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When a Loved One Dies: What to Do

When someone close to you dies, the responsibility of tying up the loose ends of their life may fall to you. This can be an overwhelming task—especially if you’re dealing with your own grief and that of the people around you. Here are a few things you’ll need to do to be sure this difficult period in life is handled smoothly and without too much trouble.

Get the person’s documents together

You’ll need an exhaustive list of documents including death certificates—maybe twelve or so; a social security card; marriage and birth certificates, as well as those for children; insurance policy documentation; deeds, titles, and registration papers for property and vehicles; stock certificates, loan payment records, and recent income tax and W2 forms; and loan payment documentation.

Woman at Funeral

It’s never easy when a loved one dies—especially when you’re the one tying up the loose ends.



Donate organs

If it’s what the deceased would have wished, be sure to take care of this immediately—as the organs will need to be taken quickly to be useful. Check your loved one’s driver’s license if you aren’t sure about his or her wishes, or contact the manager of the assisted living facitlity were they had been staying.

Tell everyone in the family

This is often the hardest task. It’s best to do this in person or via phone rather than via email, especially those close to the deceased. This is also a good time to ask if the person had specific burial wishes—someone among the friends and family may have some insight in this area.

Start planning the funeral

Some people leave no instructions on their burials—or make requests that can’t be fulfilled. If this is the case, it’s best to talk over funeral plans along with other close family members. It’s best to take into account affordability and what will be satisfying to the family—as well as the wishes of the deceased.

Hire a funeral home

Funeral home staff often transport the body from the hospital directly to their locations. If you’re lucky, your loved one will have chosen a funeral home for you—and maybe even prepaid for the services. If that’s not the case, you’ll have to choose based on cost, services, and other factors.

Notify peripheral friends and extended family

There are some people it’s okay to notify via email. Check your loved one’s phone book, email accounts, and other records for the addresses, email addresses, and phone numbers of people who should know about the death and may want to go to the funeral.

Make sure the deceased’s property is safe

Is the house locked/ Is the vehicle parked securely and legally? Are the pets taken care of? If the house will be empty, it may be a good idea to tell the landlord, property manager, or police so that someone can keep an eye on whether any suspicious activity is going on in the area. Get the post office to hold mail so it doesn’t build up and signal to thieves that no one is home.

Monitor the deceased’s mail

This can help you find out about any subscriptions, loans, and other accounts that will need to be closed.  

Talk to the funeral director

Once you’ve chosen a funeral home and had a chance to talk with any family members who might have some insight into what the deceased wanted for a funeral, meet with the funeral director to make the arrangements. You’ll need to have given some thought to issues such as cremation vs. burial, the scale of event you can afford, the headstone, the cost of the coffin, and such. Be sure the headstone you buy conforms to the cemetery’s rules.

Organize the wake

The post-funeral get-together is usually arranged by the family. It can be held at a church or religious center, a secular banquet hall, or at a private home. This is a great time to get friends and family members to help—in the organization, hosting, running the event, cooking, and more. Delegate tasks and make the event easier on yourself.

Write an obituary

When writing your loved one’s obituary, be sure to omit details such as an exact birth date—as these can be used by identity thieves, who often prey on the recently deceased. The funeral home might be able to help you write the obituary, or you may want to write it yourself. Check rates and submission guidelines if you’d like it published in a newspaper.

Send thank-you notes to well-wishers

It’s best to keep a list of the names and addresses of anyone who sent a gift, flowers, a donation, or anything else that might require thank-you notes. Sending thank-you cards yourself can be a nice touch, but everyone will understand if you delegate this task to someone else.

Close accounts

You’ll need to tell anyone who might be charging your loved one for a service or paying him or her—such as health and life insurance companies; Medicare Prescription Drug Coverage, Medicare Advantage, and Medigap policies; credit card accounts; retirement accounts; any other insurance companies; and any subscriptions.

Ask about employment benefits

Your loved one may have had a pension plan or be eligible for union death payments. Check and see if you can file a claim.

Call the professionals

You’ll need a lawyer to help you administer the will, a tax accountant to help you with any tax issues, and a financial advisor to help you figure out how retirement account funds should be distributed. The advice of a professional can help you immensely in all of these areas.  

Pay the bills

Find out how much money your loved one owed and to whom, so all bills can be paid as quickly as possible – for example credit cards, cell phone bills, and retirement community fees.

Tell credit reporting agencies

Identity theft is always a threat with the deceased. Get in touch with Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion to make sure they know the situation—and can flag the account. In a month or a little later, double-check the account to be sure there has been no fraudulent activity. You can also cancel a driver’s license and tell the election board to help stop identity theft.

It’s never easy when a loved one dies—especially when you’re the one tying up the loose ends. Follow these tips, and you’ll be able to at least make sure things go a little more easily—and you’ll have as little stress as possible in this difficult time.