What to do when someone dies

A checklist of everything you need to take care of

Elissa

By

Elissa Suh

Elissa Suh

Personal Finance Editor

Elissa Suh is a personal finance editor at Policygenius in New York City. She has researched and written extensively about finance and insurance since 2019, with an emphasis in estate planning and mortgages. Her writing has been cited by MarketWatch, CNBC, and Betterment.

Published June 9, 2021|4 min read

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After someone dies there are many things that need to be done, from arranging a funeral to closing bank accounts. It can be exhausting to handle all of these tasks while grieving, so we’ve made a checklist to help you during a difficult time. Family members and close friends can take on these responsibilities together and even help the executor guide the estate through probate if it’s necessary.

Key Takeaways

  • Immediately after someone dies you need to get it on record and transport the body

  • Filing for probate and settling their affairs can happen in the coming days and weeks

  • Make sure to get a few copies of the death certificate

  • Finding the deceased's estate plan, if they had one, can help you respect their wishes and guide what to do

ASAP

1. Get a declaration of death

You need to call a medical professional to get a legal pronouncement of death when someone dies, but who you call depends on where the person was when they passed.

  • When someone dies in the hospital, notify the doctor on call.

  • When someone dies in hospice care, notify the hospice nurse.

  • When someone dies at home, call the county coroner or 911. Emergency services are obligated to try and revive a person, so you should let them know if the person had a DNR, and resuscitation was against their wishes.

2. Make arrangements for the body

Contact the funeral home to have the body transported to a mortuary until it's time for the funeral or cremation service. 

If the person was an organ donor, the hospital will alert the local Organ Procurement Organization (OPO). An OPO representative will work to authorize the organ transplant and find a match. All wounds are surgically closed so that there can still be a funeral service afterwards.

3. Tell family, friends, and work

Let loved ones know of the person's death, as well as their employer.

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4. Take care of dependents & secure property

Make sure that any children have a place to go and are properly cared for. If someone dies suddenly, you will want to make sure their property is secure — like that the front door to their house is closed and the vehicles are safely parked.

Within a few days

5. Make funeral & burial arrangements

Funeral services need to be arranged almost immediately after receiving a pronouncement of death. If the deceased didn’t leave behind their wishes for their end-of-life arrangements, you’ll need to:

  • Choose between a cremation or a burial: Burials cost anywhere between $8,000-$10,000. Cremations are cheaper and cost $1,400 on average. 

  • Determine the provider: You’ll need to pick a funeral home, natural burial site, or crematorium. 

  • Arrange the funeral: Choose the type of casket or urn, whether the service will be open or closed casket, and who will speak. 

  • Plan a memorial service: Catering, flowers, and venue are a few considerations for a final celebration of life. 

6. Write an obituary

An obituary announces the death and discloses essential details about the memorial service, where to send any flowers or donations, and who survives the deceased. It’s also a way to honor the legacy of the person who died and remember their life. 

You can submit an obituary to a local or online newspaper through Legacy.com. Most newspapers use this service, but a select few will ask you to submit an obituary directly through them. Funeral homes can also submit the obituary on your behalf, though this sometimes incurs an additional fee. 

7. Stop government benefits

Notify the Social Security Administration and VA department to stop receiving benefits.

Within a few weeks

You can begin settling a deceased person’s affairs — their finances, their belongings — within a few weeks after their death, and if they left an estate plan, this process might go more smoothly.

8. Get the death certificate

The death certificate provides legal proof of someone's death, and you'll need at least a few copies to close out your loved one's personal affairs. You can get a death certificate from the funeral home or by contacting the vital records office.

9. Find the will

If the deceased left a last will and testament, they may have named an executor to carry out the terms and settle their final affairs. Being an executor is a big responsibility, and the appointed person may even have been told ahead of time. Should they decline or if there was no will, someone else can take up the responsibility to act as administrator. In most states, a surviving spouse and immediate family get priority.

Find out where someone might have stored a will.

10. Inventory the estate

Help the executor create a log of all the decedent's assets, which make up their estate. The types of assets left behind and how much they're worth can help determine how to go through probate.

Learn about everything an estate executor does.

11. File for probate

Once you have an idea of the makeup of the estate, it's time to file for probate — the legal process of proving a will and distributing assets to the proper beneficiaries. The probate process is different in every state, and almost all of them offer different types of probate procedures that can range from straightforward to more involved.

As a general rule, when the deceased person left behind a wealthy estate, it is more likely that they'll require a more formal process, which may even be supervised by the probate court. On the other hand, if they didn't own much in the way of probate assets, you may be able to settle their estate informally with a small estate affidavit.

Find out when to probate a will.

12. Get professional help if necessary

Seek an estate attorney or probate lawyer if you need help with estate administration. Also, consult with a financial advisor and accountants for any tax-related matters, like if a tax return needs to be filed on behalf of the estate (by filing Form 1041).  

13. Open an estate account

The deceased can no longer accept money so any funds made out to them after they’ve died, like a paycheck, need to be deposited into a bank account under the name of their estate. 

Learn how to open an estate bank account.

14. Notify institutions and cancel services

Tie up loose ends by letting third parties know that your loved one has passed away. (If there are any outstanding bills, the executor can pay them through the estate account.) Remember to provide a copy of the death certificate when you contact the following:

  • Mortgage lender: Change the name of the mortgage holder.

  • Home insurance company: The policyholder may need to be changed to someone else, like a surviving spouse, or you may need to take out a new policy if the home is vacant and unoccupied.

  • Life insurance company: Life insurance pays out after you submit the death certificate to the insurer, fill out a claims form, and prove your identity.

  • Retirement account holder: IRAs and 401(k)s can transfer directly to a named beneficiary if there is one.

  • Post office: Let the USPS know where to forward mail.

  • Utility companies: Call electric, gas, and internet providers to cancel these services.

  • Subscription services: Cancel any subscriptions for products, newspapers, streaming services, etc.

  • Driver’s license: Notify the DMV of the death to prevent future identity theft.

  • Credit agencies: Contact Experian, Equifax, and Transunion to prevent identity theft.