A senior man overlooks a grave.

What to Do When Someone Dies

Your loved one just passed away. We’ll guide you through the bureaucracy of what to do when someone dies to make this transition as straightforward as possible. There’s a lot to think about when someone dies, which can be difficult when you’re processing the death. 

To help you out, here you’ll find a checklist of what to do after your loved one dies so that no important tasks fall through the cracks. You’ll also get some tips for taking care of yourself and getting resources about end-of-life if you’re interested. We wish you the best during this time of transition. 

Take care of yourself during the grieving process 

Before we get to the checklist of what to do after someone dies, we want to share some advice about coping with grief. This is a difficult period for you and your family. It’s vital that you take care of yourself during the grieving process. Whenever possible, we suggest:

  • Eat regular meals, even when you’re not hungry. Your body needs strength. 
  • Go for a walk or find some other way to get fresh air. It’s good for you and may help you sleep better. 
  • Try to appreciate well-wishers. People mean well, even when their comments inadvertently upset you.
  • Only complete non-essential tasks when you’re ready. There’s no rush with non-essential tasks. If you need some time, take it. 
  • Remember that everybody is different. Each person grieves in their own way. Accept the grieving process of family and friends around you, even if it looks different than yours.  
  • Ask for help if you need it. Family and friends want to support you. Reach out for assistance with tasks, so you can get a well-deserved break.

You may feel overwhelmed by your loved one’s death. That’s normal. Our suggestions will hopefully relieve some of the logistics during the grieving process. 

A casket adorned with flowers.

Let’s now turn to the tasks you need to complete when your loved one dies. This checklist is intended as a general rule of thumb of what to do after someone dies. We understand that your situation will be specific and may require certain actions not listed here. 

We’ve listed the following items by their urgency: what to do immediately, within a few days and within the near-future. For non-urgent items, you should take your time and complete the tasks whenever you feel up to it. 

What to do immediately when someone dies: get a declaration of death

When your loved one dies, you’ll need to get a declaration of death. This document is essential for later obtaining the death certificate. Different medical workers can issue a declaration depending on your loved one’s situation. 

  • If your loved one dies at home under hospice care, contact the hospice nurse. He/she can declare the death. 
  • If your loved one dies at home without hospice care, call 911. If possible, you should present a do-not-resuscitate document when they arrive, otherwise paramedics will take emergency action. Paramedics will transport your loved one to the emergency room for a doctor to declare the death. 
  • If your loved one dies in a hospital, nursing home or residential home, an on-site doctor will declare the death. 

What to do immediately after calling medical staff

Once you’ve called medical staff according to your situation, you’ll want to consider the following actions as well:

  • Inform medical staff if your loved one is an organ donor: If your loved one is an organ donor, it’s a good idea to mention this immediately to medical staff. 
  • Inform close family members: Call or message close family members to inform them of the death. You may also ask certain members to make phone calls to other people.

That’s everything that needs to be done immediately. Everything else has some leeway so you have the space to grieve while handling the logistics. 

What to do within a few days of someone dying

Within the next few days, you’ll also want to take care of the following actions. Remember that you’re not alone during this process. You can ask certain family members to help you take care of these tasks related to what to do after someone dies. 

  • Get the official death certificate and order at least 10: You’ll need this document for different paperwork at banks, government offices, etc. It’s usually more affordable to order several certificates at once. 
  • Inform his/her employer: You should contact your loved one’s employer. This is true even if he/she was retired, because the company may have certain life insurance benefits, or other necessary papers to complete. 
  • If the death occurred abroad: You’ll want to contact authorities at the appropriate embassy or consulate if the death occurred abroad. They’ll give you the right resources for handling end-of-life paperwork from abroad. 

Besides these tasks, there are a few larger items that need your attention. Let’s take a look at these milestones in the end-of-life phase. 

Plan end-of-life services

Planning end-of-life services, including a funeral and burial (or cremation), require some thought. You should ask for help from family and friends, as everybody is sure to want to help out. This is especially true if you’re planning a funeral without a director, as you’ll need to handle aspects such as programs, music, wreaths, etc.  

At the same time, you should be aware whether your loved one already had pre-arranged (and perhaps pre-paid) funeral and burial services. Ideally, you would have already discussed end-of-life plans, but if not, you should check that no instructions were left regarding these services in the will. 

