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Losing a Loved One



Call us at 888-213-4695 or visit your local branch.

Trying to make legal and financial decisions after losing a loved one can be difficult. We’ll walk you through what to do and when. Use our Losing a Loved One Checklist, too.

  • Order 10 or more certified copies of the death certificate from the county registrar, health department, or funeral director. Send a copy to insurance and other service providers as requested.
  • Collect and organize important legal and financial documents using our checklist.
Within the first three months:

  • Notify banks, credit card companies, insurance companies, pension fund administrators, and other institutions where your spouse held accounts.
  • Secure any credit cards that could be subject to fraud.
  • If you’re not the executor of your spouse’s will, meet with him or her to discuss the legal and tax issues related to settling the estate.
  • Locate important documents, including the will, any trust documents, financial statements, insurance policies, and personal property documents.
  • Claim joint assets. Generally, these can be passed on to you without approval from a probate court.
    • In some states, joint bank accounts are automatically frozen upon the death of a spouse. Ask your bank to release joint bank account funds to you.
    • Rules for changing property titles of joint assets can vary by county. Typically, you can have them changed into your name by contacting your local county assessor and your state’s Department of Motor Vehicles.

Within the first year:

  • If you inherited assets, we recommend consulting with a tax expert before making any financial decisions. Learn more about inherited IRAs and your options.
  • If you've inherited Schwab account assets, call 888-297-0244 for guidance.
Within the first nine months:
  1. If you’re not the surviving spouse, meet with him or her to review the deceased’s important documents. Use our checklist.
  2. Decide whether probate (the legal process of settling someone’s estate) is needed. Probate can significantly affect costs and timing.
    • A small estate (typically between $25,000 and $75,000) may be exempt from probate and can often be settled in a few weeks.
    • We recommend consulting an estate planning specialist or attorney if probate is needed.
  3. Apply for a tax ID.
    • Probate estates and trusts are considered separate legal entities. To ensure that estates and trusts are properly accounted for, you’ll need to apply for an Employer Identification Number (EIN) from the IRS.
    • The EIN must be included on all tax returns and tax documents.
  4. Consider opening an estate account, which is a bank account for handling all estate transactions, including paying bills and receiving income.
  5. Initiate probate proceedings.
    • If probate is required, file a petition with the court to admit the will into probate.
    • All wills must go through the probate process unless the estate is small and probate is waived.
    • Keep a detailed record of important dates, income, and expenses for the estate to provide to the probate court. You also need to:
      • Take an accurate inventory of the estate’s assets and obligations.
      • Notify any beneficiaries.
      • Notify any creditors, such as credit card companies, of their right to make a claim against the estate. Check your state’s notification requirements and deadlines.
      • Collect outstanding income, such as salary, insurance, and employee benefits.
  6. Submit estate tax returns.
    • Estate tax returns are due nine months after the death, although you can request an extension.
    • You must prove that all potential creditors have been notified of the death and all bills have been paid.
    • You may be asked to provide a thorough accounting of any income earned or disbursements made by the estate after the death.
After probate:
  1. Change titling of assets.
    • Depending on how assets are titled, the probate judge may need to issue an order allowing you, as executor, to change the titles to reflect new ownership.
  2. Distribute assets to heirs.
    • Per provisions of the will, your final duty as executor is to distribute assets to heirs and verify that you have completed the distribution.
  • Due dates for bills: avoid late charges by paying the deceased’s bills on time.
  • File personal state and federal income tax returns for your loved one by April 15, or request an extension to October 15.
  • If required, file estate tax returns nine months after the death or request an extension.

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