Things to Do After the Death of a Parent

My father expired on 28 November 2016. He was a government servant and retired as a Joint Commissioner, Income Tax. As I come to terms with his loss, I feel like sharing the knowledge that I acquired regarding the processes involved in the paperwork post his death. I have worked in the private sector all my life, and to learn aspects of the Government sector was enriching. 
 
1.To begin with, the hospital asks the family to write the exact name of the deceased, with the initials. Ensure you get this right, as this is what will go into the death certificate. Any deviation here will cause a lot of problems later.
 
2. Secondly, there is the death certificate from the municipal authorities. This is different from the one that the hospital gives. The latter is to be handed over at the burial ground, whose caretaker gives a printed slip in return. Preserve this. After the cremation, about 10 days later, visit the municipal website and enter the date of death. A list of those who expired on that day appears. Select the name from there and download as many prints you want -- at least 20! Every organisation in the chain needs this.
 
3. The most important step in the whole process is to get the legal heirship certificate from the local tehsildar. Find out which tehsildar office your parent’s residence falls under. Visit the office with the death certificate and ask the revenue inspector's assistant for a form that needs to be filled up. The spouse or children of the deceased can fill this up. You need to attach copies of all ID proofs of the remaining family members and copies of all financial instruments.
 
This is a tricky step where some incentivisation needs to be done! In my case, since I was a single woman, they were hesitant to ask for this; so I took a male member (my uncle) with me. If this process is getting delayed, meet the tehsildar. This puts the revenue inspector under some pressure to do it fast.
 
This typically takes three months, but with persistence can be expedited (I got it in a record 10 days!). There are touts to do this, but you can do it yourself.
 
4. The next thing to do is to list out the possible various interfaces that one is going to need, namely:
- Banks
- Pension office
- Central Government Health Scheme (CGHS)
- Property
- Vehicle insurance (if the deceased had any)
 
Talk to each of these organisations and understand the process required to convert ownership of the deceased person's belongings to the spouse's. Draw a flowchart so you are visually clear on what is required. 
 
Now the actual stuff starts, beginning with the banks. Hopefully, your father has a joint account with your mother or has at least put her as a nominee. If it is a joint account, one just needs to remove the deceased person's name in the account and continue with it. If it is the latter, the bank will give a nominee claim form that needs to be filled. It is the same process for fixed deposits (FDs), and mutual funds (MFs).
 
There is a tax implication. The legal heir has to file the income tax returns for the deceased and pay tax if required. So, if the investments or savings amount is taxable, do the calculations and check if 15H is to be given in those banks where the wife/husband is now becoming an account holder or holding investments.
 
Get to know the deceased’s auditor in advance. This simplifies a lot of things, including accessing his latest income tax (I-T) return, which in turn gives a lot of status update.
 
The bank locker key access is another aspect. Get to know where it is kept and its number. Also, which account is it linked to.
 
The change of the ATM card is to be done. If the deceased has not shared his/her PIN number, a fresh ATM card has to be applied for by the heir after the bank account name transfer has happened.
 
Getting online access to the bank account is another process.
 
For a government servant, the key issue is pension. The process of pension name transfer is decentralised to the respective banks. Hence, this is the place to follow this up with.
 
Typically, the pension is credited in a public sector bank and is not a joint account between the couple. But it is useful if the wife has a separate bank account in the same bank, as transferring becomes easier later. In my case, since my mother suffers from Parkinson’s Disease, getting her to sign on many papers itself was an ordeal. So, joint or either-or-survivor accounts help.
 
Go with the death certificate to the bank and they will give you a set of forms to be filled in by the spouse. Then you need to wait. This may take up to a month. Till this time, even if the son/daughter wants to get into an employee’s retirement system (ERS) arrangement with the bank on the existing account, it may not be possible as the pension office will want to check if the account holder is single before sending pension to that account.
 
6. Central Government Health Scheme (CGHS): This is a boon for government servants but the process involved can be a nightmare if the deceased has not filled in the nomination form for the spouse. There are two aspects to CGHS -- expense bills claim and cardholder name change.
 
For the expense bills claim after your parent’s demise, you need to get the bill forms filled by the claimant (spouse) with his/her CGHS Card ID number. But all bills need to carry the following:
- Legal heirship certificate
- NOC on stamp paper from the children (original with each bill)
 
Notarisation needed for the latter.
 
The bills have to be submitted within three months of the death of the deceased.
 
The card name change can happen only after the pension transfer takes place, so there is a linkage here. Contact the CGHS headquarters in your city and obtain the forms to be filled up.
 
7. Property: If the deceased  has left a property will, then there is clarity. Else the ownership should be registered with the help of legal heirship to either the spose or the children, as the case may be. This requires detailed paperwork and you should contact your lawyer to get the list of documents that need to be traced regarding the property, right from the sale deed, or encumbrance certificate (EC).
 
The physical registration ideally can be done in one step, as re-registration can be avoided that involve repeated fees.
 
Preferably, get to know your parent’s lawyer before his/her demise. This helps continuity of thought.
 
Insurance -- Life, vehicle, and medical:
Each company has a different protocol. But the death certificate and legal heirship are the starting points. Check if the insurance has been taken through an agent or from the company directly.  Many companies have online services, so you could check through that. If your parent had a separate folder for insurance, that could save time. For life and medical insurance, it is good to go to companies directly, for vehicle it is best to go through an agent who will help with the transfer of the vehicle to your name.
 
To sum up, I wish I had some awareness of the things I needed to be prepared for. In retrospect, I would ensure the following:
1. Bank accounts/FDs/MFs to be made jointly with the spouse, shared ATM numbers with spouse. Ideally, account or investment should be with one bank for the sake of simplicity of handling. Where is the bank locker key kept and what is its number?
2. Who are the deceased’s auditor/ lawyer?
3. Do I have any contact with the local tehsildar office?
4. Is there one diary that captures all investment details/ important phone numbers of the deceased? Do I have access to it?
5. Where are the original property documents kept?
6. Which bank does his/her pension get credited? Has the deceased put the spouse as a nominee? Does the spouse have an account in the same bank?
7. Does CGHS carry the nomination of the spouse?
7. Many forms need attestation or witnesses. Who can do that? Line up at least two of them.
8. Where are the deceased’s ID proofs, like PAN Card or Passport, kept? And the colour passport- size photos?
 
Finally, remember it takes enormous patience to wade through Indian bureaucracy. So, if you are a son or daughter living abroad and have dropped in around the time of your parent’s demise, you need to plan kick start the above processes.
 
Take adequate copies of ID proofs and photos of the spouse before your start the process.
 
In case the deceased was your father, it is most important to spend time with your mother, as her loss is the greatest. If you can manage it, shift away from the residence where your father passed away. This is not always possible, but even if you do it for a short term it helps.
 
(Rajeshwari Victor is Associate Professor at XLRI Jamshedpur. She studied Marketing at IIM Ahmedabad and also went to IIT Madras. Her email ID is [email protected])

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