Regardless of how long we’ve had to ‘say goodbye’ — months or no time at all — a loved one's death can be an overwhelming shock. Yet suddenly, there’s so much to be done!
First, did your loved one die at home or work? Call 911. Deaths occurring without attending medical personnel must be reported for police investigation. After a coroner's examination, depending on the circumstances, they’ll transport the body to the funeral home of your choice or the morgue for an autopsy. If your loved one was under medical care, notify the doctor next (the name will be on prescription bottles and medical bills).
Or did it happen in a hospital or care facility? Then staff usually initiates arrangements, contacting your chosen funeral home or, if necessary, arranging an autopsy. If your loved one was in a hospice program’s care but died elsewhere, contact the administrators.
Next, the personal: notify family, friends and clergy. People will offer help. Consider accepting, to spread the news. Give them specific numbers to contact, so no one’s overlooked. They feel better helping, and you’re less burdened.
Now, the professional: contact a funeral director. Certainly, they arrange funerals, memorials and burial services but also much more: • transport the body • obtain the death certificate • arrange a casket, urn or grave marker • prepare the obituary • help you notify the deceased's employer, attorney, insurance company and banks. They can even offer grief support or direct you to other resources.
Did your loved one pre-plan with their funeral director? If not, ask friends and family for referrals or use Find a Funeral Home. Prices and services vary. Consult several funeral directors to be sure you’re comfortable with your choice.
If your loved one worked, call the employer immediately. Ask about their benefits and any pay due, including vacation, sick time, disability income, etc. Are dependents still eligible for benefits through the company? Was there life insurance through the employer? If yes, who’s the beneficiary and how do they claim benefits?
Contact the life insurance company. First, find your loved one’s policy. Call the agent or company and ask how to file a claim. Usually beneficiaries (or, if minors, their guardians) must complete claim forms and related paperwork. You'll need to submit the death certificate and a claimant's statement. Ask about payment options. Can beneficiaries choose between receiving a lump sum or the having the money put in an interest-bearing checking account?
Notify Social Security and other organizations. If your loved one was covered, the spouse or dependents may be eligible for payments or benefits. Also contact any unions, professional or service organizations they belonged to. There may be life insurance or other benefits from these.
Gather important papers. Locate the will or trust, plus all other important papers, like deeds, business agreements, tax returns, bank accounts, earnings statements, birth and marriage certificates, military discharge papers, Social Security Number, vehicle registration, loan payment books, bills, and any other important papers pertaining to your loved one's affairs. You'll need all these to file a final tax return and settle the estate. Consider using an accountant.
Are you the will’s executor?
As executor, you’re responsible for carrying out final wishes from the will, paying creditors and balancing the estate. First, you'll need to file a probate case with the court. Sometimes, probate is complicated. Definitely consider an attorney, experienced in probate. (It could but needn’t be the same lawyer who prepared the will.) Ask whether there’s a probate time limit in your state.
Was there no will? That’s called dying intestate. The court will appoint an administrator. Their responsibilities are like an executor’s: distributing assets, paying creditors and balancing the estate.
Did you share the loved one’s joint bank account? You should be able to conduct business as usual, depending on how it was opened. Otherwise, normally, only the executor or administrator can access an account after providing the required paperwork to the bank.