Within The First Few Hours Of Death

Transport the body to a secure location: Call a county mortuary or funeral home to pick up the body. The mortuary will need to see the legal pronouncement of death in the form of a certificate issued by a doctor or medical professional. The mortuary must give you their price for transporting the body over the phone. This is a law. If they do not, then they cannot demand payment for a price that they offered at the scene.

Contact loved ones: If you have access to the deceased phone, contact as many friends and other family members via their contact list on their phone and family that are also listed on the contact list of your phone. When you speak to anyone, try to remember to ask that individual to also contact anyone else that may be a friend or loved one who would want to know about the person’s passing. As impersonal as it may seem, for the sake of convenience you may want to use the private option in social media to contact a group of people at one time. Some may also share with you any wishes that they may know of that the deceased may have had for burial.

Take responsibility for pets and others dependent: find someone who can care for them for at least 24 to 48 hours until you can make other arrangements. In the case of children, keep in mind that the child has just been through a traumatic experience as you have and they may be confused about what has occurred. It may be necessary to involve some kind of professional counselor immediately to speak with them if they are at least five years of age. You can usually find contact information for these individuals through the local police department or school.

Check the deceased’s driver’s license or will for their any wishes to donate their organs. This may be hard to do after so recently losing a loved one, but remember that the information you find has to do with the wishes of the person who died and not your own. You can then contact a local hospital to get the information of a medical professional at the hospital that handles organ donation and they will need proof of the deceased’s wishes to donate their organs. They will arrange for the deceased’s body to be transported, at no charge, to the hospital.

Within 2-3 Days

Contact work: The company will not only be appreciative that you took the time to contact them about the death, but you also will need to contact the deceased place of work to garner information about life insurance benefits, union benefits, pensions, pay that will be due to the estate on behalf of him or her, and stopping health insurance benefits.

Neighbor Watch: Find a neighbor you can trust and ask them to keep a watchful eye on the deceased property. Make sure to give them a set of keys so they can check inside the house as well for any issues that might arise, but first, make sure the house is clear for anyone to be entering it. Remind them to bring the mail in as well and ask them to dispose of any food in the refrigerator that will spoil and create a smell if you don’t have time to do it yourself.

Special burial or benefits: If the deceased was a former or active military member, contact any local military organization to ask about special military ceremonies that may be performed at the funeral of the deceased as well as contact information for an agency in charge of military benefits toward burial or life insurance. You can usually contact Veterans Affairs at 1-800-827-1000 or va.gov.

Within 7 Days

Take care of the will: If a will is located, take it to the city or county office that processes these documents for probate to be legally involved in the disbursement of assets. When the executor of the will is known, that person should open a bank account that is dedicated solely to the activities related to the estate of the deceased.

Legal contacts: In order to begin to legal execute many of the probate and financial duties, it is wise to have an estate attorney involved. Many procedures involve the reading of legal documents and then signing these same documents. They are often confusing and written almost entirely in “legalese” language that should be left up to a professional to explain before you sign anything as well as helping you gather all the necessary documentation for probate court.

Legal contacts: In order to begin to legal execute many of the probate and financial duties, it is wise to have an estate attorney involved. Many procedures involve the reading of legal documents and then signing these same documents. They are often confusing and written almost entirely in “legalese” language that should be left up to a professional to explain before you sign anything as well as helping you gather all the necessary documentation for probate court.

Tax preparation: Even if it is not tax season, at some point in the ensuing months after a loved one’s death, you will have to collect all the necessary documents to prepare a tax return on behalf of the deceased estate. If you ignore this responsibility, the federal government could still lien any property or some other assets that are still in the deceased’s name. The tax professional will help with gathering the necessary tax papers including an estate tax document and a final income tax return document.

Life insurance: This should also be information you can find via the will, but without it, look for a policy somewhere in an office or safety deposit box and contact the agent on the policy folder or the company and speak to a representative who will get you to the right individuals who will walk you through the procedure when someone has died to fill out the necessary death benefits forms.

Mail stoppage: For convenience as well as safety, discontinue the mail at the deceased’s home so that it does not pile up in the mailbox and look like no one is home if a neighbor cannot retrieve it every day.

Bank accounts incl. safety deposit boxes: This information is usually relatively easy to find if it is not included in a will. Look for checkbooks that are lying around or in a wallet or purse for a bank card. Once located, call them back and arrange a meeting with a bank representative, yourself, and whoever has been designated as the executor of the will. Then, present the death certificate during the bank meeting and ask to close the account and have access to any safety deposit boxes that were procured by the deceased.

Often, individuals have more than one bank account, so make sure you check in various places around their home for all the information you can find regarding multiple accounts. Additionally, speak to the bank in regards to payments that are coming out of the account automatically every month so you can contact those companies and make them aware of the death. This will alleviate you going through each and every bill and trying to figure out which are automatically paid via the bank.

