What Needs To Be Done Once Someone Dies
When someone you love dies there is a lot that must happen both on personal and legal levels. A funeral must be planned, outstanding debt must be paid, if they owned pets they must be rehomed to name a few. If these tasks become your responsibility, it can be difficult and stressful and take up to a year or more to complete.
Often, these tasks will require the assistance of a number of people—lawyers, CPAs and a support network of your friends and family that you can delegate some of the tasks to.
In this latest blog we provide a checklist of all the things that must be done to help you with the process.
What Needs To Be Done Immediately After Someone Dies
Get a legal pronouncement of death
If your loved one died in a hospital or nursing home where a doctor was present, the staff will handle this. An official declaration of death is the first step to getting a death certificate, a critical piece of paperwork. However, if your loved one died at home, you will need to get a medical professional to declare her or him dead. Once they have passed, call 911 and have them transported to an ER where they will be officially declared dead and moved to a funeral home. If your family member was under hospice care, a hospice nurse may declare them dead.
A declaration of death is important because without it, you cannot plan the funeral or begin to handle the legal affairs.
Tell friends and family
The next step will be letting friends and family know. Sometimes you may need to go through the deceased’s email and phone contacts to track down all those who need to know. You will also need to let their coworkers, their church, or other social groups they may have been part of know.
Find out about existing funeral and burial plans
In some cases, your loved one will have included what they would like the funeral and burial plan to be, however, if they have not, you will need to have a family meeting to discuss what the funeral will look like. Items to be discussed will be what the deceased may have wanted, what you can afford and what the family as a whole wants.
What to Do Within a Few Days of Death
Make funeral, burial or cremation arrangements
You will need to check the paperwork of the deceased to see if there was a prepaid burial plan. If there is not one, you will need to choose a funeral home and begin the planning process. Some items that will need to be decided include the specifics of the service, whether to cremate the body, what type of tombstone or urn to order.
If the person was in the military or belonged to a fraternal or religious group, contact the Veterans Administration or the specific organization to see if it offers burial benefits or conducts funeral services.
You will need to get help for the funeral such as assigning pallbearers, someone to give the eulogy, someone to help write thank-you notes, someone to help arrange the post-funeral gathering, help plan the service and more. You will also need someone to write an obituary to be published.
Secure the property
You will need to secure the deceased’s home and vehicle. Have either a friend, neighbor or relative that you trust do tasks such as checking the mail, maintaining the property, watering the plants etc. Be sure that if there are valuables in the house to keep them locked up.
Provide care for pets
If the deceased own pets, you will need to arrange for someone to take care of them. Keep in mind that the pet will also be grieving so it’s important that whoever is keeping them during this time will provide them comfort and love.
Next you will need to put a mail forwarding order in place- often people have the mail forwarded to themselves. This will hep you figure out what subscriptions, creditors and other accounts the deceased had that will need to be paid and canceled. This will also prevent mail from piling up at the house which is a sign to thieves of an empty home.
Notify your family member's employer
Ask for information about benefits and any paychecks that may be due. Also inquire about whether there is a company-wide life insurance policy.
Two Weeks After Death
Secure certified copies of death certificates
You will need to acquire 10 copies of the death certificate. You will need these to close out bank accounts, file insurance claims, register the death with government agencies and more. The funeral home will be able to get these copies on your behalf or you can also order them the vital statistics office in the state in which the person died.
Find the will and the executor
Your loved one’s survivors need to know where any money, property or belongings will go. Ideally, you talked with your relative before they died and they told you where they kept they will. If not, you will need to look for the document in a desk, a safe-deposit box or wherever they kept important papers. People usually name an executor in their will. The executor needs to be involved in most of the steps going forward. If there isn’t a will, the probate court judge will name an administrator in place of an executor.
Hire a trusts and estates attorney
While you don’t need an attorney to settle an estate, having one makes things easier. Estates can get complicated and having a professional estate attorney can help you navigate the process.
Contact a CPA
If your loved one had a CPA, contact them; if not, hire one. The estate may have to file a tax return, and a final tax return will need to be filed on the deceased’s behalf.
Take the will to probate
Probate is the legal process of executing a will. You’ll need to do this at a county or city probate court office. Probate court makes sure that the person’s debts and liabilities are paid and that the remaining assets are transferred to the beneficiaries.
Make an inventory of all assets
Laws vary by state, but the probate process usually starts with an inventory of all assets (bank accounts, house, car, brokerage account, personal property, furniture, jewelry, etc.), which will need to be filed in the court. For the physical items in the household, you may need to hire an appraiser.
Track down assets
Part of the work of making that inventory of assets is finding them all. The task, called marshaling the assets, can be a big job.
Make a list of bills
Share the list with the executor so that important expenses like the mortgage, taxes and utilities are taken care of while the estate is settled.
