Losing a loved one can be one of life’s most difficult experiences. Asking for support from friends, family, or other resources can be helpful, especially the days right after the loss.
Every situation is unique, and there’s no single set of steps to take. Here are a few things to consider doing right after a loved one dies.
1. Death is pronounced
Whether your loved one died at a hospital, in hospice care, home, or another location, a health care professional must officially pronounce and record the time of death. This is the first step in securing a death certificate.1
2. Organ donation
Your loved one may have documented their preference to be an organ donor on their driver’s license with an advance health care directive form, or an official organ donation registration. If not, the decision must be made on their behalf, quickly, either before or after death.1 For more information about the process and requirements of organ donation, visit Organdonor.gov.
3. Plan for dependents and pets
Not everyone has dependents or pets but it’s important to start thinking about care options and making plans—even if it’s temporary and before you find a long-term solution.
4. Notify people
A representative from the family will usually notify key friends or relatives and ask them to help inform other friends and family. Texting or using group chat is another way to quickly share and inform multiple people at once.
It may be necessary to also call your loved one’s employer(s) to let them know what happened and contact health care providers to cancel upcoming appointments.
5. Choose someone as a point of contact for travel and logistics
If people are traveling to the funeral or memorial, it can be helpful to appoint someone who can be available to answer calls and provide some of the details and logistics.
After the first few days following the passing of your loved one, you may need to handle some additional affairs, from starting the probate process to consulting attorneys and financial and tax professionals.
Find the will and submit to probate court
The will should be submitted to the local probate court. You'll need to include a certified copy of the death certificate. This process may require multiple legal filings, and hiring an attorney could make it easier.
Locate trust documents and insurance policies
There are many types of trusts, and they generally avoid probate. Trusts can be considered part of the taxable estate. It’s important to notify the trustee as soon as possible.
Contact attorney, financial advisor, and tax advisor
Financial professionals your loved one worked with may have insight into their plans.
Get legal and tax advice of your own
Meet with the estate's executor or attorney, if appropriate, and yours if you have your own attorney, to discuss legal and tax issues associated with settling the estate.
According to the US Postal Service, you’ll need proof that you’re the executor of the estate, or otherwise authorized to manage your loved one's mail such as forwarding mail to your address or a different address.2
Contact the Social Security Administration
The Social Security Administration should be one of the first government offices you notify after a death—and generally the funeral home will report the death for you, if you provide the Social Security number.3
The surviving spouse and minor children may be eligible for a one-time death benefit payment and survivor’s benefits. You may not need to wait for specific documents. You can find your local office by calling 800-772-1213 or online at SSA.gov.
Contact employer about benefits and workplace savings plans
Make sure you’re aware of any retirement, profit-sharing, or equity compensation plans. Ask about insurance and other employer-sponsored programs that may exist. Be sure to get current account balances and find out how benefits are distributed.
Ask the employer about continuing medical benefits
Under the federal COBRA regulations, a surviving spouse or child may be able to continue coverage with the existing health insurance plan. Find out more about Health plans and benefits: continuation of health coverage on DOL.gov.
If the surviving spouse is age 65 or older, they may be entitled to certain Medicare benefits.
Contact children’s school (if applicable)
If there are school-age children who have lost a parent, notifying the school is an important step.
While you may not need to handle these tasks right away after the death of a loved one, you’ll want to take care of these things within a few months to help avoid complications.
Pay special attention to IRAs
Contact the IRA provider to figure out if any Required Minimum Distributions (RMDs) must be withdrawn. It’s important to know that if your loved one was taking RMDs and had not yet taken the withdrawal for the year, the RMD must be taken before December 31.
If you’re the beneficiary of the IRA, talk to your legal or tax advisor to help determine the best course of action for you.
Notify banks, brokerages, and other financial institutions
If you’re a joint owner of any bank accounts, you still may be able to use cash in the accounts or access lines of credit. Many joint accounts are owned with the right of survivorship, which means that when one owner dies, the surviving person is the sole owner of the account. It's sensible to track any money spent until the estate is settled.
If the bank accounts are solely owned, it’s important to leave them untouched. Once the executor has the necessary documents, they’ll typically be able to use cash in financial accounts to pay creditors.
In some cases, the accounts may have been set up as transfer on death accounts, which allows the account owner to name a beneficiary—or more than one. The beneficiary can go to the financial institution with the required documents and take ownership of the account.
Even if you don’t have the required documents yet, it can be a good idea to notify financial institutions as soon as possible to help avoid fraud or identity theft.
The executor may need a tax ID and bank account for the estate
The estate may need a bank account to receive money from the sale of any assets, to pay creditors, and disburse funds to beneficiaries.
To open a bank account, you’ll need a tax ID number for the estate.
Contact credit card companies
Notifying credit card companies can help prevent new charges from recurring bill payments and accruing interest. It can also help avoid identity theft. If you’re a joint owner on a credit card account, you should be able to continue using the account even after notifying the credit card company.
Ask whether there are any death benefits associated with each credit card.
Contact insurance companies
Notify insurance companies. There may be life, home, auto, and personal property insurance policies. It’s important to ensure that coverage will continue while the estate is settled.
Contact the mortgage company, if applicable
See Inheriting a house: what to do for more information.
Notify credit bureaus
Contact one of the 3 credit reporting agencies, Equifax, Experian, or TransUnion to notify them of the death. Notifying one of the companies will get the account flagged at all 3 credit bureaus so that no credit will be issued in your loved one’s name.4
It can be a good idea to also request credit reports from each of the 3 agencies. They’ll show all open accounts.
Cancel memberships, subscriptions, and services
You may find information about outstanding services and subscriptions from credit cards or bank account statements. To avoid ongoing billing, it’s important to find these accounts and cancel them as soon as possible. This could include everything from gyms and cell phone plans to online games and streaming services.