What to Do First

Gather important papers

To apply for benefits, the first thing you’ll need to do is gather paperwork. This can be a painful task, so it may be helpful to ask someone you trust to help you go through the deceased’s papers.

Some documents will be around the house — check file cabinets, desks, kitchen drawers, or even the garage. If the deceased had a safe deposit box, you’ll need to get a court order to have the contents released.

Try to keep everything organized in folders and hold on to things you think you don’t need, you may need them later.

What documents will I need?

Gather important papers1. Copies of the Death Certificate

You’ll need to provide a copy of the death certificate when you make a claim for benefits. Some companies require a certified copy — you can get these through the funeral director or from the county health department (there is a charge for each certified copy). Try to estimate how many copies you’ll need — if you’re not sure, start by ordering 10 to 12 copies. You can always order more if you need them.

2. Copies of all Insurance Policies

If you can’t find them or you’re not sure you have the most recent, call your agent or contact the insurance company directly.

3. Copies of Your Marriage License

If you are the husband or wife of the deceased, you’ll need a copy of your marriage certificate to apply for certain benefits. You can usually get copies from the county clerk where your marriage license was issued.

4. Copies of Children’s Birth Certificates

If the deceased had any dependent children, you’ll need their birth certificates to claim certain Social Security benefits. Copies can be ordered from the public health office of the state or county where the child was born.

5. The Original Will

You’ll need the original will — the one signed by the deceased and witnesses. The deceased’s lawyer may have the will, or it may be in a safe deposit box or with other personal papers.

Copies of wills aren’t usually accepted.

6. A Copy of Veterans’ Discharge Papers

You’ll need a copy of a certificate of honorable discharge to claim any veterans’ benefits. The certificate should show the branch of service, dates of service and rank. If you can’t find a copy of the discharge, you can obtain one by completing Standard Form 180 (SF180).

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