What to Do When Someone Close to You Dies

What to Do When Someone Close to You Dies

When someone close to you passes away, the initial reaction is usually shock. Even when the death was expected, the actual event may leave you feeling unprepared. Often, when you receive this news, it is because you are the “responsible” person—the surviving spouse, the “in charge” child, or the executor. In any event, there are important decisions to be made and actions to take. Having a sense of what to do will help you move forward despite the fog of grief and uncertainty you may feel.

The first action step depends on where and how the person died. If the death occurred in a care facility, the staff will generally help with some arrangements. An appropriate person can make a legal pronouncement of death, which is necessary for obtaining a death certificate. If someone dies at home and without hospice care, you will need to notify the authorities. This generally means calling 911, and you will want to have the decedent’s Do Not Resuscitate document on-hand to show to the paramedics, if one exists. Without this document, the paramedics may be required to initiate life-saving procedures. The paramedics will take the person to the emergency room where a physician can pronounce death. If the person dies at home, but was receiving in-home hospice care, you should contact the hospice organization instead of calling emergency services.

If an autopsy is not needed, a mortuary or funeral home can remove the body and help with making burial arrangements. It is easiest when the decedent pre-arranged funeral and burial plans. If you are unaware of any such plans, it is important to know that a mortuary is required to provide price information over the phone when requested. In this situation, it may be helpful to ask family and friends for advice and a referral to a trusted funeral director.

After the immediate reporting of the person’s death and arrangements for the body, you will need to contact family members, friends, and clergy. In making these calls, consider asking key people to call a few other relatives and friends. This will lessen the burden on you while making sure the news is spread to those who need to be informed. If possible, ask someone to stay with you during this time—it will help you stay on track and give you moral support during the first few hours of dealing with this difficult news.

Other key persons to contact promptly are the decedent’s physician and the decedent’s employer. If you do not know the physician’s name, you can check prescription bottles or medical bills for identifying information. An employer should be able to give you information on any salary or wages due to the decedent as well as any benefits owing.

Within a few days, you should obtain death certificates and start looking at the decedent’s important papers. Whether the person died with a will, trust, or intestate, an estate planning attorney can help you plan the transfer of assets and assist with any probate matters. The decedent’s accountant or tax preparer can help with the details of a final tax return, and a financial advisor can provide information on investment accounts and holdings. You should also contact the life insurance company to inquire about benefits and to file a claim. The Social Security Administration and other agencies from which the decedent was receiving benefits must also be contacted about stopping payments and providing survivor benefits (if applicable).

If the deceased person maintained a home, you also need to secure the residence. The local police department may offer property checks, and utilities should be changed over to the executor’s name or stopped. If the decedent had pets, the animal and its belongings should be removed so it can be placed in a new home.

Undoubtedly, the death of a loved one is a difficult and grief-filled time. Knowing how to handle the person’s affairs after death can help relieve some of the stress. If we can help you navigate the loss of a loved one, please contact our office for a consultation.