While death is something we will inevitably face in our lives, it is often a rare occurrence for most families. For this reason, many of us don’t know what to do when someone dies. It is a time of severe emotional stress and also a time when family and friends must take certain important actions on behalf of their loved one. To help, we’ve outlined some of the most important actions to take below:
To Do Immediately After a Loved One Passes
Obtain a Pronouncement of Death
- 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.
- 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
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. 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.
Determine Care of Dependents and Pets (if any)
- Dependents and pets can be temporarily cared for by friends or family who are willing to help until a more permanent solution is determined
Notify Various Parties 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 Loved One’s Passing
Make Arrangements for a Funeral, Burial or Cremation
- 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.
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 ideas on memorial options. If your loved one is being cremated, there are many new options now available, including growing a living tree memorial with a Living Urn bio urn, scattering their ashes at their favorite spot, or burying their ashes in a special place. If your loved one is being buried at a cemetery, there are many headstone and other options to review with your funeral director.
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.
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.
To Do Within 5-10 Days After a Loved One’s Passing
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 bank – 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
- U.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