Getting Your House in Order - Greek Orthodox Retired Clergy Association

Getting Your House in Order

Should I for any reason be unable to act for myself, here is a record of whom to see and where to look

In Times of Emergency

In times of emergency it is important to have your family, and those who act for you, in a position to take immediate action with regard to your financial affairs. Emergencies arising when you are away from home, sick or disabled, or in the event of death, can often cause trouble and loss if you have not provided information concerning your affairs.

When properly completed, this record will name those persons most familiar with your property, and the loca­tion of important papers. It does not, however, disclose any figures on what you are worth. Give the booklet to the member of your family that can handle your interest. Many insurance companies (home and auto) and utilities enable you to register a third party to be notified if your payments are delinquent or a problem with your account arises. This can be especially helpful if you don’t have family or friends close by.

From time to time your property, documents and ad­visers can change. It is, therefore, recommended that this record be revised and brought up to date at least once a year. For purposes of emphasis the date line is the first to appear on this record.


The family should promptly notify the agents of all insurance companies involved. They will provide the necessary claim forms. ALL policies (even those that have lapsed) should be examined, seeking any ex­tended coverage. All policies on the lives of the survivors should be examined to consider the neces­sity of making changes in beneficiaries.

Everyone should have a will. In many states, if a husband and wife do not leave a will, the survivor receives one-third of the estate and their children two-thirds. If the children are under age, probate permission may be required to spend their money for their immediate necessities.

If there is a will, the deceased is said to have died "Testate" .... the executor must file the will with the Probate or Surrogate Court within the time prescribed by statute and proceed with probate and distribution of the estate. The services of an attorney are advisable.

If there is no will, but there is property, the deceased is said to have died "Intestate" .... an administrator is appointed by the Probate or Sur­rogate Court, and the estate is distributed according to the State Statute of Descent.

In either case, the wills of ALL survivors should be examined to see if this loss affects them.

Bank Accounts

In most states, the survivor of joint bank accounts can usually withdraw from the account without legal procedure. In large estates there may be federal and state taxes requiring releases from government officials. Bank accounts in the sole name of the deceased will usually require probate action. For small accounts, some banks have forms which permit payment of the balance toward funeral expenses if no other assets require probate. An attorney or bank will answer any specific questions you may have.

Safety Deposit Box

A safety deposit box in your local bank should be something every family should have, so that all your important papers, documents, valuable jewelry, etc., can be safely stored. If you are married you may wish to have your safety deposit box held jointly in both you and your spouse's names. All you have to do is to stop in at your local bank and ask for infor­mation on their safety deposit boxes. The rental cost, if any, is very small.

Veterans' Benefits

Military personnel or anyone who has been honor­ably discharged from U.S. military service is entitled to veterans' benefits. The following veterans' benefits should be checked at the local Veterans' office:

  •  Death pension to the widow and minor children.
  •  Reimbursement of a part of the funeral ex­penses to funeral director or person who paid the bill.
    • A lump sum to National Cemetery of $250.00
    • A sum to a Private Cemetery of $400.00.

Real Estate

The services of an attorney are advisable in ALL real estate matters.

Real estate owned jointly by husband and wife is automatically transferred to the survivor but a certi­fied copy of the death certificate should be filed with county authorities in connection with the real estate deed.

Real estate owned solely by the deceased (tenant in common) or jointly with someone other than husband or wife must be probated whether or not there is a will. Federal estate tax and state gift taxes should be thoroughly checked by an attorney.

Estate or Inheritance Tax

If the assets left by the deceased exceeds certain minimums, the estate may be subject to Federal and/or State Inheritance Tax. Your attorney can give you the necessary information.

Stocks and Bonds

All bonds issued in the sole name of the deceased require probate. Those issued in the name of the deceased "or" the named survivor can usually be transferred to the named survivor upon receipt of a certified copy of the death certificate. There may be federal and/or state death taxes involved. An attorney or banker should be consulted.

Stocks in the deceased's sole name require probate action. Stocks owned jointly may be transferred to the surviving owner by presentation of a certified copy of the death certificate to each company in which stock is jointly owned. Federal and state tax problems are best answered by an attorney.

Income Tax

If the deceased was a taxpayer, the executor or the next of kin must file a final income tax report before the fifteenth day of the fourth month following the close of the taxpayer's normal tax year. The return for a decedent may also serve as a claim for refund of over-paid taxes. In this case, an additional form, "Statement of Claimant for Refund Due Deceased Taxpayer," may be obtained from the local Internal Revenue Office. This form, plus proof of death, and W-2 forms or other evidence of taxes paid, should be attached to final income tax report.

The surviving spouse may file a joint return for the year of death, and may be entitled to similar tax savings for the following two years.

If the deceased was a dependent, you are entitled to the full dependent's exemption for the entire year. A child who lived only moments after birth qualifies for the full year's dependency allowance. If the deceased was entitled to extra exemptions during life, because of age or blindness, these extra exemptions are still applicable after death.

The final tax report and possible claim of refund should be discussed with a qualified public accoun­tant, or with your local Internal Revenue Office.

