Your Guide to Funeral Planning | 03.04.2021

What To Do When Someone Dies

What To Do When Someone Dies


Cross Checked By: SCOTT GINSBERG

Finding acceptance when someone dies can be challenging enough, but dealing with the responsibility of closing out the personal and legal details of their lives while suffering the emotional response to their death can be bewildering. From getting a death certificate to rehoming their pets, there is a staggering array of tasks to be handled either personally or with the estate’s executor in the hours, days, weeks, and months following a loved one’s death. Read on as Titan Casket outlines a useful checklist to help identify what to do when someone dies.  

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What To Do When Someone Dies: As Soon As Possible

  1. Take a moment. 

If you were near your loved one at the time of death, you can choose to take a few moments with the body. There may be particular religious, spiritual, or personal rites that you may want to perform when someone dies. You may want to say a quiet goodbye. If the death occurred in the hospital, let the hospital staff know what your needs are. If the death occurred at home, you will be able to have those moments before action needs to be taken.

  1. Obtain a Legal Death Pronouncement.

Getting an official statement of death is the first step in procuring a death certificate when someone dies. If your loved one died under medical care, either in the hospital or in a nursing home, the medical staff will know what to do. If the death occurred while under at-home hospice care, the hospice team can make this declaration. If someone dies unexpectedly, either at home or elsewhere, call emergency services to have your loved one transported to the emergency room, where the emergency room staff can legally declare your loved one dead. 

  1. Discuss Organ Donation.

Because the donation of organs is time-sensitive, you may need to have that discussion with doctors quickly after someone dies. If you aren’t sure what to do, review your loved one’s driver’s license for the organ donor notification, or check for an organ donor card. This information may also be included in someone’s advance directive documents, like a Living Will. 

  1. Alert Close Family and Friends.

Start by making phone calls to your loved one’s closest family and friends. If there was a group text or email notification list for updates, you can quickly send an email that relays the news of the loved one’s passing while saving specific information about the next steps (funeral, memorial, etc.) for a later time. The notification process can be extremely draining, and, if possible, try to have someone with you as you make these notifications. If there was a blog or social media group that was regularly updated before your loved one’s passing, you may want to ask someone to alert friends on those groups for you.

  1. Review Existing Funeral and Burial/Cremation Plans.

In some cases, when someone dies, there is a pre-need funeral plan in place that not only details what to do when they die but offers a pre-paid care plan, like Titan Care. If that’s the case, immediately upon notification of your loved one’s passing, the pre-paid plan will release the funds necessary to handle their final plans. If your loved one was in hospice, what to do following death will have already been discussed, and a plan will have been put into place. If you don’t know your loved one’s wishes, there may be details about their wishes with their medical documents or advance directives.   

  1. Arrange for Body Transport. 

If your loved one had a pre-paid funeral plan, was being taken care of by a hospice team, or had a detailed directive, the decisions about whether to have an at-home funeral or a service at a funeral home have likely already been made for you. Similarly, the decision to be buried versus being cremated has already been made. Those decisions will directly inform where the body is transported or how the body is prepared for its final journey. If your loved one did make specific plans or relay their wishes, you can call a funeral home to arrange for the body to be transported to their facilities or contact a cremation facility directly. If you believe your loved one would have preferred it, there are scientific organizations that will accept full-body donations.   

  1. Make Plans for Dependents and Pets. 

Your loved one may have been responsible for the part-time or full-time care of dependent family and/or pets. While the care of minor children will ultimately be decided after the reading of the Last Will, you will need to find a place and people to care for any dependents and pets immediately following your loved one’s death. 

  1. Lock the Property. 

If the deceased lived alone, you will want to be sure that someone can secure their home, as well as their vehicle. If there will not be anyone staying in the home for a while, you may want to alert any close neighbors or the police. If possible, ask a neighbor to pick up any mail or newspapers that may have been delivered since your loved one was last at home. 

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What To Do Within the First Few Days

  1. Alert the Deceased’s Employer. 

You will need to alert your loved one’s employer (whether it was a paid position or a volunteer one) about their death. After the initial notification, you should ask them about issues like any outstanding paychecks, company life insurance policies, 401(k) plans, or other benefits. 

  1. Stop Newspapers and Forward Mail. 

Submit a forwarding order to the deceased’s local post office to either yourself or anyone who will be handling final bills. If your loved one was receiving local newspapers when they died, call the circulation departments and have them canceled. Not only will this help in finalizing the deceased’s affairs, but mail or newspapers piling up can be a signal to would-be thieves that the home is empty.

  1. Set the Funeral Plan in Motion. 

Whether you are planning an at-home end-of-life celebration or a service at a funeral home, you will need to make decisions reasonably quickly about viewings, service times, speakers, etc. If your loved one pre-planned their funeral, many choices about things like the casket and other practical issues will have already been made. If not, you can work with a funeral home and/or a family to help plan the funeral and burial/cremation. 

Please keep in mind that COVID-19 is impacting the funeral process. In many cases, immediate burial or cremation may be the safest option, with a memorial gathering being planned for a later date when COVID-19 is no longer a significant risk.  

  1. Buy a Coffin, Casket, or Urn. 

You can buy the casket or urn directly from the funeral home or order one from a reputable online vendor who will ship the coffin, casket, or urn directly to the funeral home. It’s important to note that working with an online supplier, like Titan Casket, will yield a quality coffin or casket that will honor your loved one’s life at a significant savings. 

  1. Get 10 Copies of the Death Certificate.

To handle your loved one’s financial affairs, you will need to supply an official death certificate. It’s required for everything from the Social Security Administration to the life insurance company to the deceased’s brokerage accounts. If you are working with a funeral home, they can make the request for you. If you are having an at-home funeral, and your state allows it, a designated family member can prepare the death certificate, take responsibility for the filing, and request the copies. However, as the National Home Funeral Alliance warns, some states require that a funeral director be hired to file the death certificate and request the copies, even for DIY funerals. If you need additional copies a few months later, you can order them from the county. If more than a year has passed, the Bureau of Vital Statistics should offer assistance. It should be noted that while anyone can get unofficial copies of this public document, a certified copy of the death certificate (with the registrar’s seal) can only be requested by immediate family, executors, or financial stakeholders.  
  1. Contact the Veterans Administration, Church, or Other Applicable Organizations.

If your loved one served in the military, you may want to contact them regarding burial benefits and cemetery locations. If the departed was active with any religious organizations, you may want them involved in the funeral ceremony or memorial service. You also may want to discuss a cemetery location that is specific to your loved one’s religion.  
  1. Write the Obituary. 

You can write the obituary on your own or work with a family member or close friend who is particularly gifted with words. It’s essential to get this written within a few days of the death because it is often published offering the details of any public services. If you need assistance writing an obituary, you can click here for a sample template.   

  1. Finalize the Funeral Details. 

Consider who you would like to speak during the funeral or memorial service. Make a list of people you would like to ask about being casket-carrying or honorary pallbearers, and then reach out to them. Discuss any funeral songs or readings family, friends, or religious/spiritual advisors would like to make. Flowers should be ordered. A program can be printed. If you plan on having a post-ceremony gathering, you will also need to start making plans for the location, food, etc. Ideally, this is something you will be able to delegate to another family member or friend. Many funeral homes offer memorial websites for people to get service details and leave messages. You can also take this time to create a memorial blog or update on Facebook.      

  1. Complete a Home Check. 

Have someone do a complete check of the deceased’s home if they lived alone. If nobody is staying in the home in the days after someone dies, the refrigerator will need to be emptied, and plants should be watered. If you live in an area prone to extreme cold, you will want to be sure that the heat is set appropriately and other measures are taken to prevent pipes from freezing. 

