For most of us, the loss of an aging loved one is a sad, and often overwhelming occasion. Even when we’ve been mentally preparing ourselves, due to their long-term illness or advanced age, unpredictable emotions can kick in and temporarily put the brakes on our ability to function. That’s why it’s so important to be prepared by developing a plan – well in advance – around what to do when your loved one dies. Here are some tips on what to do before, and after the death of a loved one.
- Talk with your loved one about their wishes regarding funeral arrangements, burial or cremation, etc. There are some great resources on the Aging with Dignity website.
- Be sure you know the location of their will, social security information, life insurance policies, financial documents, keys to their safety deposit box or safe, and contact information for whom to notify about their death.
- Ask your loved one to complete an Advanced Directive and POLST (Physician’s Order for Life-sustaining Treatment). Keep copies for yourself and be sure their physician and the hospital, if applicable, have copies. POLST forms are often kept in a visible place, such as the main door to the home or refrigerator.
- Prepare a checklist (including the following tips) of what to do when your loved one passes.
Immediately upon their death
- If your loved one dies at home with no doctor present or without hospice care, call 911. You need to get a legal pronouncement of death.
- Call the funeral home to arrange for transportation of the body, and to initiate the desired funeral arrangements.
- Notify family and friends.
Within a few days of their death
- Obtain certified copies of the death certificate from the funeral home. You will need enough copies to send to financial institutions, life insurance and annuity companies. Always order a few more than you think you might need. It’s easier to get these from the funeral home than later from the Department of Health.
- Write and submit an obituary or death notice; the funeral home can help you with this.
- Notify the following government agencies. The funeral home may notify some agencies on your behalf. Check with them to confirm.
o Social Security Administration, 800-772-1213 and other agencies from which the deceased received benefits, such as Veterans Affairs (800-827-1000; va.gov), to stop payments and ask about applicable survivor benefits.
o U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service, 800-375-5283 (if decedent was not a U.S. citizen)
o State Department of Motor Vehicles (if decedent had a driver’s license or state ID).
o Utility companies, to change or stop service, and US Postal Service to stop or forward mail.
- Notify financial institutions
o Credit card and merchant card companies
o Banks and credit unions
o Mortgage companies and lenders
o Trust or estate attorney
o Accountant or tax preparer to find out whether a final income tax return or estate tax return should be filed
o Financial planners and stockbrokers
o Pension providers
- Notify insurance companies
o Life insurers and annuity companies
o Health, medical and dental insurers
o Automobile and homeowner insurer
o Disability insurer
- Contact Credit Agencies and instruct them to list all accounts as: “Deceased. Do not issue credit.”
o Experian, 888-397-3742, P.O. Box 9701, Allen, Texas 75013
o Equifax, 800-525-6285, P.O. Box 105069, Atlanta, Georgia 30348
o TransUnion, 800-680-7289, P.O. Box 6790, Fullerton, California 92834
It’s a good idea to put together a folder or binder with your checklist, your loved one’s final wishes, all contact numbers, etc. and keep it in an accessible (and secure) place for when the time comes.
In addition to preparing for all the practical tasks associated with a family member’s death, you may also want to make time to have a heart-to-heart conversation with your loved one. Resolve any differences. Share how you’ll remember them and what you appreciate about them. This will provide comfort for them, and assist with your healing from the loss.