Steps to Take When A Loved One Dies
Take a deep breath. And now again. You can do this- and we hope our checklist can give you the confidence you need
Depending on the circumstances of the death, proceed with the appropriate and legal next step. This will enable you to obtain a death certificate, which is needed for all future steps.
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Steps To Take As Soon As Possible
Get pronouncement of death
This will begin the process of allowing you to get a death certificate. If your loved one was not at a hospital or on hospice, you will likely need to call 911 to get the legal pronouncement. If you call 911, make sure you have their DNR and all of their medical information ready.
If your loved one’s death was expected (they had a known, terminal condition), don’t worry about doing this immediately. Take a few moments with your loved one if you’d like, this could be the last bit of quiet you have until all of the arrangements are made.
If their death was unexpected (someone “too young,” or who had no terminal illnesses. Also accidents, foul play, or suicides), call 911 immediately. The EMTs will attempt to resuscitate your loved one, and the authorities will establish if the coroner’s office needs to be involved.
Arrange for organ donation (if applicable)
If your loved one is donating organs, this is when you start those arrangements. If your loved one is at the hospital and eligible, this will be discussed with you there. If you’re unsure, check with the DMV or on their driver’s license. If they are organ donors, they will be taken immediately to the hospital to begin that process.
Notify friends and family
Once the first two things have been done, it’s time to let people know what happened. In person is obviously best, or over the phone if in person is impossible. Avoid using text messages, social media, or email for those close to the deceased.
Be Prepared to Talk to Law Enforcement
By law, if there is no doctor or hospice worker in attendance when someone dies, it’s classed as an unattended death- even if it was expected. Local law enforcement is required to come and talk to you, so don’t be alarmed. If it was an unexpected death, they will have to do an investigation.
Arrange for care of any dependents or pets
If the deceased has any dependents or pets, arrangements need to be made for their care. If you cannot look after them yourself, find a family member or friend to help you.
Call person’s employer if they were working
When a death is sudden, everyone can be taken by surprise. Call your deceased loved one’s boss to let them know what’s going on and not to expect them anymore.
Secure large property
If the deceased has a home or automobile, ensure that everything is locked up tightly. This will ensure that nothing gets stolen. Make sure someone goes by their home regularly to keep an eye on things and get the mail until forwarding can be set up.
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Decide what you will do with the remains
This is often handled in a will or by word-of-mouth before death. But in the event of sudden death, it’s on their loved ones to make that decision. You are not required to make this decision immediately, the hospital morgue can take care of your loved one’s remains until you are able to decide.
The two options you can choose between are burial and cremation. Burial is by far the most common, but cremation is rising in popularity across the United States.
Pros and Cons of Burial vs Cremation
One of the most realistic considerations is cost. Burials can cost thousands of dollars when you factor in the cost of a plot, casket, transportation, gravestone, funeral home services, and then whatever costs of the service itself. If there is money set aside specifically for this, it can be the best option. Cremation is much less expensive, even taking into account the cost of an urn, transportation, etc.
Another thing people consider is whether they or their family want a place to visit their loved one that’s dedicated to them. Graves and burials are popular because their loved ones can come visit their memorial at their leisure. You can place cremated remains in a traditional grave plot, and you can, if you wish, have a funeral and viewing before cremation.
Sometimes, people don’t want to choose cremation for their loved one because they don’t want to have the cremated remains in their home and don’t know where else to put them. Here at Rest Ashured we can help you by scattering your loved one’s ashes respectfully off the coast, in the Blue Ridge Mountains, or with a memorial tree.
With one of our scattering packages, you simply order, and receive a package in the mail that contains detailed instructions and all the materials you need to ship your loved one to us. We take care of everything else.
Mountain Views Scattering
Our Mountain Views scattering allows you to send your loved one’s remains to be scattered in our scatter garden. We have spaces on our property in the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains that we use specifically for scattering. With this option, we can also have a memorial stone created for your loved one. Once we have scattered your loved one’s ashes, we will send you a certificate that contains the date and location of the scattering.
If you have any questions about what we can do to help you through this difficult time, please give us a call at 434-534-4007
Tree Dedication Scattering
This service is similar to the mountain views service, except that we plant a tree in your loved one’s honor and scatter their ashes around their tree. Again, once we’ve completed it, you will receive a certificate that contains the date and location of the scattering.
Burial At Sea
With our Burial at Sea service, we will respectfully scatter your loved one’s ashes off the coast of the Outer Banks. We make sure all EPA regulations are followed throughout the process. Once we have done so, we will send you a certificate that contains the date and location of the scattering.
Arrange for any transportation of the body
Once you have made your decision, you may need to arrange for transportation to a funeral home or crematorium. If you don’t have this information immediately, your loved one will be taken to the hospital morgue until transportation is arranged.
