What to Do When a Loved One Dies

When a loved one dies, the process of getting all the paperwork and planning the funeral service can be overwhelming (especially for the person left in charge). A loved one’s death can be confusing and emotional. This can cloud peoples thinking, making funeral planning difficult.

An unexpected death can leave you unprepared to handle the logistics of managing the estate of a loved one and planning for their funeral. There are also many issues that you need to navigate during this challenging time including some critical financial matters that need your immediate attention.

We prepared a checklist to help you decide before and after the funeral.

This checklist will tell you what to do during this difficult time. It covers what to do after the death of your loved one and in the days and weeks following the death. Our checklist will guide you from making the first phone call, the funeral arrangements, and for preparing documents that you need to file and/or obtain.

STEPS TO DO WHEN A LOVED ONE DIES – Here’s a checklist to guide you on what needs to be done when a loved one dies.


#1 – Get legal certification of Death

As soon as possible, have the death officially pronounced by someone in authority such as a doctor, an emergency medical technician, nursing facility, hospice nurse, coroner or medical examiner. This person will fill out the forms certifying the time, cause, and place of death.

These steps will help the official death certificate to be prepared. The death certificate is necessary for many reasons, including life insurance, benefits, financial and property issues.

  • If your loved one died at home under hospice care, call the hospice nurse to declare the death.
  • If your loved died at home without hospice care, call 911 and show them the do-not-resuscitate document if you have it. Without this document, the paramedics will start emergency procedures, except when the body is pronounced dead. They may also take the body to the emergency room for a doctor to make the declaration.
  • If you live in a rural area, where there are no emergency services, contact the local coroner’s office.

Once the death is pronounced, you can work with the funeral director to obtain the actual death certificate.

#2 – Arrange for organ donation.

This process must be done almost immediately at the time of death so that the organs can be harvested as promptly as possible. If your loved one died in a hospital, ask a coordinator to guide you through the process. If your loved one died in a hospice or nursing home – contact the nearest hospital.

#3 – Notify close family and friends.

Contact immediate family members. Find contacts through an email account, personal telephone books, and social media. It’s is an opportunity to comfort one another and share information about an important decision that must be made.

Notify close friends. Make a list and put as many people on it as you can. Ask them to contact other family members and friends. You can also contact a Minister, pastor, or priest.

#4 – Notify funeral home to arrange for transportation of the body.

Call the funeral home to arrange the transportation of the body. If an autopsy is not needed, the body can be picked up by a mortuary. Make the arrangements as soon as your family is ready.

If the death took place in a hospital or nursing facility, they might call the funeral home. If your loved one died at home, you need to contact the funeral home directly or ask a  friend or family member to do that for you.

If your loved one preselected a funeral home or have prepaid for the funeral service, you should call that funeral home. If there is no funeral home selected, research which funeral home in your area would best serve your family’s need. Ask a friend or relatives for a recommendation. If you have a church, ask the minister for suggestions.

Spend time researching your options when selecting a funeral home. The cost will vary from one funeral home to another depending on the kind of service they provide. Ask the funeral homes for pricing over the phone, and this will make the researching prices a lot easier.

#5 – Meet with the funeral director handling the funeral

Honor your loved one’s wishes by following their instructions regarding the kind of funeral they want. You can also use your family discussions to guide you on the decisions that must be made.

  • Do religious traditions need to be respected?
  • Will the body be embalmed or cremated?
  • Will you be using a casket; will it be open or closed?
  • If the body will be cremated, will the ashes be deposited in an urn or placed in a mausoleum?
  • Will there be contributions to charities instead of flowers?
  • Where will the burial site be?

#6 – Handle care of dependents and pets

Ask someone to look after your loved ones home and pets. Lock the house and vehicle. Make sure the car is parked in a secure and legal area. Ask someone to look after the house to prevent theft. If the house is vacant, notify the landlord or property manager and the police.

Ask a relative or friend to keep an eye on the house, answer the phone, throw all perishable food out, collect mail, and water the plants. Have someone care for the pets until a permanent arrangement is made.

#7 – Call the person’s employer

Call your loved one’s employer if he is working. Also, request information about company benefits including life insurance, and if there are any outstanding payments due that your loved one is entitled to.


