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The links on this page will take you to locations and documents (both planning and survivor) you will find extremely useful in planning for the future with all of its unknowns and pitfalls.  The greatest pitfall is not being prepared in advance for the inevitable.  After your future planning is complete, keep it up to date.  If you do so then it quite simple to follow the path defined for survivors in the other documents on this page.


Planning & Benefits
for
The Surviving Spouse1

Healthcare1
Survivor Benefits1
VA1

OTHER

A Veteran Passes Away by Al Hemingway (see below article)

Office of survivor Assistance 

Survivors Checklist: First Steps for Moving On


A Veteran Passes Away2
The Veterans Corner
By Al Hemmingway
The Sun Newspapers2, March 2 and March 9, 2016
The spouse goes to the local service officer and starts asking questions. The service officer asks for this document, that document, paperwork, etc. And, unfortunately, they have no clue where things are. The above scenario, unfortunately, is not that uncommon. Recently, local service officers shared their checklists with me, to assist veterans when putting their affairs in order. It is not something we like to dwell on, but it is vital to the loved ones left behind.
THINGS TO DO
CORRECTION (March 9, 2016)
In last week’s column (March 2, 2016), I had made the statement, (a veteran should) obtain a Last Will and Testament in order to “keep their estate out of probate.” This is incorrect. Thanks to Javier A. Centonzio, an attorney in Largo, Fla., and a former Marine, and Punta Gorda resident, Cam Dobbins, a lawyer and a veteran, they gave me some great information I am passing along.
Dobbins wrote, “If any person, veterans included, wants to avoid probate there are several devices that can be used. The most common is joint ownership of property such as homes, autos, and bank accounts, by the terms of which ownership automatically becomes vested in the surviving owner on the death of a co-owner. Another method is the transfer of title to property into a trust which provides how the transferred property should be distributed on the death of the person who made the transfer also without the necessity of probate.
Estate planning can involve complex legal issues. As both an attorney and a veteran, I urge anyone planning the distribution of their estate to consult a lawyer specializing in estate planning.”
Javier Centonzio said, “… probate is required to prove that a Last Will and Testament is valid, and for the person’s estate to be distributed according to the terms they have set out in their will. If a person dies without a Last Will and Testament then their estate will also go through the probate process but under the Florida “intestate succession” laws. Intestate just means that a person died without a valid Last Will and Testament in place.
“I came across your article “Checklist for a Veteran’s Passing” and I wanted to commend you for writing the article,” he added. “I plan on sharing the article on my law firm’s Facebook page and incorporating some of the information from the article into a blog post for my website.”