After you’ve taken care of the most immediate things, take a short break and rest. Spend some time with your family or alone. The coming days will be full of decisions and arrangements if nothing has been done previously.
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Within a Few Days
Arrange for funeral or burial
Your next step will be to start to make arrangements for the services that may be upcoming. The next section has a more detailed list of how to arrange this.
Order casket/urn/scattering service
Depending on what kind of service you’re doing, make sure you order what you need as quickly as possible so everything arrives in a timely manner.
Get their mail forwarded
Set up mail forwarding to whoever is executing the estate. This will help with tying up all bills and closing out any accounts necessary.
Check their home for plants, expired food, etc
Go through and empty out refrigerators and cabinets of perishable food. If it’s still good, donate it. If not, make sure it’s disposed of. Figure out care for plants and anything similar as well. This would also be a good time to dispose of any extra prescription medication if applicable.
Check with any fraternal organizations or the military (if applicable)
If your loved one was a veteran of any branch of the military, or was a member of any local fraternal organizations like the Freemasons, you may qualify for financial assistance for their arrangements.
Write an obituary
Writing an obituary can be a difficult task, particularly if you’re not a strong writer. But there are many websites that can give you a template to fill in, making it easier.
Planning the service or wake can be stressful as you try to figure out exactly what you need to do. Hopefully this portion of the checklist will help you get a handle on this part of the arrangements. And don’t be afraid to delegate!
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Leading up to the wake, service, etc
Establish financial needs
Funeral services of any kind can get very expensive. Some people have insurance that can take care of some of those financial needs. However, if your loved one’s death was unexpected, it’s unlikely that they have any finances set aside for death and funeral services. Setting a budget is a good place to start, and sometimes it can be helpful to start a crowdfunding account to get some assistance with the service.
Choose participants in service or wake
Often, friends and family members wish to speak or read at a service. This should be coordinated in advance to make sure that there’s time during the service.
Set a schedule for service
Once you have the participants gathered, create a basic schedule to work from so that you don’t run behind. This can also be used to create the programs if you so desire.
Order programs, flowers, etc
As soon as you have established who is participating, order programs and any other items you want to have at the wake or service such as flowers.
A common way to handle food and drinks is a covered dish or potluck meal where everyone brings something. The only thing that would need arranging at that point is drinks.
Tell loved ones about the service
As soon as you have the date set, make sure that loved ones are told the date, time, and location of the service. People out of town should be told as soon as possible so that they have time to arrange to attend the service.
After the service, take some time to rest again. The rest of this isn’t quite as time sensitive, so you can relax.
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Within a Few Weeks
Order headstone (if applicable)
Even if you choose burial, headstones aren’t usually at the service unless the deceased was predeceased by a spouse or parent. So this can wait until after the service.They’re often expensive, so you may want to save up for one.
Get at least 5-10 copies of death certificate
Get lots of copies of this, everyone you need to talk to for closing accounts and such will require a copy. The more bills and cards, the more copies you will need.
Start the probate process on the will
This can usually be handled without a lawyer unless it’s an extremely complex will. This simply means that a court needs to declare a will valid or invalid.
Talk to Social Security Office and any other financial benefit organizations
Make sure that their benefits from social security and any veteran’s or similar benefit organizations are closed out. This also includes Medicare and Medicaid.
Notify banks or insurance companies
This will ensure that the next of kin can handle the finances from the bank (this includes PayPal if they used the service). If your loved one had life insurance, they should be notified as well.
Contact an accountant for tax purposes
After death, taxes need to be done one more time for that year. Often, it’s easiest to let an accountant handle it. If you’d rather not, there are options like TurboTax that allow you to select that you’re filing on behalf of another person.
Notify pension services
Make sure you notify any pension services if your loved one was retired. Death can change the benefits received, particularly if they have a spouse or family.
Cancel insurance services, utilities, etc
Talk to their health, auto, home, and other insurances to get the policies canceled. Also make sure that the utilities such as cell phones or internet are canceled. If you aren’t sure what needs to change, keep an eye on their mail and/or email.
Identify and pay important bills
Again, keep an eye on mail and/or email for this. If any late fees are accrued, check with the company to see if there is any way to lift it in the event of a death.
Close Credit cards and notify credit reporting services
Closing credit cards and talking to credit reporting services like Equifax can help prevent your loved one’s identity being stolen posthumously.
Cancel drivers license
Canceling their driver’s license will help prevent identity theft as well. This can be done by calling their state DMV.
Close out/memorialize all social media and email accounts
Certain social media accounts, such as Facebook, allow you to memorialize them so that people can still post on their page but it can’t be opened up. Emails should be closed out and deleted.
Dealing with the death of a loved one is a long, hard journey. Our hope is that this list will make things easier for you in the time following their death. Our downloadable checklists can be printed as well to give you simple organizational tools for your time of need.