Where to Start When a Loved One Dies

When a loved one passes away, it is often a sad and painful event.  Most people don’t know what to do in the days immediately following a death to begin handling the loved one’s final arrangements.  In addition, grief, stress, and a lack of information may make it more difficult to get the ball rolling.

In general, there are things to do right after someone dies, within the next few days, and then within the following weeks:

IMMEDIATELY

  • Take the time you need.  Some people may want to stay with the body for a few final moments or have a member of a religious or cultural community say some words if time allows.
  • Get a pronouncement of death.  If the person dies in a hospital, care facility, or with hospice in attendance, a medical professional will handle this step for you.  If the person dies outside of a medical facility, call 911.  A pronouncement of death is needed for the death certificate.
  • Arrange for a mortuary, crematorium, or other service to pick up the body.  If medical professionals are involved, they likely have staff to assist with this arrangement.
  • Notify close family and friends.  Inform a few key people and ask them to contact others.
  • Make sure that care is arranged for any minor children and pets.
  • Call the person’s employer.
  • Try to find any estate planning documents to determine funeral, burial, or cremation plans.

WITHIN A FEW DAYS

  • Arrange for a service (if any) and final arrangements.
  • If the person was a member of the military or belonged to a religious group, contact those organizations to see if there are burial benefits or funeral services available.
  • Prepare an obituary.
  • Figure out who is the executor of the person’s estate (or who would be best able to fill that role if no one is named in a will/trust).  That person should start reviewing the decedent’s financial affairs.
  •  If there are minor children, review the estate plan to determine who was named as guardian and transition the children to that person’s care.  If there is no guardian named, arrange for safe care for the children until legal arrangements can be made.
  • Get copies of the death certificate.  You will need a number of copies.  A funeral director can usually assist you in obtaining copies.
  • Arrange for someone to monitor the deceased person’s home and mail.

WITHIN THE NEXT FEW WEEKS

  • Initiate probate, if needed.  Contact an estate attorney for assistance.  A consultation may assist the executor in determining how best to proceed and how to avoid missteps, even if you decide not to hire one.
  • The executor will need to start notifying Social Security (and other governmental agencies as needed), financial institutions, etc. as part of the administration of the estate.
  • Administer the estate.
  • Arrange for grief counseling and other assistance as needed.

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