What to do When a Loved one Dies

When a relative is ill or nearing the end of their life, it's important that family, friends, and caregivers are prepared. This means knowing what to do prior to and upon their passing. An end-of-life plan is important to have when making decisions for loved ones who are no longer able to do so for themselves. While the death of a loved one will always be difficult, end-of-life arrangements can make their passing a less stressful experience. Additionally, creating a checklist of what needs to be done in the days following the death may also prove helpful and can make it easier for family and friends to work together.

Immediately After Death

After a person dies, several things require immediate attention.

  1. Have the death legally pronounced by a doctor if in a hospital or if one is present. If a person dies at home, the death should be announced by a hospice nurse if the person was a hospice patient. The family of the deceased should call the hospice nurse immediately when the person expires. If the individual is not under hospice care but dies at home, call 911. The police will arrive to ensure that it was not a case of wrongful death, and CPR will be administered until the paramedics arrive. When the paramedics arrive, if there is not a do-not-resuscitate order on hand, the individual will be taken to the emergency room, where a doctor can legally pronounce the person dead. Where permitted, the paramedics may have the authority to announce death upon arrival.

  2. Make arrangements for the transportation of your loved one's body. If no autopsy arrangements are needed, the funeral home or crematorium may do so.

  3. Contact the county coroner.

  4. Notify their physician about the death.

  5. Call family members about the death. Ask them to help contact other family and friends about the death.

  6. Make arrangements for the care of pets after their owner's death if this was not already arranged by the deceased.

  7. If employed, the deceased's employers must be contacted and information about pay, life insurance, and other benefits should be gathered.

Things to do During the First Few Days

  1. Check for an existing burial plan or if there are pre-paid arrangements. If none exist, make burial or cremation arrangements.

  2. Write an obituary. If help is needed, ask for help from the funeral director.

  3. Contact any organization that the individual may have been a part of for funeral or burial benefits. This includes military or religious affiliations.

  4. Make arrangements for the care of the individual's home. These arrangements should include things such as picking up mail and watering plants. Notify neighbors and even police that the house is vacant so they are aware of suspicious activity should it occur.

Things to do in up to Ten Days

  1. Get several copies of the death certificate through the funeral home or the state's Vital Statistics office. Multiple copies will be needed for taxes, agencies such as the Social Security Administration, and insurance companies.

  2. Take the will to the appropriate location so that it may be entered into probate.

  3. Consider having a bank account opened for the deceased's estate. This will need to be done by the estate's executor.

  4. The following organizations or individuals will also need to be contacted regarding the death:
    • The post office, to have the deceased's mail forwarded or stopped altogether

    • The Department of Motor Vehicles, to ensure the cancellation of the driver's license

    • Agencies that provided benefit payments, such as Veterans Affairs or Social Security Advise these agencies of the death so they may stop payments. One should also ask about survivor benefits, if any.

    • If applicable, the agency responsible for the individual's pension, to file a claim and stop payments

    • A tax preparer, to figure out what to do about the deceased's final tax filings and estate taxes

    • Financial institutions, for access to safe deposit boxes and other accounts

    • The life insurance company, to file a claim

Familiarize Yourself With a Person's Wishes in Advance

Before a person is unable to express their wishes or communicate easily, it's important to gather as much information as possible. This is the ideal way to ensure that everything will be taken care of as efficiently as possible when a loved one dies. Whenever possible, one should find out:

  • If they have signed up as an organ donor

  • What their wishes are for their funeral. Ask if they prefer a burial or cremation and what type of services they'd like.

  • Where important documents are kept, including their will, financial documents, and marriage or birth certificates. One should also gain access to important keys.

  • If they will complete an advance directive such as a living will or designate a health-care proxy. This person would be responsible for making health-related decisions in the event that the individual cannot.

  • If the individual does or does not want to be resuscitated should they stop breathing or their heart stops. If they do not want to be resuscitated, they will need a DNR order drawn up. Copies of this will need to be given to the individual's doctor as well as a family member who can take it to the hospital in an emergency.

Further Reading