A checklist for what to do when a loved one dies

Posted on

Losing a loved one is hard.  When you are suffering emotionally it is difficult to focus and take care of business no matter how much pre-planning you have in place.  It is hoped that having a list of steps to take after the death of a loved one may bring you some measure of comfort and peach of mind.

  1. Secure the decedents’ property-
  2. Arrange for a funeral or memorial service-

– What were the wishes of the decendent?

-Contact a funeral home or memorial society.

– Tell friends and family what the plans are.

– Social Media?

– Determine if all or part of the funeral/cemetery costs have been prepaid.

Veterans, service members, and their dependents can be buried in a national cemetery for free.  If a veteran is buried elsewhere and was entitled to receive Veterans Affairs (VA) disability payments up to the time of death, his or her estate can receive an allowance toward burial and funeral expenses.  Other benefits may include a ceremonial American flag, headstone, presidential memorial certificate.

Submit an obituary to the local paper including a charitable organization for donations if that is preferred over flowers.

Make a list of everyone who sends donations, flowers, and/or cards so acknowledgements can be sent.


  1. After the funeral-

– Notify the decedent’s attorney about the death.

– Find out if there is a Will and/or a Trust and who was appointed executor/trustee.


The executor/trustee may wish to meet with the attorney to review the steps necessary to administer the decedent’s estate.  Bring as much information as possible about finances, taxes and debts.  Documents you should bring include:

  •      copies of the death certificate (You can get these from the funeral director, and it is a good idea to get at least 10 copies.)
  •      a copy of the decedent’s birth certificate (and your marriage license if the deceased is your spouse.)
  •      financial statements, including those from banks, brokerage houses, and insurance agencies.
  •      other financial documents, including tax forms from prior years, unpaid credit card and utility bills, and mortgage payments.
  •      the decedent’s Social Security number and Veterans Affairs identification number, if applicable.

– Ascertain the existence of a safety deposit box and examine its contents.

– Notify the decedent’s creditors.  Close any credit card accounts.

– Open a bank account for the estate and/or Trust.

– Manage the Trust and/or administer the Estate as required.


  1. Other details that may need attention-

– Check homeowner’s or auto insurance policies for coverage.

– Contact life insurance companies for policy and claim information.


Contact the employee benefits department of the decedent’s employer to determine what death benefits may be payable and to whom.  It may be necessary to provide several certified copies of the death certificate as well as other requested documentation.

Change the registration of investment securities by contacting the decedent’s financial adviser or the brokerage firm and make sure that if the deceased placed any orders, they are immediately suspended.

Change the title on any property (including real estate and automobiles) owned by the deceased.

Contact financial institutions to determine what information they need and in what format to change registration on any accounts the decedent may have had.

File a federal estate tax return within nine months of the death if the estate’s value exceeds the estate tax exemption for the year of death.  It may also be necessary for a final tax return to be filed on behalf of the decedent.

Determine how to arrange for any income you may be getting from the decedent’s retirement plan benefits, union survivor benefits, Social Security, Veterans’ benefits, and life insurance policies.

Social Security benefits

If the decedent was receiving Social Security benefits, the Social Security Administration must be notified promptly.  A spouse or any minor children who were living with the deceased at the time of death receive a one-time Social Security payment.  A widow or widower can also receive monthly benefits generally beginning at age 60 or at any age if he or she is caring for an eligible minor (under age 16 or disabled). Unmarried minor children (under age 18, or 19, if they are still attending high school) receive monthly Social Security benefits.  If you are divorced from the deceased after a marriage of at least 10 years, you may be eligible for Social Security payments.

Veteran’s benefits

Contact the Department of Veterans Affairs.  Benefits to a spouse and heirs may include pension payments and financial aid for education costs.

Insurance benefits

If you are the beneficiary under an insurance policy, contact the insurance company or agent to obtain the death claim forms you will need to complete and submit.  With the forms, you will need to include a certified copy of the death certificate.

Retirement plan and pension benefits

If you are the beneficiary of any retirement or pension plan of the decedent, call the employee benefits department of the company that sponsors the plan and determine what your payment options are and what paperwork the plan requires you to submit.


  1. Review your own estate plan, including insurance policies, legal documents,

beneficiary designations, etc. and revise as necessary.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *