Checklist: What to Do When a Loved One Dies

The emotional toll of a family member’s death can be sudden and unpredictable, and it can make even the most rational person wonder what to do next. Keep this checklist handy so that you know what to do when a loved one dies.

Preparation Can Ease The Transition For Loved Ones

A healthy dose of preparation can make the process easier when a loved one dies. Proactive estate planning can ensure that your family members have the authority, knowledge, and paperwork they need to address the situation. This could include:

  • Durable powers of attorney for medical purposes (which allow loved ones to make medical decisions on your behalf)
  • Durable financial powers of attorney (which give loved ones access to your finances)
  • Guardianships (which designate someone to make decisions about your well-being)
  • Conservatorships (which designate someone to make decisions about your assets and debts)
  • Living wills or medical directives (which guide loved ones’ decisions about your end of life care)
  • Do-not-resuscitate (DNR) orders (which guide medical professionals’ treatment)
  • Burial plans or funeral directives (usually contained within the person’s will)

Immediately After A Loved One Dies

The moments immediately surrounding a person’s death can be some of the hardest for loved ones. When you discover a loved one has passed away, you should:

  1. Get a legal pronouncement of death. This usually must be done by a doctor or registered nurse. If the person died at home, call 9-1-1, so the paramedics can take the person’s body to the emergency room.
  2. Arrange for the body to be transported to a mortuary or crematorium, unless an autopsy is needed because of accidental or violent death.
  3. Contact the person’s doctor or county coroner.
  4. Start a call chain to notify close friends and family. Ask closer relatives to make additional calls for you. Do not post about the passing on social media until you know all necessary family and friends have been told personally.
  5. Arrange for the deceased’s children, dependent adults, and pets to be cared for.
  6. Contact the deceased’s employer. Notify them of the death and ask about any outstanding pay, as well as any benefits, such as a retirement plan or insurance policy that they may know about.
  7. Take time to mourn and address your own emotional needs. Find a support person who isn’t also grieving to help you.

The Days After Death

Once the immediate needs are addressed, the process becomes more flexible, and often depends on the deceased’s preferences, circumstances, and religious observances.

  1. Find the person’s estate planning documents, and look for any burial plan or directives for a funeral.
  2. If the person was religious or a veteran, contact those organizations and ask about services related to the funeral.
  3. Arrange the funeral and burial or cremation. Bring some one with you to help you process options and remember details.
  4. Prepare an obituary. The funeral home may be able to help you write it and send it out to the proper news outlets.
  5. Ask a friend, relative, or neighbor to watch the deceased’s house, collect mail, check voicemail, and water plants.
  6. Clean out the refrigerator and freezer and dispose of any perishables like flowers in the home.

The Weeks After Death

After the funeral is over, the difficult process of estate administration begins. Once the period of mourning is over, you should get several certified copies of the person’s death certificates (you will need them for banks, probate court, insurance providers, and other agencies).

Next, contact an estate administration attorney to help you begin the probate court processes  and determine who will act as executor. A probate attorney can also help you identify and value assets, contact creditors and insurers, and take other necessary steps to resolve the estate. This could include:

  1. Filing final tax returns.
  2. Paying off final expenses.
  3. Securing bank accounts.
  4. Getting insurance, social security, and veterans benefits to surviving family members.
  5. Addressing real estate issues and utility payments.

It can be hard to know what to do when a loved one dies. Bringing an estate administration attorney on early in the process can take some of the burden off loved ones’ shoulders, and make sure everything gets taken care of.

The Cronin Law Firm has experienced attorneys to aid with whatever legal issue you’re facing. If you need help with a loved one’s estate, contact The Cronin Law Firm today to schedule a consultation.

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