Checklist Upon a Death
A resource for when a loved one passes.
The death of a loved one is a trying time that can make the details of settling the estate overwhelming. This checklist will help organize the steps you need to take. Keep in mind that every estate is different and there may be additional issues that are not addressed in this checklist. Our lawyers are here to assist and clarify any of these points.
To Do Immediately
Coordinate for Organ Donation
Although it might be the least pleasant aspect to ponder, organ donation arrangements demand swift action immediately following death. Vital resources to consult include the individual's driver's license and advanced health care directive documents, such as a living will or health care proxy. If the person intended to donate, a coordinator from the hospital of demise will provide guidance. In cases where the individual passed away outside of a hospital setting—including hospices or nursing homes—contact the closest hospital for assistance. The process incurs no financial burden.
Contact Family & Close Friends
Naturally, it is crucial to inform key family members, creating an opportunity for mutual solace and exchanging information about urgent decisions. For instance, are any funeral or burial arrangements already in place?
Assemble an exhaustive list of contacts found within email accounts and personal address books. Reach out to the deceased's employer and associated organizations if necessary.
Follow Body Bequethal Instructions
If the deceased expressed intentions to bestow their body to a medical institution, it is essential to respect their wishes. Consult advance directives or living wills to identify the specific establishment. In the absence of prior arrangements, next of kin can still choose to donate the body, but a prompt decision is necessary.
Make Funeral Arrangements
Gather principal family members for an initial discussion, particularly if the deceased provided no instructions or made an unrealistic request. Factors to contemplate include the deceased's desires, financial constraints, practicality, and the family's needs.
Select a funeral home. The majority prefer a funeral home to transport the body from the morgue. The deceased may have specified a preferred establishment and potentially prepaid for funeral services. If no prior arrangements were made, the responsibility falls on the family. Conduct research and solicit recommendations from those with experience.
Secure the individual's residence and vehicle. If the home will remain vacant, notify the police through a non-emergency line, landlord, or property manager. Arrange temporary care for pets.
Inform the Post Office
Utilize mail forwarding to prevent mail pile-ups and facilitate account cancellations via e-mail or by asking the post office to notify the senders. Accumulated mail may prove invaluable in identifying overlooked details.
To Do Before Funeral
Employ any instructions left by the deceased and prior family discussions to guide decision-making. Topics to consider include embalming or cremation, casket selection, ashes dispersal or interment, burial site location, religious traditions, and charitable donations in place of flowers.
Numerous benefits are available to a veteran's service, including funeral and burial assistance. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs website provides comprehensive information, or contact Veterans Affairs at 1-800-827-1000 or a local veterans agency. You can find many details about options at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs website (pdf). You can also inquire about veteran's survivor benefits.
Death certificates (maybe 12)
Social Security card
Birth certificates for any children
Deeds and titles to property
Automobile title and registration papers
Honorable discharge papers for a veteran and/or VA claim number
Recent income tax forms and W-2 forms
Loan and installment payment books and contracts
Help might be available from a number of sources, including a church, a union or a fraternal organization that the deceased belonged to. Phone or send an email to the local group.
Relatives and friends may be needed to serve as pallbearers, to create or design the funeral program, cook meals (for a repast gathering or simply for the household of the deceased), take care of children or pets, or shop for any items needed for the funeral or household of the deceased.
You can typically purchase a headstone through the cemetery or from an outside vendor of your choice. Consult the cemetery about rules, regulations and specifications such as color and size, particularly if you go with an outside vendor.
Depending on your tradition, it's called a repast or a wake. It can be held at the church, a banquet hall or someone's house. Enlist the help of friends and relatives to plan.
Once a date and time have been set for the service, share the details with those on your contact list. Include an address to send cards, flowers or donations.
Keep track of who sends cards, flowers and donations so that you can acknowledge them later.
Prepare an obituary. The funeral home might offer the service or you might want to write an obituary yourself. If you want to publish it in a newspaper, check on rates, deadlines and submission guidelines. Don't include such details as exact date of birth that an identity thief could use.
An ethical will isn't a legal document, but rather a letter of sorts written to your family and friends that shares your values, life lessons and hopes for the future. If the deceased left one, arrange to share it, maybe even have it printed.
Consider whether you need or want other financial assistance for the funeral and burial
For a veteran, inquire about special arrangements.
Essential Documents Needed for this Checklist
Enlist help for the funeral
Arrange for headstone
Organize post-funeral gathering
Notify the public
Make a list of well-wishers
Prepare an Obituary
Handle the ethical will, if there is one
To Do After Funeral
Get duplicate death certificates
Send notes of gratitude
Notify local Social Security office
Look into employment benefits
Stop health insurance
Terminate other insurance policies
Meet with a probate attorney
Make a list of important bills (mortgage payments).
