Checklist: Everything You Need to Do After Someone Dies

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After a loved one dies, it can be hard to think of anything beyond your immediate sadness and grief. But this emotional time is also crowded with logistics and practical matters. Use this checklist to help you move through all the steps you need to take when someone dies.

Immediately

Get a legal pronouncement of death

If someone dies at the hospital, a doctor will have already done this. But if your loved one dies at home under hospice care, you’ll have to contact the hospice provider in order for someone to come and pronounce the death. If your loved one dies at home but isn’t under hospice care, you’ll need to call 911. Have their do-not-resuscitate order handy, if they had one.

Decide about organ donation

Every minute matters when it comes to these arrangements. So if your loved one is in a hospital, the hospital’s coordinator will likely come to talk to you very shortly after the death. If you’re not sure what your loved one would have wanted, check their driver’s license and advance directive.

Bring together immediate family

You’ll want to share this news and comfort one another in your grief. You may wish to spend some time with your loved one’s body and say final goodbyes.

This is also the time to talk through your loved one’s burial wishes. Did they wish to be buried or cremated? Did they pick out a funeral home? What’s a rough sense of the family budget? And who will take the lead on which tasks?

Secure your loved one’s stuff

Make sure the home is locked and the car legally parked. If there are any pets at home, assess whether they can be fed and left alone for a day or two or if they need to move into someone else’s home for the near term.

Over the next few days

Choose a funeral home

If funeral arrangements were made prior to death, notify the funeral home. If you don’t know of any, search through the person’s important paperwork to see if there’s mention of a burial plan or preference. If the deceased served in the military, consider if you’d like to apply for burial benefits.

Arrange for transport of the body

The funeral director can coordinate directly with the hospital morgue or hospice center to move the body to the funeral home. If your loved one picked out a funeral home in advance, or if you need the burial to take place quickly, this step can typically happen within the first day of death. If you need a day or two to find a funeral home, the hospital can hold the body during that time.

Plan the funeral

The funeral director can help guide you through this process, including buying a casket or arranging for cremation, scheduling the service, arranging the procession, and coordinating with the cemetery.

Select a cemetery

If your loved one is being buried, you won’t need the headstone ready for the time of the funeral, but you will need to have purchased the burial plot.

Notify the person’s extended family and friends

If individual phone calls feel overwhelming, consider delegating this task or asking one person from each social sphere to share the news widely. Share details of the funeral time, as well as any visitation, wake, viewing, or post-funeral gathering.

Contact the person’s employer

If your loved one was still working at the time of their death, you’ll want to reach out to the human resources representative about any outstanding compensation. You’ll also want to ask if any of the person’s surviving dependents are still eligible for health or insurance benefits and if there is a life-insurance policy through the employer.

Get copies of the death certificate

The funeral director can obtain a death certificate on your behalf. Ask for at least half a dozen copies, as many government agencies, financial institutions, and insurers will require you to provide one during this period. You can also request copies later from your state or local office of vital records.

After the funeral

Locate the will and contact the executor of their estate

If the deceased person had a will, you’ll need to find it and any other estate documents (such as living trust paperwork). Not sure where to look? Their attorney should have copies. The will should also name an executor who’s in charge of managing the estate (everything the deceased person owned) and making sure their debts are paid and assets are passed on to the right people.

Start the probate process

Whether or not the person had a will, in most cases their estate needs to go through a process called probate before being distributed to their heirs. Begin gathering any other important financial documents like stock certificates, title documents, bank statements, or deeds. All of these will be looked at during the probate process. The deceased person’s accountant and/or financial advisor, if they had them, may be able to assist. An attorney can help you navigate the probate process.

Contact the Social Security Administration or the deceased person’s pension provider

The funeral director can usually inform the SSA of your loved one’s death. But you’ll need to call or go to their website if you want to apply for survivor benefits. If they were receiving a pension, you’ll also want to file for any survivor benefits you may be eligible for.

Contact credit card companies

Typically the executor of the estate will handle paying off their debts and, unless you’re married to the deceased or a co-signer on a loan with them, you aren’t personally liable for your loved one’s credit card or other debts. But you should still notify creditors of the death.

Close accounts

Your loved one likely has a lengthy list of accounts—from streaming entertainment to online payment platforms—and closing them all is the best way to avoid future fees and minimize risk of identity theft.

File a life insurance claim

Beyond employer-sponsored life insurance policies, your loved one may have a whole or term life policy. If so, you will need to notify the insurer of death and provide a death certificate to start the claims process.

Put a stop on insurance

Contact each insurer, including health insurance, Medicare or Medicaid, auto insurance, and home insurance to put a stop on coverage.

Contact the local DMV

The Department of Motor Vehicles recommends this, to avoid future mailings and prevent others from possibly using the name for fraudulent purposes.

Notify the credit bureaus

Contact Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion directly to alert them of the death and block others from obtaining credit in your loved one’s name.

Discontinue utilities and forward mail

If the deceased’s house or apartment will be vacant for the near future, notify any utility companies. You should also forward their mail to where it needs to be, most likely to the executor of the estate.

Write thank you notes

There’s no hard and fast rule on when this needs to happen, but you may want to thank friends and family for attending the service, sending flowers, and any support they may have provided during this time.

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