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The Justice Center News blog features our advocacy on issues affecting low-income New Yorkers today and the latest CBJC happenings.  For press releases, click here. For publications, click here.

What You Should Do if a Family Member is Dying

by PELP Staff March 23, 2020

The anxiety stemming from the impending death of a family member after a struggle with a long-term illness or as a result of an unexpected illness such as COVID-19 makes focusing on routine financial matters that much harder and challenging. It is, however, just such circumstance that should motivate action in order to streamline and simplify what is required after death. Below is a checklist to guide the organization of personal financial and related personal matters. It is also imperative for advance directives and health care proxies to be in place. The initiation of these actions requires the cooperation of the family member. Obtaining such cooperation in and of itself may be challenging and delicate in nature.

  1. The patient should authorize a trusted person or persons to act in their behalf. It is critical that the patient is comfortable with their decision and does not feel manipulated or pressured into designating someone in particular. Once designated, the person(s) need to obtain the necessary documents, keys, passwords to online accounts, and other applicable information to take over the patient’s financial matters. This may also require the patient to sign a power of attorney which authorizes the person(s) to act in the patient’s behalf.
  2. The patient’s wallet, driver’s license, social security card, credit and debit cards, ATM cards, home and other keys, jewelry and valuable personal property should be safeguarded in a secure location. Keys should be tagged to identify what they access.
  3. The patient’s mail should be routinely reviewed so bills can be timely paid and a list of assets can be created.
  4. The patient’s will, health care proxy, power of attorney, and direction regarding organ donation or funeral arrangements should be located. If the patient has any of these documents, ascertain where the documents are and safeguard them. If the patient does not have them, consider whether it is necessary or beneficial to have one or more of them in place. Even though direct physical access between individuals is currently limited, arrangements can be made for documents to be signed.
  5. Determine whether the patient has a pension, individual retirement account, or life insurance policy and whether a beneficiary designation reflecting the patient’s current wishes has been accepted by the institution for the pension, account, or policy.
  6. Encourage the sharing of secrets (for example, does the patient have a child that the family did not know about).
  7. Encourage the statement of facts (for example, is the patient legally divorced).
  8. If you are low-income, contact the Planning and Estates Law Project – PELP – at the City Bar Justice Center for help to discuss planning options and, as necessary, the preparation of documents.
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