What to do After a Loved One Dies

Few things in life are more emotionally challenging than the death of a loved one. A passing becomes even more dreadful when death is the result of a suicide, homicide or was unattended.

Steps to Take Immediately after Death

If a person dies at home, or away from a hospital or inpatient hospice, there are specific steps that need to be taken following the passing.

  • Assuming no doctor was present at the time of death, the first step to take is to obtain a legal pronouncement of death. If your loved one was in hospice care at home, call the hospice nurse assigned to the deceased individual. (Hospice should have explained its procedures following death when your loved one went into their care.) The hospice nurse will facilitate the declaration of death and the transport of the body to a funeral home

If the death occurs at home outside of hospice care, telephone emergency assistance via 911. Paramedics will be dispatched to the residence. In California, paramedics are permitted to make a declaration of death. If the deceased person had been ill and has a medical directive declining resuscitation under certain circumstances, have that instrument available at the time of the arrival of the paramedics, if at all possible.

If the death appears to be the result of a suicide or foul play, call 911 when the situation is discovered. The same procedure should be followed if the deceased person appears to have been dead for more than a day. Explain the state of affairs and request that law enforcement be dispatched to the scene. Do not touch anything at the scene. If the individual has clearly passed, and lifesaving intervention would be useless, your best strategy is to step outside and wait for law enforcement in front of the residence. 

  • If the deceased loved one had been in residential hospice care, the hospice team will arrange for the transfer to a designated funeral home.

If the death appears to have been the result of something other than natural causes, law enforcement and emergency personnel who respond will arrange for the coroner’s office to come to the home. The remains will be conveyed to the coroner’s office for an appropriate examination to ascertain the cause of death. The coroner will coordinate transportation of your loved one to a designated funeral home when the examination is completed. In most cases, your loved one will arrive at the funeral home within about a day.

If there are no pre-planned arrangements, you will need to decide which funeral home will handle all aspects of addressing the deceased person’s demise, memorial service, and burial (or cremation). Funeral homes are required to provide transport cost information to you when you call.

  • Make arrangements for the immediate care of the deceased person’s minor children or pets, as necessary.
  • Notify family members and close friends. Depending on the situation, recruit other family members and friends to assist with this task to ensure timely notification.

  • Contact the deceased person’s employer, if he or she worked. Ultimately, information needs to be obtained from the employer about any pay or benefits due as well as whether the deceased individual has life insurance through the business. (These questions do not need to be raised during the notification phone call, but make a note to follow up at an appropriate time to gather this information.)

Steps to Take a Few Days after Death

  • Make funeral as well as burial or cremation arrangements. (If the deceased person did funeral pre-planning, seeing that the plan is carried out becomes the task at hand.) You also need to undertake associated tasks like preparing an obituary and deciding on pallbearers and other funeral or memorial service participants.

  • Follow up with employer about pay and benefit issues referenced a moment ago. If the deceased served in the military or was part of a fraternal organization, these organizations may have burial benefits. For example, if the deceased served in the military, he or she is entitled to burial at a national cemetery at no charge.

  • Have a family member or friend keep tabs on the deceased person’s home. This includes keeping track of phone messages, collecting mail and newspapers, cleaning out the refrigerator, and watering plants. Ideally, make the home seem occupied if no one lives there after the individual passed. Inform the local police that the residence is vacant and to be mindful of that fact when they patrol the area.

Steps to Take Within Two Weeks of Death

  • Obtain certified copies of the death certificate. A certified copy is one that has been stamped as being a true and correct copy of the original. It is not merely a duplicate made on a copy machine. You will need certified copies to provide to financial institutions and other entities to address the affairs of the deceased person. A funeral home typically arranges for certified copies on your behalf.

  • Obtain the original copy of the deceased individual’s last will and testament. Identify the executor named in the will, as this will be the person responsible for overseeing the affairs of the deceased person’s estate.

    Contact:

  • Deceased person’s bank and other financial institutions. This includes a bank at which the person who passed has a safe deposit box.
  • Life insurance company or companies to obtain claim forms. These can be prepared and submitted at this time.
  • Post office to forward mail to a proper recipient. Terminating mail delivery at this juncture due to the death is not advised because bills and other important materials will be received for some time.
  • Investment adviser, if the deceased engaged such a professional.
  • Social Security Administration, if the deceased was retired or otherwise receiving benefits from the agency. These payments need to be stopped. In addition, an inquiry needs to be made about survivor’s benefits, if any. The Department of Veteran’s Affairs should also be contacted, if the deceased individual served in the military.
  • Utility companies to stop service, as appropriate.
  • A probate attorney, if the estate of the deceased person is more complicated.
  • Tax professional to address issues arising from your loved one’s passing.

Steps to Take Within a Month

  • If necessary, file a petition for probate at the county courthouse where your love one resided. If a will exists, it is filed with the petition for probate. If there is no will, but assets require probate in court, file a petition seeking the appointment of what is known as an administrator to oversee the affairs of the estate.

  • If the estate is more complicated, consult with an experienced probate attorney.

  • If the deceased person created a trust, meet with the trustee to address issues relating to the distribution of payments or assets to the beneficiaries named in the trust instrument.