The administrative aftermath after the passing of a close relative: what needs to get done after a loved one passes away

When my father passed away unexpectedly previous summer, I had no idea what needs to be done at such a moment.  Confused and numb, I started googling information and for that reason I assume other people are in research of the similar things.  So I figured I'd list my experiences. Hopefully this will be a useless post for all of you in the coming years.

Immediately after the passing

  • Doctor needs to confirm the death.

    Even when it is obvious, only a doctor can confirm someone's death.   In my father's case, he has passed away next to the ambulance that came to get him in the hands of the ambulance personnel and the care center personnel.  Well trained people, but nevertheless we had to wait for the doctor on duty (it was weekend) came to confirm his death.  They'll fill in some documents that will be given to the undertaker. 
  • Contact close relatives
  • Notify the employer if relevant (or the accountant if an independant)
  • Contact an undertaker firm

    They take care of a lot of the formalities.  We had to prepare immediately the person's ID  (which is taken away and destroyed right away!! we had no idea. So if you want to keep it as a memory, take a picture before you hand it over), driver's licence and marriage book.  These are used to report the death to the civil government for you. (You are allowed to do this yourself. It must be done in the town where the death occured and in the town where the funeral/cremation will take place).   Once this is done (in one of the days following), you'll receive the official death certificate which you will need for further formalities.

    You must also asap prepare the final clothings. If in a hospital or care center, the nursing staff might ask immediately what to put on but you can decide a little later if needed. Nevertheless it will be one of the first decisions to make.

    The firm will bring the person to their mortuarium where further visits can be arranged. 
Preparing of the funeral

2-3 hours after we lost my father we were already around the table with the undertaker to start arranging the funeral.

  • You must decide whether there will be a funeral in a church or not, whether there will be a burial or a cremation or such things.  The undertaker will check availability in the church or hall of choice etc.
  • You must decide the communication means : funeral letter, newspaper notification etc.

    What to put on it: which titles of the person do you mention, which relatives do get mentioned and how,  do you add a small text (which one...the undertaker probably brings big binders with texts to choose from), do you thank anyone on the letter, do you invite people to a funeral, do you wish for flowers or gifts to a good cause, ... Which template and lay-out for the announcement to use?

    Our experience was that our undertaker was having a very serene conversation with us on some of our wishes but also on my father, on our family etc   while he seemed to take notes now and then. I had no idea, must he have been taking notes in a template immediately because after a conversation of an hour, he all of a sudden claimed he had a draft of the funeral letter.  With a small mobile printer, we immediately had a draft on the table. It was very shocking to see such a physical proof of our loss on the table, yet it was also a relief that this happened so smoothly.
  • You must decide whether you wish a family (and friends) gathering with or without food
  • You need to start gathering addresses of who will receive the announcement letter and who will receive an invitation for the gathering afterwards.

    We spent most of day + 1 on gathering the addresses and writing envelops, while the letter was at the printer. In the evening we received the letters and could file them in the envelops to be sent.
  • We had chosen for a church funeral and also had a long meeting with the priest who knew our family but who came to talk about our wishes on the content of the service, on stories about my father, who might want to read something, which texts we wished to write ourselves (quite some!), etc.  We discussed music and musicians for the service.
    We could have given the entire service out of hands for him to decide but we opted to take a lot of the input ourselves and got a lot of freedom to do so.  It felt really comforting to work on that last goodbye together with our family but it took us most of day + 2 +3 and +4.
  • Find the clothes you and your family wish to wear yourselves during that last goodbye.
    Much to my surprise I found this harder than writing texts for the funeral.  I bravely ventured out into town to go and search for a nice black dress but all of a sudden this task seemed so overwhelming and triggered a small break-down. 
Administration afterwards

  • Declaration of death by the civil government (see above...usually executed by your undertaker).
  • Notify all (!) financial institutions with the official death certificate about the death.  Check also all existing insurances etc. If you have no idea where there might be financial accounts, you can submit a request at Febelfin.

    Upon notification, banks will freeze all accounts that belonged to the person that passed away (also the joint accounts with other persons).   Then they'll make a state of the accounts on the date of death that will be needed for the declaration of inheritance.

    Some banks will block the account and reopen a new account for the longest living partner with 5000€ to live from, others don't touch the access for the longest living partner but monitor all movements because you are only entitled to withdraw 5000€ (per bank).  However invoices such as energy bills, funeral bills, etc  can be handed to the bank and they'll pay from the frozen funds.  So the 5000 € should be for groceries and daily living. Be careful: invoices for "personal" expenses of the longest living partner might be refused by the bank (eg hearing aid partner, some subscriptions of media, ...). It all depends bank by bank how strict they apply the rules.

