After Death Checklist

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The death of a loved one is difficult and often evokes a complex set of emotions. At first, you may feel upset, unprepared, and overwhelmed. You may also feel compelled to take care of everything, but don’t know where to start. Below we’ve compiled an after death checklist outlining what to do from the first 24 hours through the first few months following the death of a loved one.

What to Do Within the First 24 Hours of a Loved One’s Passing

 

  • Request a pronouncement of death.
    Legal requirements surrounding death pronouncement or declaration of death vary by state. The declaration of death is a clinical determination that death has occurred. According to The Society for Post Acute and Long-Term Care Medicine, “Depending on the location, this determination can be made by emergency medical personnel, by graduate but unlicensed doctors in a hospital setting, by a registered nurse, by a registered nurse only for hospice patients, only by a physician, by a physician extender (PA or NP), or there may be no specification at all.” After a death pronouncement, a certification of death will later be issued. This includes identification of the time and cause or causes of death. Only after the death certificate is filed can burial proceed.
  • Confirm if your loved one was an organ donor.
    If your loved one was an organ donor, let first responders and/or hospital staff know immediately (or call a nearby hospital if your loved one died at home). A driver’s license or advanced directive can confirm organ donation.
  • Notify family members and friends.
    Family dynamics can be complex. Consider the best way to reach everyone by splitting the notification process between family members and close friends.
  • Locate a will if there is one.
    A will expresses the person’s wishes for their final deposition and typically reveals if funds were set aside in a pre-paid funeral trust for funeral expenses. If you need financial assistance consider starting a gofundme or applying for a funeral loan. Most funeral homes require full payment prior to rendering services.
  • Locate life insurance & VA documentation (if applicable).
    If the deceased had life insurance, then you will need to contact the life insurance company and provide them with the pronouncement of death to begin the claims process. Often funds from the plan are used to pay for after death services and a death certificate will also need to be given. In addition, if your loved one was a veteran they could have veterans’ benefits to assist with funeral arrangements. 
  • Coordinate care for dependents and animals.
    Line up temporary care for the deceased’s animals until a further determination on their new living situation can be made. Dependents, like children, for example, should also be placed with kin temporarily until a long-term plan can be established. Seek legal counsel for insight into the child custody process.
  • Contact the person’s employer and the landlord, if applicable.
    If the deceased was employed, call to let them know that your loved one has passed away. The employer will likely need the pronouncement of death in order to process benefits accordingly (pay owed, benefits and life insurance).

What to Do After the First Few Days of a Loved One’s Passing

 

  • Make a decision on funeral plans.
    Decide on the type of service your loved one would have wanted and how they wanted to be taken care of. Be sure to thoroughly research funeral homes in the area.
  • Contact a funeral home or cremation company.
    A funeral director can assist you with burial or cremation and additional preparations (eg. ordering a casket or urn, order of service, flower arrangements, etc.). You can also go directly to a cremation company for direct cremation that eliminates the other add-on services of a funeral home.
  • Walk through the loved one’s home.
    Do a thorough check of the deceased home:
    • Are there plants that need to be watered and cared for?
    • Is there fresh food that was left out and needs to be tossed?
    • Are there items in the refrigerator that should be thrown out?
    • Are the vehicle(s) and home secured? Check windows and other access points. 
    • Are there valuables in a secure place or should they be placed in a safety deposit box?
  • Write an obituary.
    Obituaries are customary and a good way to notify the general community of your loved one’s passing while honoring their memory. They can be published online for free, or in your local newspaper typically for a fee of a few hundred dollars. Some smaller newspapers manage their own obituary submissions, but most larger publications work with the obituary and death notice website Legacy.com
  • Forward mail.
    Submit a request for mail forwarding to the post office and also request the deceased be placed on the Deceased Do Not Contact List (DDNC) which will decrease advertising mail. Learn how to stop or forward mail on the USPS website here.

What to Do Leading Up to the Service

  • Create a funeral program.
    The funeral program presents the order of service and memorializes a loved one. You will also need to choose participants in the ceremony to read the eulogy or sing, etc. Common elements in a funeral program include:
    • Opening song
    • Prayer or welcome message
    • Scripture reading
    • Optional song
    • Sermon/eulogy
    • Scripture reading
    • Song
    • Closing prayer/remarks
    • Dismissal

If you need ideas, here is a sample funeral program.

  • Decide on a funeral schedule & order printed materials.
    Determine the time and place of services and print your finalized funeral program. You can usually order these directly from the funeral home if you’ve chosen to go that route.
  • Publish the obituary.
    Update the online obituary to include the funeral schedule. This is also a good time to publish the obituary so that it includes the details of the funeral services so that family and friends can make arrangements to attend.

What to Do After the Service

  • Order several copies of the death certificate.
    You will need to provide a death certificate to a number of different government entities in the next several weeks. Order 5-10 copies.
  • Order a headstone if your loved one is buried.
    Headstones are rarely ready in time for burial unless the arrangements were made prior to death. Select and order a headstone through the funeral home or online.
  • Determine if you need to hire a probate lawyer.
    If the estate is on the larger side or if there are a number of assets, consider hiring a probate attorney to handle matters of the estate and will. The probate attorney can also assist with: 

    • court order to access accounts and transfer ownership 
    • the process for filing taxes for the deceased and estate
    • consult with the insurance company to expedite the claims process
    • sort out employee benefits and outstanding debts
  • Contact Social Security.
    Funeral directors often take care of this, so check with them first. Through Social Security you can apply for survivor benefits. Social Security survivors’ benefits are paid to widows, widowers, and dependents of eligible workers.
  • Notify the bank, mortgage company, and financial advisors (if applicable).
    You will need to provide these institutions with the death certificate to close accounts and take care of outstanding items. In addition, you may need a court order to access accounts. Consult legal counsel for assistance with this process.
  • Cancel insurance policies.
    From health insurance to homeowners’ insurance, you will need to call each company to cancel these policies. 
  • Reconcile bank accounts and determine bills.
    Make a list of bills that are likely to be due soon by reviewing online accounts and paper statements. Set up a plan to ensure these bills continue to be paid on time until accounts can be closed. A probate attorney can assist you with formulating a plan.
  • Contact the major credit reporting agencies.
    Reach out to Experian, Equifax and TransUnion in order to minimize the chances of identity theft. Check your loved one’s credit history in a month or two to confirm that no new accounts have been opened. You will need to provide them with the death certificate. 
  • Contact the driver’s license office and election board.
    Call or go online to cancel the driver’s license. Provide the death certificate to both the driver’s license office and the local election board to prevent fraud.
  • Close credit card accounts.
    Determine open credit card accounts and contact each company. You will need to provide the death certificate. 

 

Know When to Ask for Help 

You can’t go it alone. Managing a deceased loved one’s affairs is not an easy task, nor one that should be left to a single person. You’ll need the help and support of others, ranging from probate lawyers to a strong network of friends and relatives, whether you’re the point person on planning the funeral and handing off other details to the executor. Or if you’re the designated executor—settling an estate can take months and sometimes years dealing with paperwork. Know when to delegate and seek outside resources for peace of mind and in an effort to expedite the after death process.

A Trusted Resource for Families in Need

Aftermath Service’s first priority is to help families in their time of need so that they do not have to go through traumatic events alone. Our team of expert technicians provides 24/7/365 rapid response services, including suicide cleanup, homicide cleaning, and unattended death remediation. We believe it is our job to help remove the physical reminders of a tragedy for those who are grieving. 

Additional After Death Resources:


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