What papers will I need if a family member dies?

Here is a list that you can use:

  • Certified copies of the death certificate (at least 10). You can purchase them through the funeral director or directly from the County Health Department.
  • Copies of all insurance policies, which may be located in the deceased’s safe deposit box or among his or her personal belongings.
  • Social Security numbers of the deceased, the spouse, and any dependent children.
  • Military discharge papers, if the deceased was a veteran. If you cannot find a copy, write to The Department of Defense, National Personnel Record Center, 1 Archives Drive, St. Louis, MO 63138.
  • Marriage Certificate, if the spouse of the deceased will be applying for benefits. Copies of marriage certificates are available at the Office of the County Clerk where the marriage license was issued.
  • Birth Certificates of dependent children. Copies are available at either the State or the County Public Health offices where the child was born.
  • The Will, which may be with the deceased’s lawyer.
  • A complete list of all property including real estate, stocks, bonds, savings accounts and personal property of the deceased.


What Social Security benefits are surviving family members entitled to?

  • The deceased is considered covered by Social Security if he or she paid into Social Security for at least 40 quarters. Check with your local Social Security office or call 800-772-1213 to determine if the deceased was eligible. If the deceased was eligible, there are two types of possible benefits.
  • One-Time Death Benefit
  • Social Security pays a death benefit toward burial expenses. Complete the necessary form at your local Social Security office, or ask the funeral director to complete the application and apply the payment directly to the funeral bill. This payment is made only to eligible spouses or to a child entitled to survivors benefits.
  • Survivors Benefits for a Spouse or Children.
  • If the spouse is age 60 or older, he or she will be eligible for benefits. The amount of the benefit received before age 65 will be less than the benefit due at age 65 or over. Disabled widows age 50 or older are eligible for benefits. The spouse of the deceased who is under the age of 60 but who cares for dependent children under the age of 16 or cares for disabled children may be eligible for benefits. The children of the deceased who are under the age 18 or are disabled may also be entitled to benefits.


What taxes are due upon the death of a family member? 

Here is a summary of the various taxes that may have to be paid on the death of a family member:

  • Federal Estate Tax. Amounts passing to a surviving spouse, and amounts passing to charity, are generally exempt from estate tax. Estate tax is generally only due on estates which, after reduction for what goes to spouse and charity, exceed the unified credit exemption equivalent. The lifetime gift and estate tax exemption for 2022 is $12.06 million for individuals and $24.12 million for married couples filing jointly. For 2023, it is $12.92 million and $25.84 million, respectively. Contact the IRS for a Form 706 if you need to file an estate tax return. A federal estate tax return must be filed and taxes paid within nine months of the date of death absent extension.
  • State Death Taxes. State laws vary. Many states impose estate taxes, which may apply in addition to federal estate taxes, or may apply even when federal estate taxes don’t. Some states impose inheritance taxes, which are on individuals who receive inheritances, rather than on the estate.
  • Income Taxes. The federal and state income taxes of the deceased are due for the year of death. The taxes are due on the normal filing date of the following year unless an extension is requested. The spouse of the deceased may file a joint federal income tax return for the year of death. A spouse with a dependent child may file jointly for two additional years. The IRS’s Publication 559, “Survivors, Executors, and Administrators” will be helpful.

It’s important to consult with a tax professional or an estate planning attorney to understand your obligations with respect to the Federal Estate Tax and to ensure that your estate is properly administered.


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