    So there is no true need to rush to the ATM as one of my colleagues did after her dad passed away unexpectedly ...those withdrawals will be counted on the overview anyway and be part of your 5000 euro anyhow. Nevertheless it is a period for financial prudence.

    The funds will be unlocked once you can present the certificate of inheritance to your bank (in physical presence of all heirs!).  At that moment they don't unlock the existing accounts, but will reopen new accounts on the name of the heirs and transfer the money to that. That entire process takes some hours of admin so be sure to book time off to get this done.
    Reopening new accounts means that all existing direct debit (domiciliĆ«ring) will bounce and will need to be paid manually (in the transition period by handing the bill to the bank) and new direct debits will need to be set-up for everything once the new accounts are ready.  Also the bank cards will be destroyed and renewed.  If I hear around a bit, this entire process of settling all of this is often 3-5 months after the death.  So be wise with the 5000 euro! I hear it's not uncommon that children (have to) advance some big bills.
  • Get a certificate of inheritance (defining who are the heirs/ attest van erfopvolging) and complete the declaration of estate (aangifte nalatenschap).

    Here was the big revelation to us which I had not found by googling. You do not have a single obligation to contact and use a notary!!  If there is no will involved or marriage contract, you do not need a notary.

    First of all you need to decide who is the heir of the deceased person. This choice has financial impacts obviously but also a tax impact in the short run. The longest living partner has a series of exemptions, there are thresholds to take into account etc.  Quite a maze if you've never been confronted by it all. So hence why we almost all contact a notary who helps you in this maze and provides all certificates and declarations...for a nice big fee which depending on the heritage can rise up to 3000 - 4000 euro so I heard from colleagues and friends.
    But there are financial consultants that found this gap in the market and provide exactly the same expertise at a much lower fee and a much more comprehensible interaction.  Based on a favorable recommendation of an acquaintance , we contacted such a consultant and we are so relieved by this choice.

    He advised us well on the choice options we had based on my parents marriage contract , simulated the choices and all tax impacts now and in the long run etc... He even found mistakes in the land registry of my parents possessions that he had smoothly rectified before we had to make our declarations.

    With his help we made the choice of heirs, which we did have to formalize via a certificate at the notary because of my parents marriage contract.   If not, you can apply for the certificate at the FOD finance registry offices.  This certificate will allow you to recontact all the financial institutions and unlock the frozen assets (see above) and divide the assets accordingly. Funny enough, the latter is not checked by anyone. Apparently some families shy away of executing an actual division of funds which will result in double taxation and discussions at the next death.

    After the certificate of inheritance / akte van erfopvolging is done, you must finalize the declaration of estate (aangifte erfopvolging) to the tax authorities with a deadline of 4 months after the day of death.  All assets (financial goods, real estate, cars, household effects) must get valued and listed.  All of this must get composed to a big tax declaration which - I repeat - can be executed by yourself if you feel competent to do so, by a consultant or by the notary. For the government it only matters to receive an accurate and complete declaration within 4 months.

    Be aware: if you sell real estate within 5 years of the declaration and its value turns out to be quite different than what listed on the declaration (read: more), you must declare the difference!
    And secondly, the longest living partners is also obliged to list all personal insurance policies as well and if those end within 3 years of the will need to declare them again at the risk of getting a fine (and a prolongation of an insurance contract is often a new contract number so a  new insurance for the government).  These things were not told to us by the notary!
  • Close or renew all existing contracts of energy, telecommunication, media, ... to the name of the longest living partner or not ( and re-establish direct debit for the invoices if you wish).
  • Notify the registry of the car. You'll need to send in the old matriculation plate (and receive a new one if relevant if the car remains active).  The car insurance will need to be renewed in the name of the longest living partner.
  • Notify the health service (mutualiteit).
  • Notify the unions. Some refund some of the funeral costs.
I'm sure I miss a few things in the case of no surviving partner because this is my list based on my experience.  My experience is (also based on what my friends and colleagues tell me) that the entire aftermath easily takes up 3-6 months.  It's quite some administration. 


Anne said…
Bedankt voor de moeite om dit allemaal neer te pennen. Ik hoop dat het nog even mag duren voor ik dit nodig ga hebben.

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