Here are some of the key areas of planning what to do after someone dies, specifically the end-of-life services:

  • Understand and set up burial (or cremation) options: Arrange how your loved one will be laid to rest. If you’re not sure what to choose, you can discuss options with a funeral home. 
  • Order casket/urn and identify burial plot: If you’re working with a funeral home, you may be able to purchase a casket or urn directly from them. If not, some families are turning to online providers to get more affordable casket and urn options. You should also identify the burial plot, if your loved one didn’t already have one selected and paid for.
  • Plan the funeral or celebration of life: You’ll want to make a plan who will do the eulogy and who will be pallbearers. You should also look into programs, music and wreaths. If you don’t want to handle these tasks, you should consider working with a funeral director who will take care of them for a fee. 
  • Write and submit the obituary: An obituary is important for the community to learn of your loved one’s death. Ask a skilled writer in the family to take care of this task and then submit it to your local newspaper. 
  • Create a memorial website: Nowadays, some families are creating memorial websites to coordinate all the funeral and burial information in one place, as well as request memories or photos. If interested, it’s a nice way to reach out to the community and avoid making so many phone calls. 

Understand coronavirus restrictions on end-of-life services

Some countries and cities have placed restrictions on end-of-life services due to the coronavirus pandemic. You’ll want to check how these restrictions may affect your loved one’s services. Usually, services will be limited to a small number of people. Contact your city government to have a better sense of any restrictions. 

Determine how your family will pay for end-of-life services

Unfortunately, end-of-life services can be expensive. Your family should look into their financial options in order to cover the costs. 

  • Understand your loved one’s pre-arrangements: It’s possible that your loved one already made arrangements and pre-paid for services. Instructions may have been left in a will or with an attorney, for example. 
  • Contact your loved one’s employer to ask about final benefits, any paychecks due and company life insurance policy: If your loved one was working at the time of death, it’s especially important to check with his/her employer to ask about final benefits and payments. However, even if your loved one was retired, it’s worth a phone call to verify if he/she is covered by any company life insurance policy. 
  • Check if your loved one had sickness, accident, life or private health insurance that covers funeral costs: Your loved one might also be covered by other types of insurance. These insurance policies may be used to cover funeral and burial services. You should verify any benefits with the insurance provider. 
  • If your loved one was a Veteran, they’re entitled to a burial services stipend: Was your loved one a Veteran? All U.S. Veterans receive a benefit for burial services. Even if the death wasn’t related to service, you can get reimbursement up to $796 for the burial/funeral and $796 for a plot allowance. 
  • Determine if you’re eligible for financial assistance: If you fall into the low-income bracket, you may also qualify for financial assistance for funeral and burial services. You should check with your city and state government to find out if you’re eligible for this stipend. There are also some charities that work to help low-income families with burial services. 

Take care of the deceased’s property

If your loved one owned property, you’ll also want to secure the premises and cancel services that are no longer needed. There are a few key actions you won’t want to miss regarding his/her property, including:

  • Secure property: Make sure the doors and windows are locked. You might also want to invest in a security system until the house is sold or rented. If interested, you can also contact local police to occasionally check on the house. 
  • Find home/kennel for the pet: If your loved one owned a pet, you’ll need to re-home it. Perhaps a family member or friend would like to take care of it. If not, you should look into kennels or pet hotels until you can get a new owner. 
  • Forward mail: Contact the postal service so that the mail gets forwarded. You don’t want mail piling up at the house, informing everybody that nobody is home. 
  • Water or donate plants: You should also stop by at the house to water any plants. Or, if you want, you can donate them to friends or family. 
  • Cancel all non-essential services: You may want to keep the electricity and water running, but other non-essential services can be canceled. These include cell phone, iTunes, Netflix, cable and internet subscriptions.
  • Secure valuables: If any valuables are unsecured in the house, you can lock them up in a safe or open a lockbox at a bank to ensure they’re safe. (You should do this with the permission of the executor of the will, of course.)

What to do in the near-future

Finally, within the next few months, you’ll want to consider these other areas of what to do after someone dies. These tasks are non-urgent. You can take care of them whenever you’re ready. 

  • Order a headstone: Headstones are rarely ready for burial services. You’ll want to order a headstone so that it arrives within the next few weeks. 
  • Write thank-you notes for well-wishers: You likely received notes, flowers or meals from well-wishers. When you get a chance, write thank-you notes for these nice gestures. 
  • Hire an attorney if you need help navigating the will process: If you’re concerned about the will process, you should consider hiring an attorney to help you through it. It’s not uncommon for lawyers to get involved with more complicated wills. 
  • Get estate executor help: If you’re looking to ease the burden of being an executor of an estate check out EstateExec.

