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What to Do When a Loved One Dies

By Jason Alderman

Whether it's expected or accidental, the death of a loved one can shake you to the core. The last thing you want is to have to interrupt grieving to deal with mundane tasks, but unfortunately there are many actions that must be done on behalf of the deceased. Some must be taken immediately, while with others you can take your time and reflect on the best path to follow.

Here's a checklist:

If the death occurs under hospital or hospice watch, they will notify the proper authorities and help you make arrangements with the coroner's office for transport of the remains. If it happens at home, call local police or 911 for assistance. If he or she was an organ donor, you'll need to act quickly.

Reach out for help in making arrangements and locating key documents. Split up such tasks as contacting others who will want to know, taking care of pets, collecting mail and safeguarding the deceased's home if it's now vacant.

Look for a will or other document that spells out the deceased's burial or cremation wishes – many people make funeral arrangements in advance, even paying ahead of time. The funeral home can guide you through the paperwork process, such as placing an obituary and ordering death certificates.

Hopefully, the deceased prepared a will that names an executor to oversee the disposition of his or her estate; otherwise, the court will have to appoint one. In sorting through their files, also look for: a trust; insurance policies; bank, credit card, mortgage and loan accounts; safe deposit box key; contact information for lawyer, doctor, accountant or other professional advisors; and passwords to computer and other accounts.

Within the first few days, start notifying organizations with which the deceased had business or financial arrangements. In most cases you'll be required to submit a certified copy of the death certificate, so be sure to order ample copies. You'll need to contact:

  • Current or former employers for information about possible final wages, accrued vacation, retirement, life insurance or other death benefits.
  • Social Security Administration. If they were receiving Social Security benefits, you'll need to stop payment right away. Funeral homes often do this, but be sure to ask.
  • Once you've notified Social Security, they will contact Medicare to cancel benefits. However, if they were enrolled in a Medicare Prescription or Advantage Plan or had a Medigap policy, contact each to cancel coverage.
  • Veteran's Administration. Veterans, their immediate family members and certain others may be entitled to burial at a national cemetery.
  • Forward their mail to a secure address so you don't miss important correspondence.
  • Cancel their driver's license to avoid identity fraud.
  • Banks, credit unions, credit card issuers and other lenders to close accounts – or if you are a surviving spouse, to convert accounts to your name only.
  • If they had a safe deposit box and you don't have the key, ask what documentation you need to gain access.
  • Insurance companies, to cancel auto and homeowner's policies; however, consider keeping them activated until assets are sold, in case of theft or damage.
  • Close email accounts.
  • Cancel magazine subscriptions and utilities.

Finally, the executor will have to deal with such issues as locating beneficiaries, distributing inherited property, filing final tax returns, and settling outstanding debts. You'd be wise to work with an attorney who specializes in probate issues.




This article is intended to provide general information and should not be considered legal, tax or financial advice. It's always a good idea to consult a tax or financial advisor for specific information on how certain laws apply to your situation and about your individual financial situation.

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