Has a loved one died recently? Here is a checklist of things to do. Work through them in order. Effort was made to organize items according to timeliness. Feel free to print this page for personal use.
▢ Start a note on your phone or in a notebook. Use it to record questions you have or things you need to remember. A lot of information will come at you fast. Having one designated spot to track it all will reduce stress.
▢ Enlist help. Don’t handle this alone. At minimum, choose one support person to act as a second ear and/or buffer between you and the world. Who can be with you?
▢ Consider enlisting help in other areas too, such as:
- Kids & family – comforting presence, childcare scheduling, play dates, driving, keeping routine, visitors
- Communication – online announcements, email updates, relaying information, phone calls
- Food – meal planning, grocery shopping, food delivery, coordinating a signup for friends who want to bring meals or send gift cards/credits
- Household – laundry, cleaning
- Pets – feeding, walking, pet sitting
- Paperwork – insurance claims and policies
- Emotional / mental support – someone to stay with you, family discussions, kid processing, getting out, exercise
- Financial – banking, paying bills, gathering paperwork
- Funeral – service organization, logistics for out-of-town guests1
▢ Notify anyone who should know immediately of your loved one’s death. This might include closest relatives (spouse, parents, kids, etc.) or anyone who might want to sit with the body to say goodbye.
▢ Notify clergy if the deceased person’s religion requires immediate attention to the body.
▢ Arrange temporary care for any kids or pets of the deceased.
▢ Are they an organ donor? Not sure? Check their driver’s license. Other places this information might be located: Apple Health app, advance directive, living will or letter of instruction.
▢ Arrange for care of the body:
- Died at home, is or is not an organ donor > call 911.
- Died at home under hospice care, is or is not an organ donor > notify hospice staff.
- Died at medical facility or assisted living, is or is not an organ donor > notify staff.
▢ Get a legal pronouncement of death (not the same as a death certificate). If death occurred at a medical facility or hospice, staff should handle this. If death occurred at home, ask 911 for instructions.2
▢ Locate their estate planning documents. Hopefully they have an everything file or something similar.
▢ Will they donate their brain or body to science? Not sure? Check their estate planning documents. Documents most likely to include this information are living will, advance directive or letter of intent / letter of instruction.
▢ Will an autopsy be performed? Consult with medical professionals for help.
▢ Did the deceased make arrangements ahead of time regarding a preferred funeral home, crematorium, prepayment, etc.? Again, check their estate planning documents.
▢ Arrange for transport of the body. This depends on their organ / brain / body donation wishes and/or autopsy status. If they are a donor or will have an autopsy, consult with the professionals involved regarding the process. If not and you need to choose a funeral home or crematorium, ask how much their services will cost. They are required to tell you.3 Record the business name, contact person, contact info and cost in the note you started at the top of this list. Do not commit until you are comfortable. Funeral homes are notorious for high costs. Caskets, for example, can be found more reasonably at Amazon, such as this plain pine box or a more traditional casket. At the time of writing, neither is over $1500. You can find urns as well, like this metal one, or a wooden one, both under $100.
▢ Secure home, car & belongings. Change locks on home if there is concern about those with keys. Check the mail. If there is time while securing their home, dispose of food that might go bad, empty the garbage, and get rid of anything that might attract rodents. Take quick video inventory of items in their house. Make a plan for lawn care.
▢ Notify their employer if they will be expected at work. While on the phone, ask about pay owed, benefits / pension and life insurance. Write this information in your note.
▢ Notify anyone else expecting them to show up for a commitment such as doctor’s appointments, volunteer work, etc.
▢ Notify loved ones & friends.
▢ Request death certificates. Order at least 10-20. Expect to receive them within 10 days. A death certificate is needed to access assets, life insurance, veterans or SS benefits, etc. If the deceased served in the military, the VA may supply you with free copies.
▢ Submit death certificate for life insurance. “An insurance company may pay out the money within a week of getting the death certificate, but it is almost always less than two months after death.4 How do I know if my loved one has life insurance? Check with family members, employers, credit unions, banks, safety deposit boxes, etc. If you still come up short, try the Life Insurance Policy Locator Service.
As you can
▢ Take advantage of hospice bereavement counseling if applicable.
▢ Log in to your loved one’s email weekly to catch any important emails. Do this for at least a year.
▢ Forward your loved one’s mail to your address to catch any important mail.
▢ DO NOT pay creditors yourself. “If you call a creditor to inform them of your loved one’s death, there is a strong possibility that they will tell you to pay the bill. This is not always the case. Please know that unless you are a joint account holder or responsible payor for an account, you do not have to pay another person’s debts.”5 Also, “Don’t be talked into making a few payments on bills you do not owe. Creditors might claim that you willingly assumed the debt. Tell them, ‘No, no, never…'”6
▢ Don’t rush to notify utility services of death. “…consider what bills would have to be paid to keep things afloat. Prioritize these over others. If your care partner owned a home, consider whether it is to be inherited or sold and whether you should pay the mortgage, keep utilities on, or hire a service to maintain the pool or yard so they don’t fall into disrepair.”7
▢ Set a monthly reminder to keep up on the necessary bills, such as mortgage, utilities, insurance (home, auto, etc.), taxes, subscriptions, memberships, etc.
▢ Close bank and financial accounts carefully. You don’t want to lose access to them prematurely.
▢ Notify important organziations / agencies, mainly to avoid identity theft:
- Social Security Administration. Also, a surviving spouse or child may receive a special lump-sum payment of $255 if they meet certain requirements.
- Veterans Administration, if applicable. Other benefits.8
- Department of Motor Vehicles
- Credit bureaus
- Licensing boards
- Memberships, clubs
▢ Close / cancel credit cards when safe.
▢ Take out required minimum distributions (RMDs) of retirement accounts to avoid penalties.
▢ Pay taxes. Keep up with estimated taxes if applicable. Keep a bank account open after death in case taxes need to be paid for last tax return. If the will is in probate long enough, you may need to file taxes for the estate.
▢ Surviving spouse needs to update their own estate plan to reflect the death of their husband/wife. Examples: beneficiaries, POA, emergency contact info (for kids’ school, doctors, etc.)
▢ Be very careful about using someone’s password to log into accounts after they die. You can get in trouble for unauthorized use. Consult an attorney if you are unsure.
- Get Your Shit Together Before & After Expanded Checklist (Get Your Shit Together) ↩︎
- Getting a legal pronouncement of death (Empathy) ↩︎
- Checklist: What to Do When Someone Dies (Ramsey Solutions) ↩︎
- What You Need to Know About Estate Planning (The White Coat Investor) ↩︎
- Family Caregiving Doesn’t End When the Recipient Dies (AARP) ↩︎
- What Happens to Your Debt When You Die (AARP) ↩︎
- Family Caregiving Doesn’t End When the Recipient Dies (AARP) ↩︎
- What to Do When a Veteran Dies (Ever Loved) ↩︎
- What to Do When Someone Dies: A Checklist (Ever Loved) ↩︎
- What to Do When a Loved One Dies (AARP) ↩︎
- AgingParents Wiki (Reddit) ↩︎