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Death happens to everyone.
It is one of life’s inevitable truths.
Do you know what to do when a loved one dies at home?
Most of us would not, especially when the person is young, seemingly healthy and it was unexpected. However, even it was expected due to a long illness, it is an emotionally stressful time, and thinking straight is likely a challenge. We have gone through this experience, adding stress to sadness.
This comprehensive step-by-step checklist should guide you through the steps to take during this upsetting time. Bookmark this post, or put this in a safe place.
Steps Upon An Untimely Death
#1 If a person dies at home expectedly, immediately call 911 emergency services. You need to call the authorities to have police involvement to ensure that the medical examiner legally pronounces the death.
#2 If the deceased was under the regular care of a doctor or under hospice care, call that doctor or hospice nurse.
He or she will be able to pronounce death or may be to help the responding emergency medical personnel determine the cause of death and expedite the official pronouncement.
#3 If the deceased had a do-not-resuscitate (DNR) document, make sure you have it in hand. Otherwise, the paramedics will start emergency procedures and take the person to the emergency room and police may insist on investigating as a potential crime.
This is exactly what you DON’T want at this already stressful time.
#4 Once death is pronounced and the necessary paperwork is completed, you should contact the funeral home to arrange for the transportation of the body. If you and your deceased loved one did not choose a funeral or interment provider (burial below ground) ahead of time, you will need to choose one.
#5 As this was unexpected, finding a funeral home in your neighborhood is appropriate unless your family has previous experience with one.
If expected due to illness:
#1 Call the decease’s regular care doctor or palliative care doctor if the deceased was under terminal or hospice care. If possible, have the mobile number of the regular doctor or palliative doctor.
#2 Once the doctor has pronounced death and completed the necessary paperwork, you should contact the funeral home to arrange for transportation of the body.
Upon Pronouncement of Death In Either Scenario
- Make sure any dependents or pets are taken care of during this time. If you have children, remember they are grieving and possibly confused. They will require care and support.
- Contact family and friends, and delegate someone to call and reach out to others. You do not need to inform everyone about the death if you are not able to do so. Instead, your immediate family members, key relatives, and friends are usually helpful in getting the word out to others. You can ask them to contact specific individuals. You want to make sure you don’t leave someone off the list. Often you ask friends to make other friends aware. Some people put the news on Facebook or other social media for expediency’s sake, however, be aware of the potential of unsavory people who can take advantage of grieving families. If you take this route, direct people who will hear via Facebook to go to a private message for details.
- Prepare for organ donation if you know that this was the loved one’s wish. If unsure, you can check the deceased’s driver’s license or if there is an advance directive that is usually prepared with other estate planning documents.
- Contact the funeral home to alert them to the death. If you and your deceased loved one did not choose a funeral or interment provider (burial below ground) ahead of time, you will need to choose one. Finding a funeral home in your neighborhood is appropriate unless your family has previous experience with one.
- Call deceased’s employer, if they were still working. You need to inquire about whether benefits and wages were due to your loved one and whether there was any company life insurance policy.
The Next Few Days (or Hours Depending On The Deceased’s Religious Beliefs):
- Arrange for funeral or cremation in accordance with the deceased person’s wishes.
- Write an obituary to provide notice such as on Legacy. Sometimes the funeral home will help you with writing the obituary and publishing it in a local paper.
- Organize a post-funeral gathering according to your tradition. Again, family and friends can be enlisted for help for the plan.
- If the deceased was a veteran, contact the VA to ascertain if any burial benefits or military honors are due.
- If the deceased person was the sole occupant, secure the deceased person’s home and car. You may want to notify someone to be in the home for the short term.
- Notify the post office to forward the deceased person’s mail, if they were the only occupant, to someone that can go through the mail and organize it into different categories. There will be subscriptions, bills, accounts, and other correspondence in the mail. However, you will need to find their online accounts to access essential accounts, including passwords. Some important bills like mortgage payments will need to be paid promptly. This will provide a window into what needs to be canceled, paid, closed, or transferred according to estate planning documents, especially regarding any digital assets.
