To Do List After a Loved One Passes
Death is an inevitable part of life and something we will all face one day. However, for most families this is a rare occurrence and many people have no idea what to do when a family member passes. This is a time of significant emotional stress and also a time when you need to take certain important actions. To help understand what needs to be done, we’ve outlined some of the most important actions below.
What To Do When a Person Dies
- If your loved one is an organ donor, make sure a doctor knows that right away. They will typically ask, but if not, make sure it’s made clear (even prior to passing, if possible); or
- If you are not sure if your loved one is an organ donor, check their drivers license as most states include this, or simply ask your nurse, doctor, or local hospital staff how to find out in your local area
Obtain a Death Pronouncement
- This is a legal document that will be something your family will need. The date and time on the form will serve as the official time of death;
- This is usually filled out by a physician, however, if one is not present, you’ll need to contact your loved one’s doctor’s office or local hospital to receive one;
- If your loved one was under hospice care, you can ask the hospice nurse for assistance; or
- If your loved one is not receiving hospice care, call 911. If it is a situation where there is a ‘do not resuscitate’ in place, present that document when emergency personnel (paramedics, fire, police) arrive on site. They will typically transport your loved one to the local hospital so a physician can make the declaration of death.
- Be sure this was filled out correctly and the cause of death is accurate
Arrange Transportation of Your Loved One
- This is a quick, easy step (assuming no autopsy is needed). Contact your local funeral home/mortuary or cremation service provider right away to arrange for this and to transport to their location. If you don’t have one in mind, or don’t know of any, google funeral homes, or cremation service providers, in your area or ask friends who they can recommend. If your loved one passed at the hospital, the staff there usually can provide a list of recommendations. Once you get a few options, it is also a good idea to do a quick search of online reviews. Funeral homes are used to this part of the process and can move quickly to make the transport happen; or
- If an autopsy is needed, it is still a good idea to make the transportation arrangements right away. They will typically just need to wait until the autopsy is complete to facilitate the transport. In certain cases the county coroner will require an autposy – if this is the situation with your loved one, be sure you connect your funeral home or cremation service provider to the coroners office to coordinate the transport of the body after the autopsy is done.
Determine Care of Dependents and Pets (if any)
- Dependents and pets need to be temporarily cared for by friends or family who are willing to help until a more permanent solution is determined
Notify Various People About Your Loved One’s Passing
Understanding this can be a highly emotional time, it’s always good to engage some friends or other family to help with this step (and others).
- County coroner - this is typically done by the funeral home / mortuary or cremation service provider, however, it’s always a good idea to ask to make sure they did this (or are going to do this)
- His or her personal doctor
- Family and friends
- Employer (if working at the time of passing)
To Do Within the First Few Days After a Person Dies
Make Arrangements for a Funeral, Cremation, or Burial
- Check if your loved one had a living will and any pre-paid plans. If not, speak with family and friends to see if your loved one has discussed what he or she wanted;
- If there is no living will and nobody had the conversation with your loved one before passing, meet with family and make a joint decision on what you think your loved one would have wanted;
- If your loved one was in the military, contact them about various benefits or funeral services.
Write an Obituary
- If this is too difficult for you to do at this time, engage the help of family or friends. When finished, send it to the local newspaper to publish, along with the date and location of any funeral services so others who knew your loved one may be notified and attend.
Make Arrangements for a Memorial
- If this is described in your loved one's will, or discussed before they passed, then fulfill their wishes with the memorial they wanted; or
- If not, meet with your local funeral director or search online to get memorial ideas and options. If your loved one is being cremated, there are many new options now available. This can include scattering their ashes at their favorite spot, growing a tree burial with a Living Urn bio urn, burying ashes in a special place, or keeping them indoors in a decorative cremation urn. If your loved one is being buried at a cemetery, there are many headstone and other options to review with your funeral director.
Enlist a Friend or a Trusted Neighbor of Your Loved One
- To watch their home, collect mail, pick up the newspaper and anything left on the porch, throw any food out, water the plants and trees, etc.
- If your loved one was in an assisted living or hospice, have friends or family help move out their personal belongings
To Do Within 1-2 Weeks After a Loved One’s Death
Obtain a Death Certificate
- This is typically provided by the funeral home or cremation service provider. It is best to receive multiple copies as you’ll need these when dealing with various banks, insurers, etc.
Take Your Loved One’s Will (if they had one) to the County or City Offices So It Can Be Accepted for Probate
Executor of the Estate Should Open a New Bank Account for the Estate
Contact the Following Parties (if relevant):
- Attorney that specializes in trusts and estates – to help transfer assets and provide helpful advice related to probate issues
- Accountant – to help determine whether an estate tax or final income tax return needs to be submitted
- Financial advisor or banker – to find out about their assets and other holdings and their account information
- Local banks – to find out if they had accounts there and/or a safe deposit box
- Life insurance agent – to obtain claim forms (if applicable)
- Employer (if he or she was employed at time of passing) – to request any pay due and/or benefits. Also, ask if there was a life insurance policy issued through the employer
- Any agencies providing pension(s) – to get claim forms and stop any regular payments
- If applicable, Social Security Administration (800.772.1213), Veterans Affairs (800.827.1000), etc. – to stop payments and ask about survivor benefits
- S. Postal Service and utilities - to change or stop service (or forward mail)
- Local police department - to let them know your loved one’s residence is vacant so they can occasionally check on it
To Do In the First Few Years After a Loved One's Death
Spend Quality Time with Family and Friends
- It is important to have that human connection with family and friends in the days, weeks, months and years after a loved one passes. This is a natural support group who can help you through tough times.
Enlist Further Help, As Needed
- Mental Help – the stress of losing a loved one can seem overwhelming and professional help can be a great way to help yourself deal with the grief and all of the emotions that come with it.
- Support Groups – there are many support groups in local communities throughout the U.S. with people who have lost loved ones – this can be a great way to be with other people who have recently gone through a loss. There are also support groups on Facebook and other social networks that many find helpful to be part of.