Feature Stories

A Checklist of What to Do Before and After a Loved One Dies

The death of a loved of can bring about a host of different tasks and responsibilities. Here’s a list of some things you can do now, and after their death, that can help keep a sad event from becoming even more difficult.

Before Death Occurs

There are several tasks you can do now while your loved one is still living that will make things easier for you after they die.

For starters, find out where they keep all their important papers like their trust and/or will (also make sure it’s updated), birth certificate, Social Security information, life-insurance policies, military discharge papers, financial documents, key or combination to a safe deposit box or a home safe. Also make a list of their digital assets (including usernames and passwords) like their email account, online banking accounts, social media accounts, etc.

If your loved one doesn’t have an advanced directive, help them make one (see CaringInfo.org for free state-specific forms and instructions). An advanced directive includes a living will that specifies their end-of-life medical treatments and appoints a health-care proxy to make medical decisions if they become incapacitated. Read this article for more information on advanced directives. In addition, you should also make a do-not-resuscitate (DNR) order. Your loved one’s doctor can help you with this.

You should also pre-arrange their funeral, memorial service, and burial or cremation.

Immediately After Death

Once your loved one dies, you’ll need to get a legal pronouncement of death. If no doctor is present, you’ll need to contact someone to do this.

If they die at home under hospice care, call the hospice nurse, who can declare his death and help facilitate the transport of the body.

If the die at home without hospice care, call their doctor. You’ll then need to call the funeral home, mortuary or crematorium to pick up the body. If your loved one is an organ or tissue donor, contact the funeral home or the county coroner immediately.

Within a Few Days

If funeral plans were not pre-arranged, you’ll need to make arrangements and prepare an obituary. If your loved one was in the military or belonged to a fraternal or religious group, you should contact those organizations too, because they may have burial benefits or conduct funeral services.

You should also notify family members, close friends, and their employer if they were still working, and make sure their home is secured.    

Up to 10 Days After Death

To wind down their financial affairs, you’ll need to get multiple copies of their death certificate, which are typically ordered by the funeral home. 

If you are the executor of their estate, take their will to the appropriate county or city office to have it accepted for probate. And open a bank account for their estate to pay bills, including taxes, funeral costs, etc.

You also need to contact their estate attorney if they have one; tax preparer to see if estate or final income taxes should be filed; financial advisor for information on financial holdings; life insurance agent to get claim forms; their bank to locate and close accounts; and Social Security, the VA (if they are a veteran) and other agencies that provided benefits in order to stop payments.

You should also cancel their credit cards, delete or memorialize their social media accounts and, if relevant, stop household services like utilities, mail, etc. Their home and personal belongings will also need to be dealt with in the coming weeks.

Jim Miller publishes the Savvy Senior, a nationally syndicated column that offers advice for Boomers and Seniors.

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