  1. Locate the Last Will. 

Locate the deceased’s Last Will. Often the document is kept inside the home, but if you cannot find it, you should contact their attorney. The estate’s executor should be named in the Last Will, and you will need to contact them so that they can begin the probate process. They will also be able to notify any inheritors as to the disposition of property and monetary assets. If you determine that there is no will, a probate court judge will assign an administrator to handle the duties of the estate executor.  

What To Do Within Weeks

  1. Notify the Social Security Administration. 

In some cases, funeral directors will alert the Social Security Administration, but in other cases, you will need to notify them directly. If your loved one was receiving benefits, the checks will need to be halted. Depending on the situation, the Social Security Administration may then alert you to death benefits owed to surviving family members. They will also alert Medicare or Medicaid, if applicable. 

  1. Cancel Services. 

If the deceased lived alone and the home is empty, you will want to start canceling cable, Internet, and entertainment accounts. You should close out the cellphone accounts. You may want to keep some utilities active in the home, particularly if there is a plan to sell the home soon. 

  1. Contact Financial Institutions. 

Once you have copies of the death certificate, you or the executor can begin to close the financial accounts. Life insurance companies, financial advisors, banks, credit card companies, and credit agencies should all be alerted as soon as possible when someone dies. 

  1. Cancel Policies. 

While the Social Security Administration will alert Medicare, you or the executor will have to contact any private health insurance providers, additional Medicare prescription providers, and any Medigap policy providers. You will also need to make decisions regarding the transfer or changes in homeowner’s insurance and car insurance. 

  1. Make a List of Critical Bills. 

When someone dies, be sure to make a list of critical bills that need to be handled while the estate is being settled. Either you or the executor will need to take care of things like the mortgage, rental payments, and car payments so that the bills don’t fall into default. 

  1. Consult an Estates Lawyer or CPA. 

If the deceased had an estates lawyer or a CPA, you may want to contact both of them to advise you on any issues relating to settling the estate. A tax advisor will be invaluable when filing the final tax return.

  1. Send the Will Through Probate. 

Either you or the executor will need to start the legal process of resolving the Last Will’s terms. This will include the handling of debts, as well as the distribution of assets to the inheritors.  

What To Do When Someone Dies: When You Are Ready

  1. Order a Gravestone. 

The process of creating a gravestone, headstone, or monument can be a lengthy one, and it isn’t expected to be finished and in place for a burial. This allows you to take some time to think about precisely what you want on it and investigate the online options, as well as the cemetery ones. As is the case with coffins, your online options at reputable vendors like Titan Casket are likely to be broader and at a lower cost. 

  1. Cancel the Deceased’s Driver’s License. 

Canceling the deceased’s driver’s license may not be the first thing you think of when contemplating what to do when someone dies, but it is vital to protect your loved one’s identity. Notify your state’s Department of Motor Vehicles and have a copy of the Death Certificate ready. 

  1. Alert the Board of Elections. 

In some states, the DMV will notify the election board when someone dies. In other cases, you should notify the election board personally so that they can remove your loved one’s name from their registration lists. 

  1. Memorialize Social Media Accounts. 

Many social media accounts allow you to create a memorialized version of it. Facebook, for example, will enable current friends to post on the memorialized account’s wall, but it won’t be an active account. For those social media accounts that cannot be memorialized, you should start the process of deleting them. 

  1. Shut Down Email Accounts. 

After a period of time when you can feel confident that critical billing emails and personal emails have come through to the deceased’s email account, you or the executor should begin the process of deleting those accounts. If you have the passwords, that process is relatively quick. If you do not have the password, you will need a death certificate before you or the executor can contact the email provider to delete the accounts. 

Do you have questions about creating an end-of-life checklist or any other issues relating to end-of-life celebrations? Titan Casket is here to help you get the funeral you want at a fair price. Contact us in the chat window or here to get started.