Get the will process started

Your loved one’s will is an essential part of handling their properties and possessions. Without it, it’s difficult to sell the house, for example, or donate assets. Within a few weeks or months of the death, you’ll want to get the will process started. 

  • Contact the executor: You’ll want to get in touch with the executor of the will. This is the person legally responsible for ensuring the will is executed properly. The deceased will name the executor, usually a spouse, child or close friend. If you’re named the executor, you’ll want to take charge of the following actions as well. 
  • Take the will to probate: This is the legal process of executing a will. If you’re the executor, you must bring the will to a local court to start this process. This is the first step towards completing this process.
  • Make an official inventory of all assets: Your family should begin the process by getting an inventory of all assets. You can hire an appraiser to take care of this process. 
  • Ensure mortgage, taxes and utilities are handled during the will process: Certain bills like utilities must continue during the will process. As the executor, you should ensure essential bills and taxes are up-to-date. 

Cover your bureaucratic bases

Last but not least, you should take care of some key paperwork that goes beyond the will. This is a comprehensive list of some other areas you’ll need to handle after someone dies.

  • Contact the landlord to terminate or transfer lease: If your loved one rented their home or apartment, you’ll need to contact the landlord. You can usually get a lease termination due to death. Or, if you lived with your loved one, you can get the lease transferred to your name. Either way, you’ll need to present a death certificate and work directly with the landlord. 
  • File final tax return for the deceased: Many families forget the importance of this final tax return. To avoid fees, you should file the final tax return and ensure their finances are up-to-date with the government office. 
  • Close bank, credit card and brokerage accounts: You’ll need to contact your loved one’s bank, as well as their credit card and brokerage provider. To close these accounts, you’ll need to demonstrate the death certificate and provide information about the final destination of their finances according to the will. 
  • Terminate insurance policies: It’s also important to close all insurance policies so that you don’t get billed for monthly rates. Contact all providers and present the death certificate in order to terminate these policies. 
  • Cancel the driver’s license: You should also cancel your loved one’s driver’s license. More than anything, canceling it can prevent identity theft. You’ll want to do this so that the license holder is registered as deceased.
  • Register death with government agencies, including:
    • The Social Security Administration: You should do this in order to close any social security benefit programs, such as Medicaid and Medicare. By law, you may also be eligible for a stipend if the deceased was a Veteran, for example. 
    • Passport office: To prevent identity theft, register the death with the passport office. This is especially important if the death occurred abroad. 
    • Credit agencies: Once again, registering the death with credit agencies can help prevent identity theft. 
  • Close email accounts: Email accounts are another hotspot for identity theft. You should work to close any email accounts so that your loved one’s email doesn’t become a target. Contact the email provider and present the death certificate to close these accounts. 
  • Delete or memorialize social media accounts: Finally, you may also want to delete your loved one’s social media accounts. Some networks, such as Facebook, allow you to set the person’s profile to “remembering,” which means others can post nice memories on their wall but other features are limited. You can request to delete or memorialize an account via the help desk. Or, if your loved one set you as the “legacy contact,” you’ll be able to manage the account directly. 

Remember your loved one 

Now you have all the information about the bureaucratic processes after somebody’s death. You can use this checklist to complete these actions and handle the paperwork after your loved one passes. 

As our guide shows, the amount of paperwork when a loved one dies can be overwhelming. We recommend that you ask for help along the way, especially from trusted family members or friends. You might also consider hiring an attorney to guide you through some of the trickier aspects of what to do after someone dies, such as wills.

Ultimately, you should also try to take care of yourself during this transition and remember your loved one in your own way. It’s never easy to move forward after someone dies.

There are plenty of resources for bereavement. For example, if you need some extra guidance or therapy during this time, there are charities and governmental organizations dedicated to helping you through the grieving process after someone dies. 

Get informed about end-of-life care

At MyCaringPlan, we try to add our own grain of sand by offering blogs and resources about end-of-life care and what to do after someone dies. Here you’ll find information about some of these key milestones, including:

These are just a handful of topics available on our site. We hope they will be useful for you to make decisions about what to do after someone dies, as well as help you process your loved one’s death.

Sources:

  1. What To Do When a Loved One Dies, AARP, www.aarp.org
  2. Coping with grief, Which?, www.which.co.uk

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