Social Security: If the deceased was a retiree or collected social security benefits for any reason, it is imperative that you call the social security office as soon as possible to make them aware of the death. There are legal ramifications involved in letting social security benefits continue to be mailed, especially if they are misplaced once they are received at the deceased address. Also, there will be survivor benefits that need to be disbursed which may take several months to be processed. You can contact the Social Security Administration at 1- 800-772-1213 or through socialsecurity.gov to print out claim forms.

Utility companies: Not only electric but cable and other services like security companies, and gas service need to be turned off as soon as possible to avoid the estate having to pay additional months to these companies without anyone using the services. Keep in mind that if it is winter, you will want to continue the gas or oil company service if you live in a cold climate to avoid pipes freezing and bursting in the home or other unforeseen mishaps due to cold weather.

Financial advisor: Look through the deceased’s personal papers and business cards for any information pertaining to a financial adviser if you have any indication that they may have financial investments that need to be disbursed. This will only need to be done in the event that no will has been located.

Documents Needed Within the First 1-14 Days:

  • Death certificate (multiple copies for multiple agencies)
  • Social Security card
  • Birth certificate
  • Insurance policies
  • Marriage certificate (if currently married)
  • Property deeds
  • Vehicle titles
  • Stock information
  • Bank account information
  • Military discharge papers (if retired)
  • Most recent tax returns
  • Loan documents (outstanding loans only)

You can go to careinfo.org to find directions that are specific to the state that you reside in for any of the above information.


Arrange for funeral and burial or cremation if not the same day but within 24 hours of death if at all possible.

If there is no information in a will regarding burial instructions, look around for any prepaid burial information.

If the deceased did not leave specific burial instructions including a funeral home of choice, choose one with the help of a bereavement counselor at the local hospital or advice from close relatives and meet the funeral home representative to discuss some of the following major details:


  1. Preparing an obituary for the local paper and others you may choose to note the service dates coincide with newspaper deadlines for print
  2. How the body will be prepared either by embalmment or cremation
  3. If a viewing will take place, will it be an open or closed casket?
  4. If cremation occurs, will the remains be placed in a common or custom-made urn?
  5. The location of the burial site if there will be one
  6. Any religious ceremonies that will take place and who will preside over them
  7. Will there be specific charities that will receive gifts as opposed to flowers being delivered to the funeral home for the deceased?
  8. The funeral home will ask for pictures for a memorial video to play in the funeral home, so those need to be gathered from anyone who wants to contribute pictures. Post this on social media or ask specific relatives or friends to contribute.

Types of Burial

In-Ground Burial: This type has the deceased within a casket and they are buried in the ground at a cemetery plot that has been chosen either by them in advance or by family members or loved ones. This coincides with a burial ceremony that is usually at the burial site when the body is laid to rest. This is the most traditional type of burial ceremony as you will be able to visit your loved one and place flowers at the gravesite whenever you choose and mark the grave with a headstone. Or you can opt for a concrete vault which encloses the casket. This cost usually includes the opening and closing of the gravesite and restorative landscaping.

Mausoleum: This is usually referred to as a community vault and is above ground. The casket is placed in a building vault and stands as a memorial to more than one person. The enclosed crypt keeps the casket dry and away from the earth completely for better preservation. It is a good choice if you will visit frequently, so it will give you shelter from inclement weather. You will choose the location for the casket, select a plate that will identify your loved one’s crypt which is usually made of bronze or granite and can be personally inscribed with a message as well as their name. You can also choose a single casket crypt instead of a two-person crypt. In this type of burial, a ceremony is done but as well if you choose to do so.

Lawn crypt: This is for two plots and caskets that are above the ground and side-by-side. The caskets will still remain dry and away from the earth and you can bury the deceased next to another person. They usually include some kind of water drainage system to ensure a dry environment. You can put standard flower arrangements on the burial site. This type of burial also usually entails a ceremony of some kind. If it is a memorial park, a flat marker will be used, but a cemetery will allow a headstone.

Cremation: This is the lowest cost option of any burial arrangements, and it is the one that gives you the opportunity to keep your loved one’s remains with you at home or wherever you choose to store the ashes that are put into a common urn from the funeral home or a customized urn which is more costly and can be chosen from a catalog that the funeral home offers for selections. You can choose to a special place to scatter some or all of the ashes and have a ceremony take place there either on your own or as part of the funeral home arrangements at the cemetery. An urn can also be placed in a community mausoleum or you may opt to bury the ashes in the urn on an actual burial gravesite. All of these options will incur more cost as opposed to just taking the ashes home with you in the common urn.

