Your loved one passed away recently, and you have just received an overpayment refund, a dividend payment or some other type of check made out to her. How can you cash a check after someone has died? You cannot deposit the check into your own account or even into a joint account, unless the payee endorses the check over to you. Since this is clearly impossible, the only option is to open an estate account so you can deposit any residual checks and pay bills on behalf of the deceased that may pop up as time goes by.
To deposit a deceased person's check and other cash assets, you'll need to open a special bank account in the name of the estate.
Check for a POD Account
POD stands for payable on death. If your loved one has a POD account, it means she named a beneficiary to receive any money left in the account upon her death. In POD accounts, the money automatically passes to the beneficiary. With this type of account, the named beneficiary can try to deal with the bank informally. Bring the death certificate and paperwork that proves your relationship to the deceased, along with your own identification documents, and the bank might simply accept the check made out to the account holder for deposit into the POD account.
Get Appointed as Executor or Administrator
In all other situations, you'll need to get the probate court's permission to do anything with the check. Probate is the official process for dealing with someone's estate after he has died. In many cases, the deceased will have named an executor in his will – the person he wanted to manage his affairs. If you're the named executor, file an affidavit with the clerk's office in the county where your loved one lived to become officially appointed. If there's no will, you'll need to file a petition with the court asking to be appointed administrator. This process is different in each jurisdiction; some states require that all of the heirs consent to the appointment. You may not need the help of a lawyer, however, and getting an official appointment will enable you to cash checks payable to the deceased.
Get a Taxpayer ID Number From the IRS
Next, you'll need a taxpayer ID number for the deceased's estate because, upon death, the estate becomes a taxpayer in its own right. It's the executor/administrator's responsibility to report income for the estate, and that requires a federal tax ID number, also known – confusingly – as an Employer Identification Number. You can apply for an EIN online at the Internal Revenue Service website or download Form SS-4 and the related instruction leaflet to help you fill out the form. The IRS will assign a number within four to five weeks.
Open an Estate Account
With probate paperwork and an EIN in hand, you can now open a special estate account to manage the deceased's affairs. An estate account is titled like this: "Estate of Kathryn W. Peters, Deceased, Thomas K. Peters, executor." Choose a checking account so you can deposit estate income into it and write checks to pay your loved one's final bills and expenses. It may be simpler to open an account at the deceased's bank since they already have her paperwork on file, but you're free to open an estate account with any bank you choose. Show the death certificate, your probate paperwork and your EIN, then fill out the required forms to open the account and deposit the check. The check now becomes part of the deceased's estate. You can use it to pay bills and expenses; any money left over gets distributed to the heirs.
What if the Deceased Wrote You a Check?
If the deceased wrote you a check before she died, you don't have to worry about probate. The check became legal as soon as the deceased wrote it, so you can take it to your bank and deposit it in the usual way. As long as the deceased's account is still open with money in it, the bank should honor the check. It's best to act quickly, however. In some states, such as California, the bank typically will honor checks for up to 10 days after death. After that, the account may be frozen while the executor sorts out the deceased's bills. At this point, you likely will have to file a claim against the estate for the check amount and get in line with the other debtors. If there's enough money in the probate estate, the executor should pay out your check.