Cancel services no longer needed
These include cellphone, streaming services, cable and internet.
Decide what to do with the passport
You have a couple of options on how to deal with your family member’s passport. You do not have to return it; you can keep it as a memento, with the stamps on its pages reminding you of past adventures. If you’re worried about the possibility of identity theft, mail the passport to the federal government along with a copy of the death certificate and have it officially canceled. If you want the canceled passport returned, include a letter requesting that be done. You can also request the government destroy the passport after it’s canceled.
Notify the following of your loved one's death:
- The Social Security Administration:If the deceased was receiving Social Security benefits, you need to stop the checks. Some family members may be eligible for death benefits from Social Security. Generally, funeral directors report deaths to the Social Security Administration, but, ultimately, it’s the survivors’ responsibility to tell the SSA. Contact your local SSA office to do so. The agency will let Medicare know that your loved one died.
- Life insurance companies:You’ll need a death certificate and policy numbers to make claims on any policies the deceased had.
- Banks, financial institutions:If you share a joint account with your deceased loved one, you’ll need to notify the bank they’ve died. Most bank accounts carry automatic rights of survivorship, which means if your name is on the account, you have full access to the funds when your loved one dies. You become the sole owner on the date of your relative’s death. Most banks will require a death certificate to remove the relative from the account.
If the deceased person was the sole owner of a bank account, the bank will release funds to the person named beneficiary once it learns of the account holder’s death. Many banks let their customers name a beneficiary or set the account as Payable on Death (POD) or Transferable on Death (TOD) to another person. You’ll need to show the bank a death certificate to get the funds released. If the owner of the account didn’t name a beneficiary or POD, things get more complicated. The executor will be responsible for getting the funds to repay creditors, pay bills and divide funds according to the dead person’s will.
Cancel driver's license
- Financial advisers, stockbrokers:Determine the beneficiary listed on accounts. Depending on the type of asset, the beneficiary may get access to the account or benefit simply by filling out appropriate forms and providing a copy of the death certificate (no executor needed). While access to the money is straightforward, there are tax consequences to keep in mind. You will be responsible for paying any taxes earned by the account once your loved one dies. Keep in mind, the tax burden could be significant on a well-funded investment account.
- Credit agencies:To prevent identity theft, send copies of the death certificate to one of the three major credit bureaus: Equifax, Experian or TransUnion. You only need to tell one of them, and it will tell the others.
This removes the deceased’s name from the records of the department of motor vehicles and prevents identity theft. Contact the agency for specific instructions, but you’ll need a copy of the death certificate. Keep a copy of the canceled driver’s license in your records. You may need it to close or access accounts that belonged to the deceased.
Close credit card accounts
Contact customer service and tell the representative that you’re closing the account on behalf of a deceased relative who had a sole account. You’ll need a copy of the death certificate to do this, too. Keep records of accounts you close and inform the executor of any outstanding balances on the cards. Credit bureaus, as part of their regular reporting process, will also send card issuers an alert that your relative has died. But if you want credit accounts notified faster, contact them directly. Be sure to cut up your dead loved one’s credit cards so they aren’t lost or stolen.
If the credit card account is shared with another person who intends to keep using it, keep the account open but notify the issuing bank your relative has died so the deceased’s name can be removed from the account. Destroy any cards with their name on them to prevent theft and identity fraud.
Terminate insurance policies
Contact providers to end coverage for the deceased on home, auto and health insurance policies, and ask that any unused premium be returned.
Delete or memorialize social media accounts
You can delete social media accounts, but some survivors choose to turn them into a memorial for their loved one instead. Twitter, Facebook and Instagram all allow a deceased person’s profile to remain online, marked as a memorial account. On Facebook, a memorialized profile stays up with the word “Remembering” in front of the deceased’s name. Friends will be able to post on the timeline. Whether you choose to delete or memorialize, you’ll need to contact the companies with copies of the death certificate. TikTok does not offer a memorial option for a deceased user’s account.
Close email accounts
To prevent identity theft and fraud, shut down the deceased’s email account. If the person set up a funeral plan or a will, she may have included log-in information so you can do this yourself. If not, you’ll need copies of the death certificate to cancel an email account. The specifics vary by email provider, but most require a death certificate and verification that you are a relative or the estate executor.
Update voter registration
Contact your state or county directly to find out how to remove your dead relative from the voting rolls. Here’s a state-by-state contact list. The rules vary by state. Some states get notifications from state and local agencies
and will remove your dead relative from voter registration rolls automatically. States will also remove voters if a relative notifies them of the death. Depending on where your loved one was registered to vote, you may need to give notice of the death in writing, by affidavit or with a death certificate.
If You Need Help
We provide professional legal services involving Wills, Trusts and Probate. If you have any questions or would like to schedule a consultation, please do not hesitate to contact us by calling 832-810-3776 or by using our contact form.