Losing a loved one is an incredibly challenging experience, and navigating the practical matters that follow can be overwhelming. To help you during this difficult time, we have put together a comprehensive checklist of what needs to be done in the first 30 days after a person’s passing. By following this guide, you can ensure that important tasks are taken care of while allowing yourself the space to grieve.
At the Time of Death
When a person passes away, there are immediate steps that need to be taken to ensure their proper handling and notification of relevant parties.
Confirm the Pronouncement of Death
If the death was expected, the decedent’s medical doctor or hospice care provider will usually contact the County Coroner’s office. In case of death at home, contact the police and request a trauma intervention counselor if needed. It’s important not to move the decedent’s remains unless necessary for CPR. The police will then notify the County Coroner’s office.
Contact immediate family members and friends to inform them of the passing. Ask for their help in reaching out to others who should be notified. If the decedent was in the military or you need assistance contacting someone currently serving, the American Red Cross can provide support. Remember to contact the decedent’s employer and clergy as well.
Verify Disposition of Remains
The transportation of the decedent’s remains will usually be arranged according to the instructions of the hospital administrator or coroner. The mortuary will typically handle the transportation to the final resting place. Take the time to search through the decedent’s files, safe deposit box, and personal belongings to determine if they had a prepaid burial plan, belonged to a memorial society, or left any written instructions regarding their funeral or burial.
Within 5 Days of Death
In the first few days after the passing, several critical tasks need to be addressed to prepare for the burial, funeral, or memorial service.
Prepare for Burial, Funeral, or Memorial Service
Visit a mortuary with a trusted family member or friend to make funeral arrangements. It’s helpful to have someone caring and practical with you during this process. The funeral arrangements may involve transferring the remains to another location, burial, or cremation. If the decedent was a member of a funeral society, contact them to inquire about any available cremation or burial cost discounts. For those on public assistance, check if benefits include a contribution toward burial costs by contacting the local Department of Social Services. If the decedent had military connections, reach out to the VA office to explore potential burial benefits. Additionally, consider contacting the decedent’s fraternal or religious organizations, as they may offer additional funeral services.
Manage Immediate Needs
Delegate tasks to close friends and relatives to help alleviate some of the immediate responsibilities. These tasks can include answering the telephone, collecting the decedent’s mail and newspapers, caring for their pets, and safeguarding their home against burglary while the family attends the funeral. It’s also wise to coordinate a post-funeral reception, keeping a budget in mind.
Notify Agents, Trustees, and Conservators
If the decedent had an agent under a power of attorney, a trustee of a family trust, or a conservator, notify them of the death. These individuals may be helpful in distributing funds for expenses or providing information about the decedent’s last wishes. If any conflicts arise between two or more fiduciaries, it’s advisable to consult a competent probate attorney.
Within 15 Days of Death
During the second phase, you’ll need to take care of necessary paperwork and ensure the smooth transition of the decedent’s affairs.
Order Death Certificates
Work with your funeral director to obtain death certificates. Determining the number of certificates you’ll need can be tricky. Typically, you’ll require one for the court, each financial institution the decedent had accounts with, each life insurance policy, each partnership they were involved in, and each parcel of land they owned jointly. If in doubt, it’s best to order a couple of extra copies. Remember, you can always request more later if needed.
Make Secondary Contacts
If the decedent’s house is vacant, request patrol checks from the local police. Contact a probate attorney to understand how the decedent’s assets will transfer and to seek assistance with will or trust administration. Additionally, consult an accountant or tax preparer to determine the necessity of filing final income tax, trust, or estate tax returns. Reach out to investment professionals to gather information about the decedent’s holdings and identify assets. Contact banks to obtain account information and locate safe deposit boxes. Don’t forget to contact insurance agents to locate life insurance policies and obtain claim forms.
Other important contacts include social services to determine available benefits, the Social Security Administration to stop monthly checks and seek possible death benefits, Veterans Affairs to stop monthly checks and seek possible death benefits, and pension plan administrators to stop checks and request claim forms. Remember to contact utility, cable, telephone, and internet service providers to discontinue or change the payee of the services. If the decedent served as a power of attorney agent, conservator, or trustee, make appropriate notifications and seek legal assistance if necessary. Finally, search for wills, trusts, and any other estate plan documents in common locations such as the decedent’s files, safe deposit boxes, attorneys’ offices, accountants’ offices, and the county probate court.
Losing someone dear is undoubtedly challenging, and there is no easy way to manage all the practical matters that follow. However, by referring to this comprehensive checklist, you can ensure that you handle the essential tasks while giving yourself the space to cope with your loss. Remember, it’s perfectly okay to lean on your loved ones and seek support during this time.