Notify mortgage companies and banks
Close credit card accounts
Notify credit reporting agencies
Cancel driver's license
Cancel email and website accounts
Cancel membership in organizations
Contact Tax Preparer
Notify the supervisor of election
Notify life insurance companies
You may need a dozen certified death records to complete upcoming tasks, though some will require less expensive copies. Your funeral director may help you handle this or you can order them from the vital statistics office in the state where the death occurred or from the city hall or other local records office. Each certified record will cost in the neighborhood of $10 or $20.
From the contact list that you acquired earlier, send thank-you notes and acknowledgements. Consider delegating this task to a family member.
Typically the funeral director will notify Social Security of your loved one's death. If not, call 1-800-772-1213 or contact your local office. If your loved one was receiving benefits, they must stop because overpayments will require complicated repayment. Even a payment received for the month of death may need to be returned. If the deceased has a surviving spouse or dependents, ask about their eligibility for increased personal benefits and about a one-time payment of $255 to the survivor.
If your loved one received Medicare, Social Security will inform the program of the death. If the deceased had been enrolled in Medicare Prescription Drug Coverage (Part D), Medicare Advantage plan or had a Medigap policy, contact these plans at the phone numbers provided on each plan membership card to cancel the insurance.
If the deceased was working, contact the employer for information about pension plan, credit unions and union death benefits. You will need a death certificate for each claim.
Notify the health insurance company or the deceased's employer. End coverage for the deceased, but be sure coverage for any dependents continues if needed.
If your loved one had life insurance, appropriate claim forms will need to be filed. You will need to provide the policy numbers and a death certificate. If the deceased was listed as a beneficiary on a policy, arrange to have the name removed.
Contact the providers. That could include homeowner's, automobile and so forth. Claim forms will require a copy of the death certificate.
The executor should choose the attorney. Getting recommendations from family or friends might be the best approach, but an online search can also be an efficient way to find an attorney. "The advice of counsel can save a lot of frustration and running down dead ends," AARP attorney Hurme says. If there is a will, the executor named in it and the attorney will have the document admitted into probate court. If there isn't a will, the probate court judge will name an administrator in place of an executor. The probate process starts with an inventory of all assets (personal property, bank accounts, house, car, brokerage account, personal property, furniture, jewelry, etc.), which will need to be filed in the probate court.
Share the list with the executor or estate administrator so that bills can be paid promptly.
Contact financial advisers, stockbrokers, etc. Determine the beneficiary listed on these accounts. Depending on the type of asset, the beneficiary may get access to the account or benefit by simply filling out appropriate forms and providing a copy of the death certificate. If that's the case, the executor wouldn't need to be involved. If there are complications, the executor could be called upon to help out.
It helps if your loved one left a list of accounts, including online passwords. Otherwise, take a death certificate to the bank for assistance. Change ownership of joint bank accounts. Did the deceased have a safe deposit box? If a password or key isn't available, the executor would most likely need a court order to open and inventory the safe deposit box. Most probate courts have administrative rules about steps to access the box of any decedent.
For each account, call the customer service phone number on the credit card, monthly statement or issuer's website. Let the agent know that you would like to close the account of a deceased relative. Upon request, submit a copy of the death certificate by fax or email. If that's not possible, send the document by registered mail with return receipt requested. Once the company receives the certificate, it will close the account as of the date of death. If an agent doesn't offer to waive interest or fees after that date, be sure to ask. Keep records of the accounts you close and notify the executor of the estate about outstanding debts.
To minimize the chance of identity theft, provide copies of the death certificate to the three major firms — Equifax, Experian and TransUnion — as soon as possible so the account is flagged. Four to six weeks later, check the deceased's credit history to ensure no fraudulent accounts have been opened.
Clearing the driver's license record will remove the deceased's name from the records of the department of motor vehicles and help prevent identity theft. Contact the state department of motor vehicle for exact instructions. You may have to visit a customer-service center or mail documentation. Either way, you'll need a copy of the death certificate.
It's a good idea to close social media and other online accounts to avoid fraud or identity theft. The procedures for each website will vary. For instance, Google Mail (Gmail) will ask you to provide a death certificate, a photocopy of your driver's license and other detailed information.
Reach out to sororities, fraternities, professional organizations, etc., the deceased belonged to and find out how to handle his/her membership status. Greek organizations may want to hold a special ceremony for your loved one.
A return will need to be filed for the individual, as well as for an estate return. Keep monthly bank statements on all individual and joint accounts that show the account balance on the day of death.
According to a 2012 Pew Center report, almost 2 million people on voter registration rolls are dead.