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What to Do After a Loved One Dies - Detailed Version

Updated: Sep 18, 2020

A checklist for the practical steps you need to take in the early stages of loss

Losing a loved one is extremely difficult. Too often, the experience becomes overwhelming if you are responsible for your deceased family member’s personal and legal affairs. To better manage the process, here is a checklist to marshal the correct help.

What To Do Immediately

  • Get a legal pronouncement of death

If your loved one died in a hospital or nursing home, a doctor or member of staff can take care of this for you. If your family member died in hospice care, call your hospice nurse. If your relative died at home or another location, call 911. Your loved one will be transported to an emergency room where he or she will be declared dead and moved to a funeral home. An official declaration of death starts the process of getting the death certificate.

  • Notify family and friends

Share the news in-person or make individual phone calls to let people know their loved one has passed away. Send out a mass email or group text. Go through the deceased’s phone contacts and email to uncover all the individuals who need to know about the loss of life. Ask the people you inform to spread the word. Create a post about the death on social media.

  • Arrange organ donation

Your loved one’s driver’s license and/or advance directive will indicate if he or she is an organ donor. Notify the hospital staff immediately if your family member is an organ donor (or call a local hospital if your relative died at home). This is time-sensitive, so it is important to act quickly.

  • Learn about existing funeral and burial plans

If you never had the opportunity to speak with your loved one about his or her wishes for funeral or burial, search for a letter of instruction in the deceased’s papers and/or call a family meeting to begin planning the funerary services. Discuss the deceased’s wishes in terms of a funeral, what the family wants, and what you can afford.

  • Provide care for pets and dependents

If your loved one was responsible for the care of people or pets, quickly find a temporary caretaker until there is a long-term plan. For pets, ask a relative or friend who likes animals or board them at a kennel.

  • Secure the property

Make sure your loved one’s home and vehicles are locked up. Find someone to get the mail, throw out perishable food items, and water the plants. Secure any valuables. You may want to notify the landlord and/or the police if the property will be vacant for an extended period of time.

  • Notify the deceased’s employer

Inquire about any paychecks that may be owed, benefits, and life insurance.

What To Do Within A Few Days Of Death

  • Decide on funeral, burial, or cremation arrangements

First, find out if your loved one had a prepaid burial plan. If no plans are discovered, you may decide to work with a funeral director to explore your options. If the route you wish to take is an immediate burial, cremation, or donation to science, it is a good idea to hold a memorial service or celebration of life at a future date.

  • Forward mail

Place a forwarding order at the post office, you will need to show proof that you are the executor and authorized to handle the deceased’s mail. This will prevent mail from pilling up, you do not want to advertise that the property is empty. This is also a helpful step in identifying the subscriptions and accounts that need to be canceled and what bills need to be paid.

  • Choose a casket or urn

To protect yourself from over paying for caskets and urns, which often happens when purchased directly through your funeral home, do the research/shopping online. 

  • Perform a thorough check of the loved one’s home

Collect any remaining food items; consume, donate, or throw away. Remove any houseplants. Maintain landscaping or anything else that requires regular care.

  • Write an obituary

Compose an obituary for your loved one utilizing input from family and friends. Use a template as a reference to get started. Publish the obituary in your local newspaper or online for free.

What To Do For The Funeral, Memorial Service, Or Celebration Of Life

  • Determine if you need financial assistance

The cost of a funeral can be an enormous burden on families. With the average cost of funerary services being $9,000, you may want to consider financial assistance from Judy’s Way.

  • Find out about veterans’ benefits

You may be eligible for financial assistance for the funeral or burial if your loved one was a veteran.

  • Choose funeral participants

Reach out to family and friends to discuss their specific role in the funeral, memorial service, or celebration of life. You may want participants to deliver eulogies, give readings, sing, or be pallbearers.

  • Create a schedule for the memorial service

Decide on the time and place for any events. Jot down a list of proceedings for structured events.

  • Order custom materials and flowers

Flowers, programs, pictures, prayer cards, and other items need to be ordered in advance. Shop around to find a deal, or order directly through the funeral home.

  • Coordinate food and beverages

It is a good idea to have food and drinks available at the funeral reception or celebration of life. You can provide food yourself, organize a potluck, hire a caterer, or hold the event at a restaurant where attendees have the option of paying for themselves.

  • Get the word out

Call people to let them know. Share event details with family and friends through an online funeral announcement. It is also recommended to send paper funeral announcements via the mail.

