Survivor's Checklist After Death

Although your grief after the death of a friend or family member can make it difficult to focus on tasks, you must still attend to several things that need to be done immediately after a death occurs, and in the weeks and months that follow

At the Time of Death, Make the Right Call

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For deaths that occur at home, it's important to know who to call. If your loved one is a hospice patient, call the hospice agency to report the death. A hospice nurse will come to the home and pronounce the death. The nurse might also call a mortuary for you and arrange for pick up of the body.

If your loved one is not a hospice patient, then you must call emergency services to notify the local police or sheriff of the death. A coroner or medical examiner might also be required at the scene if the death was sudden or unexpected.

Contact a Funeral Home

Whether a hospice nurse makes the call or you call yourself, you'll need to work with a funeral home to arrange for pickup of the deceased's body. If funeral arrangements have been made in advance of the death, all you will need to do is confirm the arrangements with the funeral director. If no funeral arrangements were made in advance, you will need to begin planning a funeral.

Determine if your loved one made any arrangements for a funeral or memorial service. If he or she did not make any advance arrangements, then begin to plan the funeral or memorial service. You might want to call on other relatives or close friends to assist in making these arrangements.

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Contact Attorney, Accountant and Executor of Estate

Your dearly departed left an estate, so consult with the family attorney about the will and about any final instructions that must be accommodated.

Contact Employers

If your loved one was employed, ask a Human Resources representative about any outstanding compensation due. Find out whether surviving dependents are still eligible for health or insurance benefits and whether there is a life-insurance policy through the company.

Contact Social Security

Contact the Social Security Administration and any other agency that might be making monthly payments to the deceased. The SSA's phone number is 1-800-772-1213 (TTY 1-800-325-0778) or you can visit the SSA website for more information. Find out if survivors are entitled to any further benefits.

Contact the Veterans Administration

If your loved one served in the Armed Forces, the Veterans Administration might offer benefits for funeral or burial costs. Stop any monthly payments that the VA might be paying the deceased.

The VA offers death, burial and memorial benefits for U.S. veterans.

Contact Life-Insurance Companies and File a Claim

Beyond employer-sponsored life insurance, some people purchase whole- or term-life policies. Notify all life-insurance carriers of your loved one's death. 

Notify Credit-card Companies and Pay Off Balances

Work with creditors to satisfy accounts. Usually, the executor of the estate will handle debt liquidation. Don't let lenders "guilt" you into paying more than the estate can afford; you aren't personally liable for your loved one's debts unless you're married or are a co-signer on a loan.

Discontinue Utilities

If the house or apartment will be vacated, ensure that utilities are shut off.

You should also stop subscriptions of newspapers, magazines, and other mail items,

Forward Mail at the Post Office

Verify that mail gets to where it's needed—most likely, the executor of the estate.

Find Estate Documents

Locate and review any estate documents, including a will, trust, and power of attorney document.

Locate Important Financial Documents

Some financial documents to look for include:

  • Stock certificates
  • Title documents
  • Bearer bonds
  • Bank statements
  • Brokerage statements
  • Deeds
  • Prenuptial agreement

Collect Asset and Liability Information

Examples of assets include life-insurance policies, bank accounts, investment accounts, real-estate ownership, retirement accounts, business ownership, etc.

Liabilities might include mortgages, owed taxes, credit-card debt, unpaid bills, etc.

Inventory and Distribute Personal Belongings

You might want the help of family members and close friends for this task. Determine which of the deceased's belongings to keep, which to distribute to family and friends, and which to donate or sell.

File the Deceased's Final Tax Return

Ensure that the executor of the estate has the information necessary to file final tax returns.

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