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.
Consider talking with your loved one about where important documents are. Ask for copies or a list of where they’re stored.
- Advance Directive
- Will or testament, Living Will, Do Not Resuscitate Order (DNR), End of Life Care
- Power of Attorney
- Life Insurance Policy
- Funeral or memorial service arrangements
- Inventory list of assets and accounts
- Mortgage or lease
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.
Consider asking your loved one for contact information for their friends
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.
Arrange to be added to personal accounts and/or as an emergency contact
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.
If your loved one resides in a nursing home, assisted living or similar facility, talk with the staff about their procedures when someone passes 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.
Consider reaching out to a trusted family advisor or support system
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.
During the First Week
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.
Notifying family and friends
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.
Arrange for care of dependents and/or pets
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.
Notify employer (if applicable)
Call the employer and let them know your loved one has passed away. Additionally, ask them about benefits, pay owed, and life insurance.
Notify life insurance company
If your loved one has life insurance, contact the company and request claim information and forms.
Also consider notifying: military branch, religious organization, service organization, fraternal or civic organizations your loved one participated in
These organizations may even help with funeral services and/or other arrangements.
Have memorial or funeral arrangements already been planned?
If yes, then you may want to contact the facility and ask for help getting started.
If not, then you may want to:
- Identify a funeral home
- Decide on cremation, burial or other options
- Select a casket or urn
- Start planning memorial service details (officiant(s), pallbearers, programs, speakers, music, and flowers are common considerations.)
Consider asking a friend or family member to help you with this as it can be an overwhelming process.
Apply for a death certificate:
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.
Notify banks and obtain access to safety deposit box(es)
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.
2 Weeks to 1 Month Post Loss:
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.
If the person rented their living space, notify the landlord
Notify the landlord about your loved one’s passing and make any necessary arrangements regarding the property.
Contact your loved one’s attorney, accountant or investment advisor
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.
Notify Medicare, pension and/or other sources of income or benefits
Contact these offices to stop any payments and ask if survivor benefits are available. You may need to provide a death certificate.
Create an inventory of all assets, if the list does not currently exist
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.
Refer to your county/city probate court office to determine if the Will must be probated
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 the person owned rental property, notify the tenants
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.
Start a list of bills to be paid by the Estate
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.
Terminate or update insurance specific to your loved one
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.
Discontinue services and/or memberships with: utility companies, gyms, clubs, etc.
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.
Go through unopened mail and consider having mail forwarded
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.
1 to 3 Months Post Loss
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.
To prevent fraud, consider notifying these sources of personal information:
- Credit reporting agencies (TransUnion, Experian and Equifax)
- IRS and State tax agencies, as applicable
- Election board
- Department of Motor Vehicles (driver's license or state ID)
- Deceased Do Not Call List
Consider working with an accountant regarding current year's taxes for your loved one
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.
Forward email account(s) if possible
In case important emails are still being sent to the deceased’s account, if possible, try setting up a forwarding email address.
Close online accounts
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.
3 to 6 Months Post Loss
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.
Make a plan to get back on track:
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.
- If you stopped doing your favorite activities during this time, consider making a plan to re-start them. Ask a friend to help you.
- Did you re-start some habits you thought you’d left behind? Stress can bring back coping strategies you thought you’d abandoned. Make a plan to regain those healthier habits.
- Are there some people you wish you’d been able to spend more time with? Can you contact them and make the time now?
- Consider taking a short vacation or leave of absence if you can. Even if it’s not for long or far away, a change of scene and routine may allow you to mark the end of this period of time and prepare yourself for a future without your loved one.
Send "Thank You" cards or other tokens of appreciation
Consider sending thank you cards or other tokens of appreciation to those who attended or helped you during this time.
6 to 12 Months Post Loss
If you’re considering a headstone or marker for the gravesite, contact the funeral home or memorial park to get started.
Consider making a donation to a charitable organization or set up a fund in the name of your loved one
To honor the deceased, consider making a memorial donation to a cause that was important to your loved one.