- Contact Social Security Administration (800-772-1212 or social security.gov). The funeral director may notify the local social security office of your loved one’s death, but you will need to make sure the SSA gets the notification.
Within two weeks after death:
- Obtain death certificates from the funeral home. They will usually give ten certificates. Make sure to order more copies. You will be surprised how many agencies and institutions will require original raised seal copies.
- Engage a probate attorney whether or not there is a will and other estate planning documents. The attorney can help you decide how to proceed with either taking the will to probate or, in the case that there is no will, petitioning for letters of intestacy from the Probate Court. When a person dies without having a valid will, his or her property passes by what is called “intestate succession” to heirs according to state law. All 50 states have laws addressing the order and are designed to simulate how the average person would have designed his estate plan.
- Contact the deceased’s financial advisors, accountant, and banks to determine the deceased’s assets. Increasingly, the deceased may have some of their assets at fintech companies through apps. You will need login information to access these digital assets. If you know the deceased’s online accounts and logins you should look for this information.
- You will likely need to contact a tax practitioner to file a return and an estate tax return. The date of death will be used to determine asset values.
- Close credit card accounts. Find the statements or call the number on the cards. You may need to submit a death certificate to each card company. The estate rather than the surviving spouse or family is responsible for credit card debt after a loved one dies.
- Notify all three credit reporting agencies: Equifax (https://www.equifax.com/personal/), Experian (https://www.experian.com/), and TransUnion (https://www.transunion.com/). You will need to provide copies of the death certificates to minimize the risk of identity theft which could make things even more difficult for you.
- If the deceased had life insurance, submit claims with a death certificate. Cancel car insurance and any other insurance policies that are no longer needed.
- If not already done, if the deceased collected Social Security payments, contact Social Security Administration (800-772-1213 or socialsecurity.gov) to stop the payments and ask about survivor benefits.
- If a deceased person belonged to any organization, you should cancel those memberships.
- You can contact your local election board to make them aware of your loved ones’ passing. I am not being funny, but you do hear of the high incidence of deceased persons voting in elections.
For all situations, you should know the person’s wishes and intentions before death:
- Know the location of any will, birth, marriage, and divorce certificates, deceased’s Social Security information, financial documents, including life insurance policies, and whether he/she had a safe deposit box at the bank.
- Know the person’s wishes about funeral arrangements, organ donation, and burial or cremation.
- Have the person complete an advance directive, including a living will, which specifies wanted and unwanted procedures. The person should also appoint a health-care proxy to make medical decisions if he or she becomes incapacitated.
- Have a do-not-resuscitate (DNR) order drawn up if the person desires. That tells healthcare professionals not to perform CPR if the person’s heart or breathing stops and restarting would not result in a meaningful life.
- Make sure the person gives copies of the documents to their doctor and a few close family members or a close friend. Take the documents to the hospital if the person is admitted.
The end of the life of a loved one is an emotional challenge.
The end of life for a loved one is a tough time for everyone, whether the passing was expected or unexpected. When it is unexpected, and the deceased person is young, it is often very traumatic for the family left behind. I, too have experienced the passing of my loved ones, and the despair of not knowing what to do at that very first moment when you realize they’re gone is debilitating.
I hope this list gives you some comfort if only so you can put this list in a drawer for a very long time!
It is a good idea to sit down with your loved one and talk about your plans, such as DNR, where you keep your important papers and important contacts. Have you considered drawing up your living will considering who your health proxy will be, and considering speaking to a professional about estate planning? Take care of this ahead of time.
Unfortunately, the loss of a loved one is common. When we are dealing with emotional feelings, it is often hard to think. Hopefully, this step-by-step guide should help. Please share your thoughts or experiences. We want to hear from you!
Thank you for reading this article! Please visit us at The Cents of Money for more articles of interest.
With a passion for investing and personal finance, I began The Cents of Money to help and teach others. My experience as an equity analyst, professor, and mom provide me with unique insights about money and wealth creation and a desire to share with you.