Your To-Do List After a Loved One Dies

Although your grief after the death of a friend or family member can make it difficult to focus on day-to-day tasks, there is no way around the fact that you must still attend to several things that need to be done. Here's a list of what needs to be done immediately after a death occurs and in the weeks and months that follow

At the Time of Death, Make the Right Call

Woman writing in notebook

For deaths that occur at home, it's important to know who to call. If your loved one is a hospice patient, call the hospice agency to report the death. A hospice nurse will come to the home and pronounce the death. The nurse might also call a mortuary or funeral home for you and arrange for pick up of the body.

If your loved one is not a hospice patient, you must call emergency services (911) to notify the local police or sheriff of the death. A coroner or medical examiner might also be required at the scene if the death was sudden or unexpected.

Make Arrangements With a Funeral Home

Whether a hospice nurse makes the call or you call yourself, you'll need to work with a funeral home to arrange for pickup of the deceased's body. If funeral arrangements have been made in advance of the death, all you'll need to do is confirm the arrangements with the funeral director. If no funeral arrangements were made in advance, you will need to begin planning a funeral or arrange for cremation services.

Contact the Attorney, Accountant, and the Executor of the Estate

Consult with the family attorney, or contact an estate lawyer, who will help settle your loved one's estate and any final instructions that must be accommodated.

Locate and review any estate documents, including a will, trust, and power of attorney.

Some financial documents to look for include:

  • Stock certificates
  • Title documents
  • Bearer bonds
  • Bank statements
  • Brokerage statements
  • Deeds
  • Prenuptial agreement

Examples of assets include life insurance policies, bank accounts, investment accounts, real-estate ownership, retirement accounts, and business ownership.

Liabilities might include mortgages, owed taxes, credit card debt, and unpaid bills.

Contact Employers

If your loved one was employed, ask a human resources representative at the company about any outstanding compensation due. Find out whether surviving dependents are still eligible for health or insurance benefits and whether there is a life insurance policy through the company.

Contact the Social Security Administration

Contact the Social Security Administration (SSA) and any other agency that might be making monthly payments to the deceased. Find out if survivors are entitled to any further benefits.

The SSA's phone number is 1-800-772-1213 (TTY 1-800-325-0778) or you can visit the SSA website for more information.

Contact the Veterans Administration if Necessary

If your loved one served in the Armed Forces, the Veterans Administration (VA) may cover death, burial, and memorial benefits. They will also stop any monthly payments that the deceased may have been receiving.

Contact Life Insurance Companies

Beyond employer-sponsored life insurance, some people purchase whole or term life policies. Notify all life insurance carriers of your loved one's death. 

Notify Credit Card Companies and Pay Off Balances

Work with creditors to pay off any outstanding balances. Usually, the executor of the estate will handle debt liquidation. Don't let lenders "guilt" you into paying more than the estate can afford; you aren't personally liable for your loved one's debts unless you're married or are a co-signer on a loan.

Discontinue Utilities

If the house or apartment will be vacated, ensure that utilities are shut off.

(You should also stop subscriptions of newspapers and magazines.)

Arrange for the Post Office to Forward Mail

Verify that important mail gets to where it's needed—most likely, to the executor of the estate.

Inventory and Distribute Personal Belongings

You might want the help of family members and close friends for this task. Determine which of the deceased's belongings to keep, which to distribute to family and friends, and which to donate or sell.

File the Deceased's Final Tax Return

Ensure that the executor of the estate has the information necessary to file final tax returns.

Take Care of Yourself

Attending to the affairs of your loved one can be painful, exhausting, and time-consuming. Make sure you take some time to relax, reflect, and do what you need to take care of yourself during this time as well.

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