Natural burial: This is a unique way of burying someone and if the deceased chose this option it was probably because they wanted a more eco-friendly and less costly way of disposing of their remains. First, the funeral home will not use embalming fluid nor will the deceased be buried in a casket. Alternatively, the remains will be wrapped in a biodegradable cloth and put directly into the ground to have natural decomposition take place. In some instances, funeral homes will offer a bio-degradable casket, so ask if they have this option for this type of burial.

Green burial: Part of the natural burial process may involve being buried in an eco-friendly cemetery. This is a cemetery that does not use chemicals to treat the lawn, does not allow non-bio degradable caskets, and bodies that have been embalmed. Then, the actual burial ceremony is conducted as eco-friendly as possible when the earth is disturbed in order to place the body in it. Additionally, headstones have to be made of natural stone and very simply made.

Other Things to Consider for Burial

Military honors: During the ceremony, someone who has served the country in a military capacity is usually given some form of additional special honor during their ceremony. Make the funeral home aware of the service of the deceased. Then, they can arrange for additional honors, or you can call the U.S. Dept. of Veterans Affairs at 1-800-827-1000 and tell their representative that a military veteran has passed away and they will give you is the information you need.

Discuss financial options with the funeral home in terms of any need you may have for financial help. This may include contacting a religious organization, military association or group, union, or any other group that the deceased was a member of that you know.

Coordinate with others who are helping with arrangements in regards to a funeral luncheon and where it will take place afterward. If there will not be a designated restaurant or banquet hall but someone’s home instead, plan to discuss with that person that food arrangements and shopping that has to take place, so arrange this with a few family members and friends to help.

Coordinate help for the funeral in advance among friends and family of the deceased by choosing pallbearers if the deceased did not leave specific instructions in their will for this.

Make arrangements for a headstone as soon as possible. You can get the names of monument companies from the funeral home. You can discuss the type of burial with the monument representative and they should know the regulations that apply to the burial site regarding the use of headstones if you will have one.

Even if you have already planned an obituary for the paper, post the funeral arrangements on social media or by private message to the same individuals that you contacted when the deceased passed on. Ask them again to spread the word about the place and time of the ceremony and viewing as well as where to send any cards or donations. Additionally, if the funeral home does not supply one, purchase a guest book to be set out at the funeral home for visitors to sign. This is what you will use to send out thank you cards to those who came to the funeral home to extend their condolences.

Funeral Costs

With the emotional element of this type of situation, many loved ones will spend more than the average cost of a funeral which is approximately $6500; instead, they will spend closer to $10,000 on all the additional arrangements and upgrades that are presented to them by the funeral home and other entities involved in the process.

If you break the entire funeral into three parts, you can get a perspective on what you will spend without the additional emotional element involved in making your choices:

Funeral home cost: This entails the casket, funeral director fee, body preparation, ceremony and viewing time, hearse rental, obituary, and death certificate preparation which should all total approximately $6,000.

Cemetery cost: This varies with the space that is chosen and the cost to actually have workers dig the grave site if this has to be done. The approximate total is about $2,000.

Monument company cost: a simple grave marker can cost upwards of $1,000 while a standard size marble headstone is double the price.

After the Funeral

Thank you cards need to be sent to anyone who signed the guestbook or sent some form of condolence or donation via other channels. This should be given to a number of people to do among family and friends and definitely not put on one person to accomplish.

Get bills together that belong to the deceased and figure out what needs to be paid immediately like the home mortgage and any other unpaid debts that could lead to a lien on any property or other assets. Look for a list of bills and also passwords to their websites to make a list of balances and to contact the companies to find out where to send proof of death so the estate will not incur any more debt due to the outstanding bill. Most credit card companies will have you send the death certificate via fax that day.

Identity theft of the recently deceased has turned into a lucrative business for some criminals, so to deter this from occurring, call all the major credit reporting companies which are Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian. Have them flag the account as a deceased person. They will probably ask for a copy of the death certificate to be sent to them via fax. Follow up and check the deceased’s credit report within a month to see if there has been any recent activity which will be a sure sign that identity theft has probably occurred and the credit reporting agency can take action where necessary or advise you what to do.

Go to the local motor vehicles office and cancel the deceased driver’s license. This will also deter identity theft from occurring. They will also ask for a copy of the death certificate before they can clear their name from the state records.

Close as many email and website accounts as you can find. This includes social media accounts as well that can also be hacked into. Some sites like Google Mail will ask for a death certificate and even a copy of your driver’s license so they have proof of who requested the cancellation.

Cancel as many memberships in clubs and organizations as you can find information on that may result in additional money being taken from the deceased’s bank account or other debts being incurred by the estate on a monthly basis.

With as many as two million deceased individuals still left on the voter rolls, call the local city hall of the deceased and get a number for the state election board and call to make them aware of the death. They will definitely ask for a copy of a death certificate to be faxed to them.