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How to Manage Finances in a Time of Grief

  • Oppenheimer & Co. Inc.
  • July 15, 2019

The life-altering death of a parent is a difficult and overwhelming time – whether you are 15 or 55, or if it is expected or shocking. With challenging circumstances and time feeling like its standing still, you may find yourself in a position of having to make timely decisions that can be uncomfortable. A parent’s financial livelihood may seem like the least important decision to tackle during a time of grief. However, here are some important reminders to be conscious of and active on as you navigate this time of difficulty.

a couple managing finances

Important Reminders

Organization is key. The first step is to sort through any and all financial documents. Some items you want to look for are:

  • Last Will and Testament
  • Funeral instructions
  • Important contacts such as attorneys, accountants, and/or financial advisors
  • A list of accounts, including checking and savings, brokerage, and retirement
  • Birth and marriage certificates
  • U.S. Social Security card
  • Titles and deeds
  • Insurance policies

Each family’s situation will dictate who should be contacted first. Usually the first set of people to inform are immediate family members followed by close friends and extended family. But there are others who may be need to be informed for financial reasons. Here are some examples:

  • The family member’s employer. The human resources department will need to manage retirement and other paperwork.
  • The estate executor, who is the designated person responsible for overseeing a person’s belongings and wishes. He or she may be listed in the will.
  • An accountant or CPA who can assist in filing annual income taxes and/or an estate tax return
  • Financial advisors, institutions, or banks where they had money, or investments
  • Life insurance policy agents for help with filing a claim for a death benefit
  • Social Security Administration to let you know if you are entitled to a one-time death benefit of $255 or possibly survivor benefits

There are many business relationships that your family may continue with or terminate in these situations. It is important to notify these parties of your intentions to transfer the primary contact or avoid unnecessary payments. Some items to consider:

  • Stop all insurance policies unrelated at this point, such as long-term care policies or disability insurance
  • Cancel any credit cards, phone numbers, email addresses, or memberships (such as cell phone subscriptions or gym memberships)
  • If the deceased were eligible for rewards programs such as airline miles, contact the provider and inquire on transfer eligibility of those benefits
  • Home Life
    • If no one will be occupying the home, reach out to all utility companies to shut off their services
    • Notify the post office in order to prevent accumulating mail at the home
    • If there are pets that will need care, make sure to arrange that care until a surrogate is named

After handling your primary needs, you will need to return to the important documents that you organized in the beginning. Here are some final reminders of significant information you will want in order:

Last Will and Testament

  • This document indicates what the person’s wishes were for their assets. For example, there may be language included that states, “Upon my death, I leave all possessions to (insert name).”
  • Some assets that were owned by the deceased but not accounted for in a will may have to go through the probate process where a judge reviews the case and decides to whom the asset is granted.

Death Certificate

  • Many businesses will require a death certificate to transfer ownership into your name. It is advisable to have several original copies of the death certificate.


  • You may need to settle any debt that your parent owed, such as a car loan or a mortgage. The debt is not yours unless you were a co-signer or joint owner!

During a time of grief you may be uncertain of what to do at first. Don’t worry, that’s normal. It goes without saying, but the most important take-away is to find the person or people closest to you and lean on them for support in these areas at this crucial time.

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