What To Do Upon the Death of a Loved One

The death of a loved one can be shocking, painful and stressful.

Although we all wish that the time immediately after their death could be spent grieving and spending time with family, there are several steps that need to be taken quickly to ensure the deceased’s wishes are carried out and the family is taken care of. These 17 steps should be followed immediately after the death of a loved one. When possible, have other close, trusted family members help with the list so that everything can be accomplished without becoming a burden to one person.

  1. Telephone a friend who can spend the next few hours with you. Everyone reacts to death differently, but having a friend or family member nearby can be a tremendous comfort and stabilizing influence.
  2. Contact a funeral director and clergy member to make an appointment to discuss funeral arrangements. Make sure that you obtain multiple copies of the death certificate from the funeral director, as you will need them when dealing with life insurance companies, financial institutions and the attorney. If possible, avoid becoming personally responsible for any funeral, burial or cremation expenses unless you are willing and financially able to bear these expenses, perhaps, without full or partial reimbursement.
  3. Notify immediate family, close friends, business colleagues and any employer.   Arrange care for members of the immediate family, including appropriate child care, and take steps to secure the home.
  4. NOTIFY THE ATTORNEY! Make an appointment as soon as possible to discuss how to handle assets and pay bills. It is important not to write any checks against any bank accounts or take benefits from any assets until you have met with the attorney.  Even if you think that everything is “perfectly in order,” you should not assume that things are business as usual. For instance, it may be appropriate for one or more beneficiaries to disclaim whole or partial interests in certain assets or rights of inheritance for significant post-death planning or tax reasons. Early consultation with a competent estate planning and administration attorney is absolutely vital to avoid major problems and misunderstandings.
  5. Notify the accountant and financial advisor. Decisions may need to be made regarding financial assets and tax planning. The accountant and financial advisor will also be able to assist you with several of the items below.
  6. Talk to the employee benefits office so the company can begin to process benefits immediately.
  7. Locate important papers. Gather as many of the papers as possible, and continue to do so over the next few weeks. These will include the original Will or Trust, bank and brokerage account statements, certificates of deposit, titles, deeds, promissory notes, stock certificates, life insurance policies, appraisals, and any bills from creditors.
  8. Gain access to and complete an inventory of the contents of any safety deposit box.  Also try to obtain access to digital assets by locating user names, passwords, security questions and answers in the family’s records.  
  9. Obtain balances on every mortgage, loan, checking, money market, savings accounts as of the date of death.  You will also need to obtain valuations of real estate, business interests, privately held and publicly held stock.
  10. Determine whether any property needs to be safeguarded, such as a motor vehicle, vacant or rental home, or valuable collection. Secure property from potential loss such as theft and vandalism.
  11. Notify credit card companies and cancel any credit cards where the deceased was the only signer.
  12. Notify life, accident or disability insurers and request appropriate claim forms. Ask which payment options were elected, and find out if different options are available.
  13. Notify the post office to make any necessary changes in delivery of mail.
  14. Notify the Social Security office. A recent Social Security benefit payment may need to be refunded. Also, claims may be expedited if you go in person to the nearest office to sign a claim for survivor’s benefits. Look for the address under U.S. Government in the phonebook.
  15. Notify the Veterans’ Administration if applicable.
  16. Record in a small ledger all money you or the immediate family spends, plus keep ALL related receipts. These will be needed for tax returns and reimbursement purposes.
  17. Avoid making major decisions or entering into contracts for anything, and avoid spending or lending large sums of money for any reason until you have received appropriate financial, accounting and legal advice.