 CONTINUING (March 2, 2016)
- A Living Will is very important as well. It can be filed with the Veterans Administration and the local hospital. This allows the loved one, or Power of Attorney, to do what is necessary when a decision must be made.
- A veteran should make certain their spouse is aware of any active VA claims or appeals. To ensure them access, fill out VA form 10-5345, at the local VA clinic. Keep the POA updated annually. Remember, all claims expire with the veteran, unless the spouse asks the VA to continue the claim on their behalf. The veteran should explain to their spouse that the VA will take the entire check from your account during the month the veteran has passed and re-deposit a pro-rated check for that month.
- Create a file that has copies of all of your important documents, claim file numbers and Social Security numbers. ( i.e. DD-214/Separation Document, latest rating decision, all marriage licenses and divorce decrees for all marriages, Social Security information, insurance policies, current pending claims, all financial information and all treating physicians). During this time of stress, the spouse can take the file to the VA/VSO for assistance. The more complete the information you provide in this file, the easier time the VSO will have helping the surviving spouse.
- Leave a list of passwords and login information which includes bank accounts, E-Benefits, My HealtheVet, etc.
- The veteran should introduce their spouse to his/her service officer. He/she could possibly qualify for benefits based on the veteran’s service and standing with the VA; (burial benefits, dependency indemnity compensation and death pension). Encourage the spouse to ask questions and get familiar with the terminology of the VA.
- If a veteran becomes housebound or must enter an assisted living facility, nursing home, or hospice, the VA may possibly help with these expenses. Spouses should visit their veteran service officer for information.
- If a veteran is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or dementia, the VA will deem an individual unfit to manage their own finances. The VA does not recognize the power of attorney and will appoint a fiduciary, or payee. It may be a family member to handle the veteran/spouse financial affairs. An audit will be performed at the discretion of the VA, to account for all federal monies paid to that veteran or spouse.
- If the veteran is a Department of Defense retiree, make absolutely certain that the beneficiary is updated. Make sure the spouse or beneficiary has the phone number to Defense Finance and Accounting Service as well.
- The veteran should explain all fees related to Tricare and how to remit them if the occasion should arise. Call the Defense Enrollment Eligibility Reporting System if a problem should occur.
- The surviving spouse should know how to renew their DoD ID card and have the necessary paperwork needed to accomplish it.
- In the event of a veteran’s passing, the spouse should visit their local property appraiser to ensure they are receiving the maximum benefits that the deceased veteran has earned and the spouse understands what benefits will be kept. Make certain they are aware that he/she needs to apply for widow exemption on Jan. 1, of the year following the death of the veteran.
- When a veteran passes, and they were 100 percent disabled, they may have been issued a disabled veteran plate. This must be returned and have the fee waived on that plate and pay the registration fee for a new, standard plate for the spouse.
- One of the items commonly overlooked is responsibility for transportation of the body to the funeral home. Some funeral homes charge exorbitant amounts for this service. According to DeSoto County Veterans Service Officer Lee Gallagher, it ranges from $550 to as high as $2,000.
- To be interned in a VA National Cemetery, the surviving spouse should bring the proper document DD-214/Separation Document and have it entered into your file at the funeral home. They will need the document to complete the paperwork for burial with military honors. If they so choose, the National Cemetery will allow the spouse to be with the veteran.
- The individual paying for the burial has up to two years to file a claim for burial benefits with the VA. Include a copy of the veteran’s death certificate and a copy of the receipt, with the claimants name on the receipt.
A SURVIVOR’S CHECKLIST
Immediately after death:
- Check for any written instructions for the body disposition and funeral plans
- Contact funeral home
- Contact immediate family and friends
- Gather information for obituary and contact newspapers
- If employed, contact deceased’s employer
- Secure residence and take security precautions
- Assign a house sitter
- Remove valuable items from deceased’s house
- Forward mail
- Cancel newspapers
- Notify Power of Attorney agent, if applicable
- Alert executor of will
- Notify attorney regarding the probate of the estate
- Arrange care of any dependents, if applicable
- Arrange for care of pets, if applicable
- Arrange for disposal of any perishables left in the home
- Alert the Post Office to forward mail
Locate important documents:
- Will
- Birth certificate
- Social Security card
- Marriage license
- Military discharge papers (DD-214)
- Deed to burial property
- Copy of funeral prearrangements
- Life insurance policies
Compile information funeral home will need to finalize the death certificate:
- First, middle and last name
- Maiden name (if applicable)
- Home address
- Social Security number
- Date of birth and date of death
- Age
- Marital status
- Spouse’s first and last name
- Highest level of education attained
- Occupation
- Place of birth (city and state)
- Father’s name, birth city and state
- Mother’s name, birth city and state
THINGS TO DO AFTER THE FUNERAL
- Obtain 10-15 death certificates
- Contact your local Social Security Office
- Call all pension or retirement services and insurance agents to inquire about death benefits
- Meet with accountant to discuss estate taxes
- File claims with life insurance companies
- Notify registrar of voters
- If deceased’s home is unoccupied, cancel newspaper, cable, etc.
- Cancel prescriptions
- Cancel driver license and transfer titles of all vehicles
- If a veteran, inquire about benefits 941-764-5579
- Obtain copies of outstanding bills
Locate and/or obtain other important paperwork necessary for settlement of the estate:
- Real estate deeds and titles
- Stock certificates
- Real estate titles
- Loan paperwork
- Bank and retirement account statements
- Last four years of tax returns
- Advise all creditors in writing that a death has occurred
- Change ownership of assets and lines of credit
For more information, contact your local veteran’s service officer.
Author’s note: I would like to thank DeSoto County Veteran Service Officer Lee Gallagher and Charlotte County Assistant County Service Officer Terry Keene, for their assistance with this column.
Al Hemingway is an honorably discharged U.S. Marine Corps Vietnam veteran. He is a Sun correspondent, and serves as secretary for the Vietnam Veterans of America, Gulf Coast Chapter 1037; sergeant at arms for the Charlotte County Veterans Council; a member of the Charlotte County Marine Corps League Detachment 756 and American Legion Post 110; a life member of VFW Post 201 in Waterbury, Conn.; and executive officer of Delta Company, Vietnam Brotherhood. Email your veterans questions and quandaries, tips and suggestions to him at the veteranscorner@gmail.com.
 
1. © Military Officers Association of America (MOAA) and the Charlotte Harbor Chapter MOAA (FL31)
2. Reprinted with the permission of The Sun Newspapers, published daily at Sun Coast Media Group Inc., 23170 Harborview Road, Charlotte Harbor, FL 33980-2100. Telephone – (941) (941) 206-1000, Fax: (941) 629-2085, Toll free: (877) 818-6204