Social Security

Social Security claims should be filed immediately at the nearest Social Security office, as benefits will not be honored unless filed within two years after death. They will explain benefits and help with claim papers at no charge. The following information will be required:

  • Certified copy of the death certificate or "Statement of Death" form CA-C721.
  • Deceased's past nine months' employment record.
  • Copy of marriage certificate.
  • Deceased's Social Security card or number.
  • Birth certificates of minor children (under 18 and for children under 22 who are still in school).
  • Receipted funeral bill.
  • Personal income tax returns if self-employed.
  • Proof of age, if over 60 (birth certificate).
  • Do not delay applying, because even if all papers are not available, the local office may suggest other proofs that will satisfy them.

The following benefits are usually payable on the death of a person covered by Social Security, and should be checked carefully in the event of recent changes in the laws:

  • Lump sum death payment to the surviving spouse or to those paying the funeral expenses. In some cases, arrangements can be made for payment of burial expenses direct to the funeral home.
  • Life pension to widow over 60.
  • Pension to widowed mother with dependent children.
  • Pension to minor children of deceased.

If there is no widow or children, pension may be payable to surviving dependent parent.

If a widow 60 or 61 years old is receiving disability payments based on her own earnings, it may be possible to secure benefits based on her husband's earnings.

Ask about hospital and medical insurance plans.

Automobile Title

If the deceased was sole owner of a car or trailer it is part of the estate. Transfer of title information can be obtained from an attorney, or the office where you usually obtain your state license plates. If the vehicle is registered in the name of the husband and wife, the surviving spouse need only bring the title to the motor vehicle office with a certified death certificate to change ownership to the surviving spouse.

Protecting “Valuable Papers”

A safety-deposit box is today's best security bar­gain and should be the foundation of a family's safekeeping plan. A simple rule to determine what goes into the box is: if replacement will cost money, time or trouble, keep the document in the box. This would include items such as marriage and divorce papers, naturaliza­tion papers, government-recorded documents, and auto titles.

An original WILL should be kept by the attorney who drew it up, a copy in the safety-deposit box, and a copy at home. STOCK CERTIFICATES may be left with a broker.

Documents to be kept at home are those that are easily replaceable such as: all insurance policies, cancelled checks, educational records, guarantees, appraisals, immunization records, tax returns and a list of all credit cards and numbers.

When Death Occurs

When a death occurs, the family is usually in the midst of an emotional crisis. The Funeral Director can act as a advisor on most of the immediate problems; he has the knowledge and experience to relieve a family of needless worry and care.


If you die and leave no will, in effect, the state in which you live makes your "will." Your property is distributed in accordance with fixed provisions of the state law. No matter how small or large your estate, not leaving a will may cause much trouble and inconvenience for your survivors.

A will gives you the advantage of specifying:

  • To whom your property should go.
  • When it should go.
  • In what amounts it should go.
  • How it should be safeguarded.
  • By whom it should be handled.

We advise you to consult with an attorney and be sure you have a properly drawn will. If you have a will, be sure that it is reviewed periodically.

Pre-Arrangement of a Funeral

What it is, is explained very simply. Now, while you're healthy and in an excellent emotional state of mind, is the time to consider YOUR "wants and desires" before the "need" to plan for a funeral arises. At your convenience you stop in (or call for an appointment) to request information on "pre­planning" the funeral of yourself or that of a loved one.

First, and utmost, remember there is absolutely NO obligation placed upon you at this time. You are coming in only to get details and to get an under­standing about your future need BEFORE the need arises.

All too often, the average individual lets this matter go until that "sad event" occurs. And, at that time the average person is not at their emotional best.

By planning AHEAD, you can decide:

  • Funeral Director of your choice.
  • What kind of service you desire.
  • What Bishop and priest you would like to have officiate; and other priests you wish to have participate.
  •  Other Priests you wish participate.
  • Where you wish to purchase cemetery plots (if you don't have any, yet)
  • Decide NOW on the approximate cost of the funeral you would like to have.
  • What style of casket you would desire (metal or wood, full opening cover).

In some cases make financial arrangements now (the money is held in escrow in the local bank or funeral industry national trust) so your family won't have to be financially strapped at that "unfortunate time".

Make arrangements to be brought back to your home County, should you be moving elsewhere in the country or if you should "pass away" while on vacation OUT OF TOWN.

Decide NOW on the approximate cost of the funeral you would like to have.

What style of casket you would desire (metal or wood).

In some cases make financial arrangements now (the money is held in escrow in the local bank) so your family won't have to be financially strapped at that "unfortunate time".

PRE-ARRANGEMENT may be the best gift you could possibly leave your family. Please give serious thought to it.

If you do not make a will your estate will be distributed among your heirs in accordance with the law, and the Court will appoint such administrators and guardians as may be necessary. This may cause your family trouble and expense which could be avoided by a properly drawn will. It is generally advisable to appoint a guardian (usually the wife or husband as the case may be) for your minor children in your will; otherwise the Court will appoint one when necessary.

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