#1 – Arrange for funeral and burial or cremation

Contact the funeral director and the people who will help you arrange the service. Factors to consider in arranging the funeral:

  • Your loved one’s wish
  • What you can afford
  • What will help the family the most

#2 – Search the person’s documents

Search your loved one’s papers to find out if there was a prepaid funeral plan. Locate the will, birth certificate, Social Security information, life insurance or burial insurance policies, financial documents, and marriage and divorce certificates.

#3 – Prepare an obituary

You might want to write the obituary, or the funeral home might offer their service. If you’re going to publish the obituary in the newspaper, check on their rates, deadline and submission guidelines. Don’t include the exact date of your loved one to prevent identity theft.

#4 – Spread the word about the service

Once the date and time have been determined for the funeral and burial, share the details with your friends and relatives. Give them the address to send cards, flowers or donations.

#5 – Organize the funeral or wake

Organize the wake according to your tradition. The wake can be held at the funeral home, church, banquet hall or relatives house. Enlist the help of your relatives and friends to plan.

For a veteran or military personnel inquire about special arrangements

If your loved one was in the military contact the Veterans Administration they may have burial benefits or conduct for funeral services.  Ask if you can get assistance with the funeral, burial plot or other benefits. Call Veterans Affairs at 1-800-827-1000 to inquire about veteran’s survivor benefits.

#6 – Determine if you need help or financial assistance for the funeral and burial.

You can get help from different sources including a church, fraternal organization or union that your loved one belonged to. Send an email or call your local group for help.


#1 – Obtain death certificates

Obtain death certificates. Your funeral director may help you order this from the vital statistics office in the state where the death occurred. Get multiple copies to complete future tasks. Each death certificate can cost around $10 or $20.

#2 – Meet with the probate attorney

Get a recommendation from family and friends to get a lawyer. Meet the probate attorney to seek legal and financial advice. If you’re the executor of the will, you and the attorney will have the will admitted into probate court. The probate process starts with an inventory of all the assets which need to be filed in the probate court.

#3 – Notify life insurance companies

If your loved one had life insurance or burial insurance, call the life insurance agent to get claim forms. You need to contact the insurance company as soon as possible to start the claim process. Provide the policy numbers and a death certificate. It could take days to weeks for you to get the life insurance payout.

#4 – Notify local Social Security office

Call Social Security at 800-772-1213 or call your local office. If your loved one is receiving benefits, ask them to stop payments and the payment received for the month of death will need to be returned. Ask about applicable survivor benefits and the one-time payment of $255.

#5 – Notify the bank and mortgage companies

Notify the bank and the mortgage companies of your loved one’s passing. Take the death certificates to the bank and ask for assistance. Change the ownership if you have joint bank accounts. If your loved one has a safe deposit box and you don’t have the key, you will need a court order to open the safe deposit box.

#6 – Look into employment benefits

If your loved one is working, contact his employer for information about benefits such as pension plan and credit union death benefits. You will have to present a death certificate to make each claim.

#7 – Cancel utility companies and postal services

Ask the utility companies and postal service to stop or forward mail. Use the forward mail option to prevent accumulating mail to the address. Check the mail about creditors, subscriptions and other accounts that need to be canceled.

#8 – Close credit card accounts

Call the customer service phone number on each credit card and let them know that you would like to close the account concerning the death of your loved one. Submit a copy of the death certificate to enable the company to close the account. If the agent refused to waive interest or fees, notify the executor of the estate about the outstanding debts.

#9 – Notify credit reporting agencies

Provide copies of the death certificate to credit reporting agencies such as TransUnion, Equifax and Experian to flag your loved ones account and avoid identity theft. Check the account after four to six weeks to ensure no fraudulent accounts have been opened.

#10 – Cancel driver’s license

Canceling the driver’s license will remove your loved one’s name from the records of the department or motor vehicle. Doing this will help prevent identity theft. You will have to present a copy of the death certificate to the state department of motor vehicle. Call the customer service center for exact instructions.

#11 – Cancel membership in organizations

Reach out to professional organizations, sororities, fraternities or other organization where your loved one belongs and find out how to handle the membership status.

#12 – Notify the election board

Lastly, notify the election board by presenting a copy of the death certificate.


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