When a loved one passes away, whether suddenly or not, you don’t always have time to sit in your grief. Instead, you might find yourself suddenly in the midst of funeral home decisions, getting a death certificate, or choosing a cemetery plot with other family members. There is a lot to do when a loved one dies, and it can quickly become overwhelming without a step-by-step checklist to get you through the process.
Here is what you need to know about the steps to take after a loved one dies. Remember, you and your family members do not have to take on these tasks. Some you can delegate to close friends or trusted professionals as you navigate this difficult time.
Before you can obtain a death certificate, you must get a legal pronouncement of death. The declaration of death legally states the person has died and you will need this paperwork in order to begin planning a funeral, obtaining an official death certificate, and closing out your loved one’s estate.
Of course, immediately asking for an official declaration of death is not the first thing you will be thinking of after your loved one dies, and that is okay. If your loved one passes away in a hospital, senior living community, or hospice care, the team will take care of that task. If your loved one passes away at home without medical professionals there, you will need to call 9-1-1 in order for first responders to declare the death and then take them to the funeral home of your choice.
It takes about 1-3 weeks for a death certificate to be officially processed, depending on the state you live in and the speed of their governmental agencies. Plan on securing at least 10 certified copies of a death certificate, as you, or the designated executor of the will, need the official copy in order to close out bank accounts, credit card accounts, etc.
While you are requesting certified copies from government agencies, consider getting a few copies of your loved one’s birth certificate as well. You might need this documentation moving forward.
Immediately after your loved one dies, you will want to communicate that with close family and friends.
Keep in mind that you don’t need to jump on social media or send out a mass email to acquaintances about the death in those first few hours or days. You may want to make a more broad announcement a few days later when you can also give out funeral arrangements.
If you don’t want to send out the notification text, delegate another family member or friend to take care of the communication on your behalf.
Other communication you can take care of, or delegate to someone else, include:
If your loved one already had their preferences laid out, planning the funeral, burial, or cremation will consist of making those plans become a reality. Work with the funeral home staff to see if there were any pre-payments or pre-selections made as a part of the estate planning process, which will decrease the choices you have to make or fees you need to pay.
The funeral director will be there to make the process as easy as possible for you and your family members. They will help you remember to consider funeral arrangements like:
Immediately following the death of a loved one, you should take care of the person’s home or property to ensure safety for anyone or anything still living in the home.
For example, make arrangements for someone to take care of any pets, clear out any food in the refrigerator or cabinets that will go bad in the next few weeks or months, and pick up their mail. Doing these tasks will allow you to take some time before you need to make more permanent decisions about the property and any other real estate.
Once you are ready, and after the probate period is complete, you can begin taking care of property needs such as:
In order to stop payments from the Social Security Administration, you will need an official copy of the person’s death certificate. Contact your local SSA office in order to notify them of the death. While many funeral homes take care of this task, it is best for you to ensure it happens by adding it to your to-do list.
If your loved one had life insurance policies, you will need to find the policy and contact the company to inform them of the death. This is the first step in getting payments to beneficiaries and dependents. Again, you will need an official copy of the death certificate in order to do so. Keep in mind that your loved one may have worked with multiple life insurance companies, so you might have to go through this process a few times.
Finally, notify these agencies, if applicable, of your loved one’s death. Doing so in a timely manner, no more than six months after the death, will help to prevent identity theft and any extra expenses:
Finally, consider running a credit report on your loved one a few months after their death and then again around the year anniversary of their death. This will help you notice any identity theft immediately so that you can take care of it quickly.
It can be difficult navigating the many tasks and chores that can come after a loved one’s death. Remember to delegate and ask for help. You are not alone.
See if you can bring a friend along for the visit to the social security office or to the lawyer’s office to review the deceased’s estate planning documents. You will find that family and friends are more than willing to help with large and small tasks to help get you through this difficult time.
Haley Burress is a senior care and caregiving expert. She worked in senior care for more than 15 years before writing for senior care agencies and professional caregivers full-time. She has experience in Skilled Nursing Facilities, Assisted Living, Independent Living, and Memory Care as well as Adult Day services and home care.
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