Preparing for the death of a loved one isn’t easy. Even as you’re grieving, you will likely have many aspects of their affairs to settle. We’ve outlined some things to consider before your loved one passes away, as having these items organized prior to their death may make it easier on you and your family. It may also give you peace of mind, knowing that you’re carrying out your loved one’s wishes.
If your loved one does not have any of the above, consider offering to help them get started. Options include helping them talk with a lawyer or employer resources (Employee Assistance Program - EAP, etc.) and/or accessing your local library for resources.
Depending on your relationship with your loved one, you may not know how to contact their friends, business contacts and even some family members. Consider asking them to help you prepare a list of people they’d like notified in the event of their passing.
Consider talking with your loved one about adding a family member or a future estate executor to their accounts. These accounts may include bank accounts, retirement accounts and even utility and credit card accounts. Doing this now may make it easier to compile the inventory list, and it may help settle their affairs more quickly when they pass away. In addition, if your loved one has a safe deposit box or household safe, consider asking them to share access information or arrange for it to be shared when they pass away.
The facility may be able to provide information on medical treatment, memorial or funeral planning, emotional support, as well as other practical considerations you may not have thought about.
Preparing for someone’s death is an emotionally overwhelming process. Think about identifying a support system before or even during the grief process. This includes close family members, friends, clergy, or a spiritual advisor.
You’ll have several immediate considerations. We’ve outlined a few that are likely to be most important to take care of during the first week after your loved one passes away.
There are several ways you can inform family and friends about your loved one’s passing. They include phone calls, text messages, emails, social media or newspaper announcements. Referring to the deceased’s phone contacts, emails, and social media accounts may help with identifying who to contact. It may be overwhelming, so consider asking for help. People often don’t know how to help and may be very willing to assist you.
It may be helpful to look for someone who can take care of dependents and/or pets of the deceased until a long-term plan can be put in place.
Call the employer and let them know your loved one has passed away. Additionally, ask them about benefits, pay owed, and life insurance.
If your loved one has life insurance, contact the company and request claim information and forms.
These organizations may even help with funeral services and/or other arrangements.
If yes, then you may want to contact the facility and ask for help getting started.
If not, then you may want to:
Consider asking a friend or family member to help you with this as it can be an overwhelming process.
It’s generally recommended that you have multiple (up to 10) death certificates to close various accounts related to financial institutions, government agencies, and other accounts. The funeral home may be able to assist with obtaining these for you and may also notify the Social Security Administration. You can also order them directly from vital statistics office in the state where your loved one resided.
If your loved one’s home, car or other valuables will be unoccupied or unsecured, consider making arrangements to make sure their property is locked or appropriately secured.
Refer to your loved one’s mail and online accounts to find their open accounts. It may be helpful to present the death certificate in order to appropriately gain access to their accounts.
Once the immediate considerations are taken care of or are underway, consider these next steps. Remember, it’s ok to ask for help as your friends and family may be glad to assist you.
Notify the landlord about your loved one’s passing and make any necessary arrangements regarding the property.
If your loved one worked with an attorney or financial advisor, they may be able to help you identify assets and provide guidance for the next steps.
Contact these offices to stop any payments and ask if survivor benefits are available. You may need to provide a death certificate.
If you’re not familiar with your loved one’s assets, start with common items like bank account, retirement accounts, pensions and benefit payments. Review any recent mail received and review emails accounts if possible. As you begin to sort through personal belongings, keep an eye out for documents, letters or references to accounts or property. Your loved one’s attorney, financial advisor or other family may be able to help.
Probate is the official proving of a will and it must be processed at a county or city probate court office. The court will check for liabilities and transfer assets to heirs. However, it may not be necessary, depending on the size of the estate and whether or not your loved one was married.
If applicable, refer to the deceased’s Will in order to determine who will assume ownership of the property. If there is no Will to carry forth the deceased’s wishes, consider contacting an attorney to help identify the appropriate next steps.
Gather a list of bills that the executor of an estate may be responsible for. These may include mortgage payments and car payments, or any continuing payments on property. It may also include funeral and memorial expenses and moving, storage or packing expenses.
Examples are a mortgage company, credit card companies (including store cards such as Target) or banks if there is a home equity or similar type of loan outstanding.
If your loved one had life insurance and you haven’t yet notified the company of their death, do so at your earliest convenience. Typically, you don’t have to wait until a death certificate has been issued to report the claim. If your loved one was still working, there may also be insurance through their employer. Auto and other property insurance companies can be contacted to update the record even if the vehicle or property will remain with the family.
Identify membership accounts that your loved one had by checking their mail, email, or online bills. Contact the facilities and ask them to walk you through steps to terminate the memberships.
Going through unopened mail may help identify the deceased’s bills and assets. If the mailing address of your loved one will be vacant, consider having the mail forwarded.
By this time, you probably have identified many of the tasks that still need to be completed. You may still be working your way through some of the tasks we’ve already mentioned. Below we’ve outlined some less urgent items you may want to complete.
If your loved one had an accountant or financial advisor, this may already be underway. If not, consider seeking advice before any tax deadlines so that you have plenty of time to organize.
In case important emails are still being sent to the deceased’s account, if possible, try setting up a forwarding email address.
To avoid identity theft, consider closing online accounts of the deceased using their email accounts. If you want an online space to remember the deceased, contact the social media company to see if memorializing an active account is an option.
At this point, you may still have several tasks to complete. But it’s also possible that with most of the urgent items taken care of, the loss of your loved one has become more acute. You may also have fewer family and friends readily available than you did immediately after the death. Take a little time to check in with yourself and don’t be afraid to contact family and friends again for support. If you don’t feel like you have personal support, there may be options for you that are still helpful.
It’s ok if you need more support than family and friends can provide. Grief support groups, with members in a similar situation, may be helpful. Sources of support groups can be social media, recommendations from friends, medical provider-sponsored groups, organization-sponsored groups (such as through your religious affiliation or charities). Your work may offer counseling or grief support as a benefit.
Consider sending thank you cards or other tokens of appreciation to those who attended or helped you during this time.
If you’re considering a headstone or marker for the gravesite, contact the funeral home or memorial park to get started.
To honor the deceased, consider making a memorial donation to a cause that was important to your loved one.
It only takes a few minutes to discover which type of life insurance you may want to consider.