What to Do After a Loved One’s Death

Young businesswoman in eyeglasses planning and writing down the daily schedule with in agenda

The death of a loved one, whether suddenly or after a long illness, is never easy. If you are reading this article because you have recently lost someone close to you, please accept our condolences. We hope this blog post will provide information that helps in some small way. The days and weeks after a death are difficult not only because you are navigating the grieving process, but because there are many administrative details you suddenly need to attend to.

If your deceased loved one was a spouse who handled many of the details in your marriage, you may feel especially bereft as you try to figure things out on your own. This blog post is a checklist of sorts, to help you understand what you need to do, and when.

Checklist of Actions to Take Shortly After a Death

In the immediate aftermath of a death and the days afterward, you will need to do the following, with the most urgent tasks being listed first:

  • Contact immediate family members of the deceased to notify them of the death. (If you are not the next of kin, the deceased person’s nearest relative will be responsible for most of the tasks on this list.)
  • If the circumstances of the death were such that some of the deceased’s organs can be donated, and you have authority to do so, you may need to make this decision very quickly. If you have access to your loved one’s advanced directives, you should be able to find their wishes about organ donation in those documents. If you are not sure of the deceased’s wishes in this regard, you may be able to find out if they registered as an organ donor.
  • If your loved one died at home, contact 911 to get an official pronouncement of death if the deceased was not under hospice care; a hospice nurse can make a pronouncement of death. If your loved one died in a hospital, nursing home, or other medical facility, the staff will take care of this.
  • Look for the deceased person’s estate plan or contact information for their estate planning attorney among their files and papers.
  • Contact the funeral home or cremation service. The funeral home will transport the body of the deceased. Our office prepares cremation statements, so you may want to look in your loved one’s estate plan for information about their last wishes. If the deceased did not specify their last wishes, you, as the next of kin, will need to make this choice.
  • The funeral director will ask you how many copies of the death certificate you want. Order more than you think you will need; usually at least 10-12. If you are the personal representative (executor) of the estate, you will need them to close accounts and prove the death. You can get more certificates later, but it can be costly and inconvenient.
  • Contact any clergy who will need to be involved in a funeral service.
  • Arrange for one or two people to give a eulogy at the funeral.
  • Determine if the deceased had a life insurance policy, including a “final expenses” policy designed to help pay for funeral and burial or cremation expenses.
  • Draft an obituary to be published in the local newspaper and/or online. Be careful not to include details that could lead to obituary identity theft.
  • Contact extended family, friends, and the deceased person’s employer if they were still employed. If you have access to their social media, consider making a brief announcement there to notify their friends for whom you might not have contact information. If available, include arrangements you have made for any funeral or memorial service.
  • Enlist a friend or two to help with important but mundane tasks like caring for the deceased person’s pets, cleaning out their fridge, mowing the lawn, collecting mail, etc. It is wise to have a trusted acquaintance stay at the house during the funeral and burial service, perhaps someone who is close to you but who would be okay with missing the service. Friends will often ask, “What can I do?” and it is good to have a list of specific practical tasks to offer.
  • If the deceased lived alone, secure the property and have someone check on it frequently.
  • If the deceased was a veteran, contact Veterans Affairs to determine if there are any funeral or burial benefits available or if survivors are entitled to any benefits.

The Importance of a Probate Attorney’s Help

In the immediate aftermath of a death, there are a lot of details to manage, especially if you must plan a funeral rather than a delayed memorial service. Getting through the funeral can be difficult, but after the funeral, when the mourners have departed, there are different challenges ahead. One of the most immediate is settling your loved one’s estate.

If you are the next of kin, or were named as executor of an estate, you will be faced with the task of probating or administering the estate. While we refer to that as a task, it is actually a series of numerous tasks that can be stressful and bewildering, especially when you are grieving. An experienced probate attorney can be an invaluable help and guide, ensuring that the probate process goes smoothly and no important details or deadlines are overlooked.

In addition to dealing with probate, you will also want to consider updating your own estate plan to reflect assets you have inherited or to update your beneficiaries. Whatever your needs during this difficult period, we are here to help. To learn more about what to do after a loved one’s death, please contact The Law Offices of Dana M. Kyle, P.A. to schedule a consultation.

Categories: Estate Planning, Probate