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Cost and time-saving tips when the first parent dies

By Julie Anderson

When my dad passed away from pancreatic cancer we were understandably heart broken. But, we comforted ourselves knowing he had made out a will four and a half years earlier when my mom died of cancer. What we didn’t know was my dad should have taken some additional steps after my mom died.

We learned a number of lessons that can save you money and time:


When one spouse dies it is important to remove his or her name from the deed to the house. Otherwise, when both parents are gone and you’re going through probate, you will have  extra legal fees and a fee payable to the county recorder’s office.

Take the name of the deceased spouse off of all joint accounts. My dad did cancel my mom’s credit cards and he took her name off their joint checking and savings but she was still listed on many of his investment accounts. Each investment company required a certified death certificate to remove her name. This is not only an extra step in the probate process but a cost as well. Each certified death certificate costs approximately $14.  

Consider having the surviving parent put the name of one of the children on his/her checking or savings account so someone has immediate access to the funds when the second parent passes away. An alternative is to have what is called a Pay On Demand (POD) on record with the bank. This will allow at least one child immediate access to an account that can be used to pay funeral expenses and the household bills. The risk is making sure the child with the access is trustworthy and keeps good records of how the money is being spent.

Check your state’s Commerce Department for unclaimed property. We thought to look when our dad died but didn’t think our mom could have any money she didn’t know about. We were wrong. A friend of the family stumbled on her name and found she had some dividends from an insurance policy that dated back to her first job at a bank in the 1940’s. It’s $711. What the heck. Again, we needed a death certificate to retrieve it so it’s a good thing we still had some copies.

This last tip sounds a little weird, but here goes. If your mom passes away before your dad be realistic about what he will really cook. Chances are he will not bake or make the complicated meals your mom did. My dad was actually a great cook but he stuck to the basics: chicken or meat, potatoes and vegetables. I was hesitant to raid the cupboards after my mom died but now I wish I had. We are threw out boxes of expired products and tossed dozens of spices and baking goods. It all went to waste because I didn’t want my dad to think I was taking things away from him. He was a frugal guy. He’d be sad to see the garbage bags full of food my brothers and I could have used. I must say he did take up making my mom’s beef and barley soup. It may have been even better than hers. Maybe.

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