Losing a loved one is hard. But it’s something most of us experience at some point in our lives. So it’s best to be prepared.
After all, the death of a loved one comes with a lot of responsibilities. You must plan the funeral, execute the will, settle the estate, and more.
In this article, we’ll go over all the necessary legal and logistical steps you need to take to handle the death of a loved one without adding additional stress and grief.
So let’s get started! Here’s what you do when you learn that a loved one has passed:
1. Tell family and friends
First, you need to share the sad news with the deceased’s family and friends. If you’re the first to discover a loved one has passed, this part is up to you.
It can be a hard call to make, but the sooner you make it the better. You don’t want family and friends to find out over social media or some other way they wouldn’t appreciate.
You should also tell coworkers, employers, church groups, and other frequent acquaintances. In those cases, a text or even an email may be enough. Do what you think is appropriate for the relationship that the deceased had with the person.
2. Get a legal pronouncement of death
Getting a legal pronouncement of death is crucial because you can’t move forward with many of the next steps without one.
If your loved one died in the hospital or under hospice care, the medical staff will take care of the death pronouncement for you.
But if they died while at home, you’ll need to call 911 or have them taken to the ER to have a medical professional officially declare that the deceased is dead.
Once you have the pronouncement, you can get a death certificate, which lets you move forward with the funeral, redeem any life insurance benefit, and more. Make several copies of the death certificate for the next steps.
If the death was caused by a work accident, hire an experienced worker’s compensation lawyer, like the attorneys at Rosenthal Levy, Simon & Sosa, to help you redeem any worker’s compensation benefit.
And if the deceased was an organ donor, arrange for the organ donation as soon as possible. You only have 24-36 hours to do this before it’s no longer an option.
3. Make arrangements for any underage children or pets
If the deceased has any minor children or pets, find a temporary home for them. The will may establish a long-term plan for guardianship, but until you execute the will, they’ll need a place to stay.
Place children in the care of close relatives and pets with anyone deemed appropriate for the time being, perhaps another pet owner who is familiar with the pet already.
4. Plan the funeral
Nobody wants to play a funeral, but it must be done. Ideally, the deceased will have made their funeral wishes known. But if not, get together with family to plan the event and decide how it will run.
Choose a funeral location and time and then start creating a program. Assign people to give speeches, be pallbearers, and read the eulogy (which you can also publish online or in a local newspaper).
Also, decide whether the deceased will be cremated or buried, and make the appropriate arrangements.
Finally, make sure to send out invitations for the funeral to all of the deceased’s friends and family, old and new.
5. Find the will and execute it
By this point, you should find out whether the deceased left a will. Hopefully, they told someone where it is. But if not, look in any of the following places: a safe deposit box, a desk, or anywhere important documents were kept.
The will will outline several things, including guardianship over minor children and pets, how property, trusts, and assets (physical and digital) are to be divided among inheritors, and who should execute the will.
If there is no will, a probate court will determine how to divide the estate. If an executor is not named, a probate court judge will name an administrator in place of an executor. Throughout all of this, it is helpful to have an attorney.
6. Notify life insurance companies, banks, and other financial institutions
If the deceased had a life insurance policy, notify the life insurance company with the death certificate as soon as possible. This way, inheritors can redeem the policy benefit.
You should also let the Social Security Administration know so the deceased stops receiving checks. And do the same with any banks or financial institutions so they can empty and close all accounts. These could include retirement accounts or other investment accounts.
7. Forward mail and gather leftover bills
Go to the post office and ask them to forward the deceased’s mail to your address. That way, mail doesn’t pile up at their house and you can see what subscriptions need to be canceled, who still needs to be informed of their death, and what bills they have left to pay.
Outstanding bills could include a mortgage, taxes, or utility bills. Make sure you gather these and hand them over to whoever is settling the estate so they can get these paid with the funds the deceased left behind.
8. Close email and social media accounts
The deceased may have left login information in their will to close their email accounts. If so, be sure to do this.
If not, provide a copy of the death certificate to the email provider so that they can close it for you.
The same goes for any social media accounts. However, many social media platforms also allow you to memorialize accounts by marking the person as deceased but keeping the account online.
9. Cancel the deceased’s driver’s license
Finally, contact the local Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) to have the deceased’s driver’s license (DL) canceled. This helps prevent identity theft. Keep a copy of the canceled DL for your records.
This isn’t an exhaustive list, but it’s a good place to start. If you ever find yourself responsible for handling the affairs of a deceased loved one, refer back to this resource for help.