance. When you advise your creditors of the death, they should be able to tell you if credit life insurance is in force.
Check your own insurance policies to see if your beneficiary designations should be updated. Evaluate your coverage to determine if you may need less or more, depending in part on whether you have dependents. Consider whether you need to purchase your own or additional health insurance.
You will need to change the title of any cars owned by the deceased. Your state’s department of motor vehicles can tell you what needs to be done to change a title. You may also need to change the name on the policy of your automobile insurance.
In your own will, you may have left property to the deceased. If so, your will should be updated.
Cancel credit cards held exclusively in the name of the deceased. If there are outstanding balances, the bills should be paid by the estate. In some cases, credit card accounts are insured, and any balance at the death of the holder will be paid automatically upon notification of the death.
If you’re the spouse of the deceased, you may have credit cards in both your names. You should notify the credit card companies that your spouse has died and the card should list your name only. Continue making payments in the meantime to keep your own good credit rating. When applying for new cards, be sure to tell the lender about credit cards you shared with your spouse.
If you had a joint bank account (savings, checking, CD, etc.) with the deceased, it will usually pass to you automatically. Speak with a bank representative to see about changing the title and signature card on the account. You may need to show a death certificate to do this. In some states, joint accounts are frozen upon notification of a death. Check with the bank to learn how to have your funds released. Bank accounts that were solely in the name of the deceased will need to go through probate.
Stocks, Bonds and Other Investments
Ownership changes for these investments will depend upon how the original account was registered. If your investments were registered jointly with the deceased and the ownership passes directly to you, your stockbroker or investment company should be contacted to change the title on stocks, bonds, mutual funds, etc. Some joint registrations do not pass ownership directly to the joint holder. Again, check with your stockbroker or investment company on how the account registration is treated when one owner is deceased and for requirements on re-registering the account title. If the account was registered as Transfer on Death, the title can be changed to the appropriate beneficiary. If the deceased owned the investment account(s) in his or her name only, the account will go through the probate process. In all cases, the broker or financial institution will usually request copies of the death certificate.
Safe Deposit Box
You’ll need a court order to open any safe deposit box rented only in the name of the deceased. Until the will has been probated, only the will, life insurance policies or other documents relating to the death can be removed from the safe deposit box.
The funeral home or memorial service firm will usually prepare an obituary and submit it to local newspapers. You might want to think about others who should know about the death. Consider notifications to alumni groups, professional organizations, societies and any other groups to which the deceased person belonged.
Please keep in mind that TIAA-CREF and its affiliates do not provide tax or other advice. Please consult your own advisors.