What can this beneficiary do to get a death certificate?

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Q. My friend took care of his employer during a terminal illness. The employer designated him a financial beneficiary on one the employer’s personal, financial accounts. Upon passing, the financial institution will not release the funds without a death certificate. However, the employee cannot order a death certificate because he is not related to the employer. The employer’s family is unwilling to assist in obtaining the death certificate. Any solution?
— Trying to help

A. Your friend is facing a challenge.

But this is not an uncommon problem.

Let’s look at the options.

If this kind of an issue is anticipated in advance, the executor can be directed in the will to provide the death certificate to beneficiaries so they can collect their non-probate assets, which are assets that do not pass under the will, said Catherine Romania, an estate planning attorney with Witman Stadtmauer in Florham Park.

However, even without such explicit direction, it is the duty of the executor to ensure that the decedent’s estate is distributed in accordance with the testator’s intent, she said.

“For the executor to refuse to provide a copy of the death certificate may be considered interfering with testator’s intent that the beneficiary collects the specified account,” Romania said. “Thus, appealing to the executor’s duty to the testator would be one option which if unsuccessful could be followed by an action in court to force the production of the document.”

It may also be possible that the financial institution holding the account designated for the benefit of the employee also holds other accounts of the decedent, Romania said.

“If the financial institution receives an original death certificate of the decedent for the other accounts, it should be sufficient proof of death with respect to the account designated for the benefit of the employee,” she said. “This possibility should be explored with the financial institution.”

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This story was originally published in January 2024.

NJMoneyHelp.com presents certain general financial planning principles and advice, but should never be viewed as a substitute for obtaining advice from a personal professional advisor who understands your unique individual circumstances.