What To Do When A Loved One Dies

what to do when a loved one dies

In the wake of a loved one’s death, there is so much to be done – especially in the first 10 to 14 days. It is overwhelming at times, and it can feel impossible to activate the “logistical” parts of the brain when the heart and soul space are handling so much.  

Unfortunately, certain tasks cannot be avoided, and failing to move through some of these steps can cause more pain and anguish down the road.   

You Are Not Alone While Moving Forward After a Loved One’s Death 

Don’t forget that you are not alone. Many of the following tasks can be divided up amongst family members and trusted friends.  

If you find yourself in a situation where others aren’t able to pitch in, or you need professional council, look for guidance from a probate or estate lawyer who can help you navigate what comes next. 

Checklist: What to Do After a Loved One Dies 

Here is a checklist of things that need to be done after a loved one dies. 

You need a legal pronouncement of death

If your loved one dies in a hospital, care facility, or a similar location, this was probably already done. If your loved one dies at home or in a public space, you’ll need to get an official, legal pronouncement of death. This can be done by: 

  • Hospice or palliative healthcare professional 
  • Paramedics (after calling 911) 
  • Medical doctor 

If your loved one has a do-not-resuscitate (DNR) on file, you’ll want to have this in-hand when the paramedics or health professionals arrive on the scene. Without that documentation, EMTs and other emergency response personnel are legally required to attempt resuscitation.  

The body needs to be transported

This step may or may not have to be immediate. If you would like to have the body remain at home for a certain period of time as you come to terms with the situation and say goodbye, that is your right. There is no need for immediate transport of the body (unless law enforcement or the need for an autopsy says otherwise).  

There are several Bay Area home funeral companies that can help you determine your wishes if the death was unexpected and your loved one didn’t have funeral plans in place. In most cases, you are not legally forced to have a body transported immediately after the death, so give yourself the time you need during this precious, immediate period afterward. 

If there are already funeral plans in place or you need the body to be transported more immediately, work with the deceased’s funeral plans or call a local mortuary or crematorium to make the arrangements. 

Notify his/her primary caregiver

You’ll need to contact his/her primary physician to report the death. Once you connect with the doctor, ask if you need to report the death to the county coroner or whether the physician handles that for you. 

Contact the executor/Trustee

First and foremost, the will’s executor or trust’s successor trustee will be contacted. That one act may alleviate many – if not all – of the following steps because it is the executor/trustee’s job to handle the post-death logistics and to follow the deceased’s instructions.  

Make sure any dependents or pets are taken care of

Are there dependent children, children or those with special needs, or pets relying on your loved one? If so, you’ll need to make sure they are safe and taken care of. If there is another custodial parent involved in the children’s life, s/he should be contacted immediately. You should also contact the child(ren)’s school and let them know. The school may have additional instructions or recommendations about how to support the child(ren). 

Contact his/her employer

If s/he is still working, you’ll need to contact his/her employer and notify them of the death. This is a good time to ask about things like whether there are any benefits plans, life insurance, or payment owed – and to learn how those items should be resolved. 

Within a few days to a week 

The above items should take place within the first day or so after the death. Within the first week, you and your team of helpers should begin working on the following tasks. 

Contact the Veteran’s administration and other organizations or affiliations

If your loved one was in the military, belonged to a particular church or other local clubs, organizations, or affiliations, this is the time to officially let them know about the death. First and foremost, they will want to be of assistance any way they can and to pay their respects. Secondly, you may find the organizations help to support funeral arrangements, memorial fees, reception planning, etc. 

Begin to plan the funeral and/or memorial arrangements

If there was no will, trust, or other official estate plans in place, search through important files to see if there is any paperwork pertaining to your loved one’s wishes about these events. If you aren’t able to find any specific instructions, have a meeting with the closest members of his/her family and most trusted friends to see if anyone remembers conversations or shared wishes s/he might have made in the past pertaining to his/her death or post-death instructions. 

Put plans in place to secure the home

If the home is a rental, the landlord needs to be contacted at this point so plans can be made. In the meantime, secure the house with locks and create a care schedule with family, friends, or trusted neighbors to keep an eye on things, check the mail, water plants, etc. 

Within the first 10 to 14 days… 

Here are the tasks that need to happen (ideally) within the first 10 to 14 days after someone dies. 

Obtain copies of the death certificate

This typically comes through the funeral home but may be distributed by another entity if different plans were made. Get at least three copies, and make unofficial copies, as these documents will be necessary as you report the death to various governmental and other professional agencies. 

Officially register the will through probate

If your loved one made his/her estate plan with an attorney, this won’t be necessary because the estate attorney and the trustee/executor will be taking care of this part. If, however, you find a will that was not legally filed, you’ll need to register the will with the county probate court where an executor will be appointed. 

Contact a local probate attorney

If there is no will in place, or there is a will without a designated estate attorney, we recommend enlisting the help of a professional probate attorney. In addition to saving the estate money, the estate attorney will ensure everything is handled to the letter of the law, which ensures you avoid penalty fees, unnecessary expenses, and can minimize the stress and strain on the family. 

Contact government agencies and financial institutions

Within the first 10 days, it’s also a good idea to contact other government agencies and financial institutions for more information on how to proceed. That includes: 

  • Social Security Administration 
  • California DMV 
  • Banks 
  • Financial institutions handling your loved one’s retirement plan, investments, etc. Often, there is an automatic POD (pay upon death) or other stated beneficiaries, which can answer immediate questions and help to support the costs of the immediate post-death bills and expenses 
  • The deceased’s tax professional(s) (hopefully there are tax records available in his/her files). Otherwise, a local tax preparer can help you find out and move forward. 
  • Insurance companies (homeowners, automobile, life insurance, etc.) 
  • Pension administrators 
  • The IRS 

Once all of the above boxes have been checked, you will continue moving through probate-related tasks, but things should move forward at a more steady pace.

We’re Here To Answer Your Questions

Would you like to work with a compassionate estate and probate attorney to learn more about what to do after a loved one dies? Schedule a consultation with Tseng Law Firm.