How to manage accounts of a loved one.
We are very sorry for your loss. If there is anything we can do to help, please let us know.
You are not alone. Many STCU members do not know how to protect a loved one’s accounts, to ensure that the estate receives any eligible income, to pay off outstanding loans, to avoid unnecessary taxes, and to manage accounts to best provide for beneficiaries.
On this page, we have prepared a quick list of tasks we recommend you complete as soon as you're ready. And in the subsequent section, below, we've listed the most common considerations for properly managing the estate.
Where do I start?
To avoid confusion, keep a notebook or journal handy to record every step you take. Each estate is unique, but based on years of experience, STCU recommends you consider some or all of the following actions, as needed:
Report the death to STCU.
Please call us as soon as possible in Washington at (509) 326-1954 or Idaho at (208) 619-4000 to report the death.Your STCU representative will review your options to take action on accounts held by the deceased. We also can check to see if there were any life insurance benefits available through an STCU credit card or loan.
We also recommend you report the death to any other financial institutions where the deceased may have kept funds, including checking and savings accounts, investments, annuities, and life insurance.
Manage the loans.
If you were a joint signer on an STCU loan held by the deceased, you may have the option to skip the next payment. (Note: interest on a loan will continue to acrue when a payment is skipped.) Ask your STCU representative about this option.
Likewise, if you were the joint owner on accounts used to pay bills for the deceased, you may have the option to delete or update those payments.
But if there are STCU accounts not assigned to you or anyone else as a joint owner, then a court order may be required to designate the “personal representative” to manage the estate. STCU cannot accept a will as legal authority to access any account for which you are not the joint owner. (A personal representative is different than the power of attorney. See "What's a personal representative? below.)
Get the death certificate.
Ask your funeral home to report the death to the Social Security Administration and to provide you with an official death certificate. If the funeral home does not offer this service, you can get official copies of the death certificate from your county public health office.
If the deceased was receiving Social Security benefits, the administration will typically take back the most recent beneficiary check, then recalculate for the partial month and distribute a final payment to the estate of the deceased. This will be visible on the deceased’s checking or savings account.
Do I need a lawyer?
If your loved did not assign you or anyone else as the joint owner of their remaining savings, investments, debts, vehicles, real estate, or other valuables, then consider hiring an attorney to open a probate case in court to verify the authenticity of the will and to assign a personal representative to manage the estate. (See "What's a personal representative?" below.)
By law, banks and government agencies cannot release money, property, or vehicles to anyone who is not a joint owner or a court-appointed personal representative. The personal representative also may need to hire a tax accountant to ensure that there is enough money set aside the following year to meet any tax obligations of the deceased's estate.
Don't delay; this process can take time. Many states require action on the estate within 60 days, and a probate case can take months to complete. The sooner you get started, the faster you can execute the terms of the deceased's will.
What other records are critical?
In addition to the official death certificate, you will need to have the deceased’s Social Security number and the final will.
If the estate is probated, the court will issue Letters of Testamentary that financial institutions and the Department of Motor Vehicles may need. Makes lots of copies of each. If the deceased had assigned joint account ownership to a spouse, who had died earlier, then some banks and agencies will want copies of that death certificate, too.
What else should I do?
- Report death to credit bureaus. Notify one or more of the major credit reporting agencies — Transunion (800-916-8800), Experian (888-397-3742), or Equifax (800-685-1111) — of the death. This can help to protect the deceased's estate from fraud or identity theft.
- Contact the Social Security Administration. If the deceased was your spouse, then you may be eligible for new benefits.
- Life insurance. File a claim on any life insurance policy held by the deceased. Ask the life insurer what documentation they need to complete the claim. Also check with lenders for any life insurance benefits available on credit card or loan accounts.
- Pensions. Contact the deceased’s employer about any 401(k), pension, or company benefits that the estate may be entitled to.
- Veterans. If the deceased was a veteran, you may be entitled to benefits. Check with the local office of the Veterans Administration.
- Vehicles. Contact your state’s department of motor vehicles to cancel deceased’s driver’s license and to transfer titles of all registered vehicles. If the deceased is the only one listed on the vehicle title, or the joint owner is also deceased, then you will need court-ordered Letters of Testamentary to transfer the title. (See “What's a personal representative?” below.)
- Update voting records. Notify the registrar of voters in your county to remove the deceased from the voting rolls.
- Consult with an estate planning advisor. The financial advisors at STCU Investment Services, provided by CUSO Financial Services are trained to review options for managing an estate or inheritance. Call (509) 755-7970 for a free consultation.
- Cancel recurring services. If the deceased’s home is unoccupied, cancel unnecessary home services such as newspaper delivery and cable service. Also, cancel any automatic medical prescription refills that were regularly sent to the deceased.
What's a personal representative?
A personal representative is not the same as “power of attorney.” Power of attorney only has authority when your loved one is alive.
The person assigned in the deceased’s will to serve as the “personal representative” is responsible for managing all accounts and possessions of the deceased and to execute their will. This includes paying off creditors, collecting all assets, and paying estate taxes.
A personal representative may be a close relative or a beneficiary, but not always. It could also be a trusted friend, attorney, or accountant that the deceased knew would be fair and objective.
If your loved one did not assign you or anyone else as the joint owner of their remaining bank accounts, investments, debts, vehicles, real estate, or other valuables, then you may need to hire an attorney to open a probate case in court. The court will verify the authenticity of the will and assign you, or whomever the deceased had requested in their will, to be the “personal representative.”
For many families, this action is critical. Banks and government agencies will NOT release unassigned money, property, or vehicles to next of kin or beneficiaries without a court order.
The court typically issues “Letters of Testamentary” to the personal representative who then can present these "letters" to the financial institutions and agencies to release the deceased’s funds into his or her care.
By law, the personal representative also must make every effort to determine if there are any creditors whom the deceased owed money. Those obligations must be met. In addition, the personal representative must set aside enough funds to pay federal incomes taxes on the estate the following year.
We understand this is a difficult time for you, and there are many things to consider. Please let us know if we can help.