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Procedures for Survivors

Procedures for Survivors

Following a death and after appropriate time for grieving, there are various business affairs that must be handled and benefits to which you may be entitled. The Marsalese Law Group assists with the probate of wills as well as the administration of all types of trusts, foundations, conservatorships and guardianships. We counsel Personal Representatives, Trustees, Guardians and Conservators and other fiduciaries when questions, disputes or issues arise, and evaluate potential risk management issues. We are always available for further discussions or explanations so please do not hesitate to contact us.



The original death certificate is filed in the City or County where the death occurred. Certified copies of that certificate, necessary for legal transactions, are obtained from the City or County’s Vital Records Department. All jurisdictions charge for these copies.



The Insurance Company must be notified of the death (usually by phone), and they will normally mail the necessary claim forms. The Marsalese Law Group can assist in any way, including obtaining the claim form, as well as processing and mailing the completed application. Generally, a claim form signed by the beneficiary and a death certificate must be returned to the company. Payment would normally be within three to four weeks of sending these items. Check all accident and auto insurance - benefits or unused premium refunds may be available. We suggest that you reexamine your own life insurance beneficiaries and general needs.



Joint accounts normally transfer automatically, however, bank accounts in the Decedent’s name only must go through Probate. In most cases, accounts are readily accessible and safety deposit boxes with joint signatures are not sealed.



Contact the deceased's employer regarding life insurance benefits, medical insurance, survivors' benefits, 401-k benefits, pension monies and any other benefits.



You should notify the Social Security Administration immediately upon death in the case of a surviving spouse residing in Michigan where both were receiving pensions. All other situations require an application at the nearest Social Security office, and we advise calling the above number for an appointment. Necessary documents may include a death certificate, marriage license, dependents' birth certificates, and proof of citizenship. Please be advised that usually benefits are only available when there is a surviving spouse or dependent children.


A deceased person is not entitled to receive the monthly benefit unless he or she lived the entire previous month because the check received is for that previous month (the cut-off is midnight of the last day and benefits are not pro-rated). If a benefit is received for which there is no eligibility, it must be returned -- we advise that you have the bank return it if the direct deposit program is used, or return an actual check directly to the Social Security office of your choice and obtain a receipt. Be sure that the proper benefit amounts are eventually received, and be aware that extra care must be exercised if the death occurred on the first 3 days of the month.



Auto titles can usually be transferred to a survivor by completing a form at any Secretary of State Branch Office. A death certificate is required to ensure transfer, along with the car title.




Contact the health insurance carrier for instructions and to be sure all dependent coverage is kept in force. Some companies offer continuing health insurance benefits - contact the deceased's employer for details and requirements.



Any asset registered in the deceased's name alone must be processed through Probate Court, usually a house, bank accounts, stocks etc. There is a small estates option for estates valued up to $25,000. Larger estates require the full probate procedure and should be handled by an attorney. The Marsalese Law Group can assist you through this probate process. We suggest that you reexamine your Estate Planning document (Will, Trust, Living Will, Durable Power of Attorney).



Your broker should assist you with the transfer details.  Unless the asset is held in the name of the brokerage firm, a certified death certificate is required for each company.



Income taxes may be due, and there may be an estate tax. Contact your tax advisor.



Sadly, unscrupulous individuals occasionally attempt to burglarize or swindle families of those recently deceased, including taking out credit cards, loans, etc. To be better protected, prudent precautions are necessary.


Some Personal Information You Believe to be Secure is Actually Public


  • The death certificate is a public record that requires the deceased's address, Social Security number and mother's maiden name, as well as the informant's address. Every family is vulnerable.


  • A death notice or obituary placed in a newspaper or on-line typically includes service times and names of family members. While informing friends and relatives of service details, it also announces when family members will be away from their homes. With little effort (such as a quick Google search), names and addresses can be attained.


Protect the Homes of the Deceased as Well as Personal Valuables


  • Secure the house when you are away for the visitation, funeral or other extended time. Lock all windows and doors. If you have an alarm, use it.


  • Ask a neighbor (or the police) to keep an eye on the family home(s) for unusual activity. Or ask someone trusted to stay there while you are away.


  • Family heirlooms and other valuables should be secured, preferably in a remote location.


  • If no one is living at the home of the deceased, arrange for someone to stay there for awhile. You may receive an unsolicited phone call or email.


  • If a legitimate company is calling, they should already have the identifying information they need. Never provide Social Security Numbers, birth dates, driver's license numbers, or any account numbers of the deceased or any survivor, no matter how convincing the request.


  • Before providing anything by phone, ask for a company name and phone number, hang-up, and then verify the number through the phone book, on-line or your own records. If the information is accurate, you can safely return the call and proceed with caution.


  • Never send any requested information by email or leave as a voicemail.


  • If you receive unexpected charges, notify the credit card company and/or the police immediately.



Check annuities, fraternal organizations, nursing home accounts and other places where funds may be available. Collect any debts owed to the deceased. Jointly-held assets (including real property, stocks and bonds, automobile titles, etc.) should be examined for name transfer.

For information on how the Marsalese Law Group can provide professional, effective, and efficient legal advice, contact us anytime at 586-915-2184 or

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