What To Do Within A Few Weeks After Death

  • Secure multiple certified copies of the death certificate

You will need 10 copies of the death certificate. You need the death certificate to close accounts, file insurance claims, register your loved one’s death with government agencies, and more. The funeral home director will help you order copies or you can order them yourself from the local vital statistics office. 

  • Purchase a headstone

You can wait until after the funeral to order the headstone. Headstone orders take a long time to be fulfilled and are seldom ready in time for the burial. The cemetery will have a selection of headstones, however, you will likely save money and have more success shopping online.

  • Locate the will and find the executor

If you were able to talk with your loved one before he or she died, you may know where he or she kept their will. If you do not know the location of the will, begin your search for the document in a desk, safe, safety deposit box, or amongst other important papers. In most cases, the identity of the executor is revealed in the will. The executor manages the settling of the estate. It is imperative that the executor is involved in all ensuing steps. A probate judge will name an administrator instead of an executor in the absence of a will.

  • Reach out to a trusts and estates attorney

Hiring an attorney is not necessary to settle the estate, but the lawyer will help you navigate the complicated process and distribute assets. The executor is responsible for hiring the attorney. 

  • Get in contact with a CPA

You will have to file a tax return for both the individual and the estate.

  • Begin the probate process with the will

This is the legal way of executing the will and takes place at a city or county probate court office. This step ensures that all debts and liabilities are paid and that the remaining assets are properly allocated to the beneficiaries. You may want to consider employing a probate lawyer. 

  • Make a list of all assets

Take inventory of all assets and file that list in the court. Assets include, but are not limited to, personal property, house, car, bank and/or brokerage accounts, furniture, jewelry. It may be beneficial to hire an appraiser.

  • Find assets

While creating the inventory, marshal the assets. Investigate your loved one’s tax returns, bank and brokerage accounts, deeds, titles, mail, and email to corral all assets. Check all safety deposit boxes, filing cabinets, and safes.

  • Create a list of bills

Identify bills that are likely to be due, such as mortgage, car payments, taxes, and utilities. Share this list with the executor.

  • Pay important bills

Cooperate with the executor to create a strategy to make sure bills continue to get paid on time while the estate is settled.

  • Cancel unneeded services

These services include internet and cable, cellphone, streaming services, music apps, newspaper and magazine subscriptions, etc. 

  • Contact insurance providers and terminate policies

End coverage for the deceased on health, home, and car insurance policies. Inquire about any unused premiums.

  • Cancel your loved one’s driver’s license

You can do this online or call your local Department of Motor Vehicles. This step will reduce the chances of identity theft. Be prepared to produce a copy of the death certificate. To decrease the risk of voter fraud, alert the local election board.

  • Close the person’s credit card accounts

Contact customer service and provide a copy of the death certificate. Keep track of the accounts you close and notify the executor of any outstanding balances.

  • Discover employment benefits

Get ahold of your loved one’s former employer to request information about pension plans, union death benefits, and credit unions.

  • Delete or memorialize your love one’s social media accounts

If you choose to memorialize your loved one’s social media accounts it provides a space for family and friends to continue to post and share memories.

  • Close email accounts

To reduce the risk of identity theft, it is advisable to permanently shut down your loved one’s email accounts once you have collected all the crucial information on other accounts. The process varies by provider, but a copy of the death certificate and proof of relation to the deceased or verification that you are the executor is normally required.

Notify The Following That Your Loved One Has Died:

  • The Social Security office

It is probable that your funeral director reported your loved one’s death to the Social Security Administration, but if it is your responsibility, contact your local SSA office. It is possible that you or other family members are eligible for survivor benefits. Stop the deceased’s Social Security checks. The Social Security office will contact Medicaid if applicable. Go to the Social Security website for more information or call 1-800-772-1213.

  • Banks or mortgage companies

You will need to provide a copy of the death certificate if your loved one did not leave you with a list of accounts and online passwords. If you do not possess the key to your family member’s safe deposit box, you will likely need a court order.

  • Financial advisers or stockbrokers

Track down additional financial and investment accounts, determine the beneficiary, and transfer ownership. Fill out necessary paperwork and present a copy of the death certificate to access the accounts.

  • Life insurance companies

Make a claim for any life insurance policies the deceased had, this requires both the policy numbers and death certificate. Instruct family and friends to update their own policies if your loved one was listed as a beneficiary.

  • Credit reporting agencies

Send copies of the death certificate to Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax to reduce the chances of identity theft. Look up your loved one’s credit history in a couple of months to make sure new accounts have not been opened.

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