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What to do When a Loved One Dies


  1. Get a legal pronouncement of death. If no doctor is present, you’ll need to contact someone to do this:
    • If the person dies at home under hospice care, call the hospice nurse, who can declare the death and help facilitate the transport of the body.
    • If the person dies at home without hospice care, call 911, and have in hand a do-not-resuscitate document if it exists. Without one, paramedics will generally start emergency procedures and, except where permitted to pronounce death, take the person to an emergency room for a doctor to make the declaration.
  2. Arrange for transportation of the body. If no autopsy is needed, the body can be picked up by a mortuary (by law, a mortuary must provide price info over the phone) or crematorium.
  3. Notify the person’s doctor or the county coroner.
  4. Notify close family and friends. (Ask some to contact others.)
  5. Handle care of dependents and pets.
  6. Call the person’s employer, if he or she was working.
  7. Look for any written instructions (sometimes called a “Letter of Instruction,” “Final Instructions”, or "Disposition Authorization") for funeral or memorial service arrangements, and burial or cremation arrangements. Also look to see if the deceased named a "Designated Agent" to take care of those arrangements (sometimes this is included in the deceased's Advance Directive documents such as in their Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care, or in a Living Will). If not found, ask close friends, the deceased's doctor or the deceased’s lawyer or financial advisor if they know where these instructions are. Also, look for any pre-paid services, such as burial services or cremation.
  8. Look for records of the deceased person’s desire to donate organs or tissue (usually noted on a State driver’s license with a red heart symbol or the word “Donor,” or mentioned in the deceased’s “Final Instructions”). Give this information to the deceased’s doctor or hospice immediately (or before the death, if possible).

Within a few days after death

  1. Arrange for funeral and burial or cremation. Search the person’s documents to find out whether there was a prepaid burial plan. Ask a friend or family member to go with you to the mortuary. Prepare an obituary.
  2. If the person was in the military or belonged to a fraternal or religious group, contact that organization. It may have burial benefits or conduct funeral services.
  3. Ask a friend or relative to keep an eye on the person’s home, answer the phone, collect mail, throw perishable food out, and water plants.

Up to 10 days after death

  1. Call the person’s employer, if he or she was working. Request info about benefits and any pay due. Ask whether there was a life-insurance policy through the company.
  2. Obtain death certificates,
    • The person at the funeral home or cremation facility who is handling the deceased’s remains is responsible for filling out the death certificate
    • Provide the person preparing the certificate with the correct information.
      1. Full name and address.
      2. Birth date and birthplace.
      3. The name and birthplace of their father and mother.
      4. Complete or partial social security number.
      5. Veteran’s discharge or claim number (if applicable).
      6. Education.
      7. Marital status and name of surviving spouse (if there was one).
      8. The cause of death, as well as the date, place, and time of death. 
    • Make sure the death certificate is signed by a coroner, doctor or medical examiner, and then file it with the state (you can also get copies from the state on a future date).
    • Confirm the certificate is filed: most states specify that the death certificate must be completed and filed within ten days of a person’s death. The funeral home or cremation organization is responsible for filing the certificate, but you can ask them to make sure it’s filed in time.
    • Get multiple copies: ask for ten or more copies, you’ll need them for financial institutions, government agencies, and insurers.
      1. You will need an authorized, “certified” death certificate to claim insurance benefits or settle an estate. An “informational”, or uncertified (photocopy of certified copy), death certificate is often not adequate for legal purposes.
      2. On average, each copy will cost around $15.
    • To get a copy on a future date contact the appropriate vital records office, located in the city and state where the death occurred.
      • States are responsible for maintaining vital records of events that happen in their state. If someone died in Virginia but lived in New York, the death certificate will be filed in the Virginia County where the death happened.
      • You may also search online to find where someone died. His or her death may have been reported in the obituaries of a local newspaper.
      • You need proof of relationship or legal interest to obtain a copy.
  3. Take the Will to the appropriate county or city office to have it accepted for probate.
  4. If necessary, the estate’s executor should open a bank account for the deceased’s estate.
  5. Contact:
    • A trust and estates attorney, to learn how to transfer assets and assist with probate issues.
    • Police, to have them periodically check the deceased’s house if vacant.
    • Accountant or tax preparer, to find out whether an estate-tax return or final income-tax return should be filed.
    • The person’s investment adviser, for information on holdings.
    • Bank, to find accounts and safe deposit box.
    • Life insurance agent, to get claim forms.
    • Social Security (800-772-1213; and other agencies from which the deceased received benefits, such as Veterans Affairs (800-827-1000;, to stop payments and ask about applicable survivor benefits.
    • Agency providing pension services, to stop monthly check and get claim forms.
    • Utility companies, to change or stop service, and postal service, to stop or forward mail.

Know the person's wishes

For an elderly friend or relative:

  1. Know the location of the will, birth certificate, marriage and divorce certificates, Social Security information, life-insurance policies, financial documents, and keys to safe deposit box or home safe.
  2. Ask the person’s wishes about funeral arrangements, organ donation, and burial or cremation.
  3. Have the person complete an advance directive, including a living will, which specifies wanted and unwanted procedures. The person should also appoint a health-care proxy to make medical decisions if he or she becomes incapacitated.
  4. Have a do-not-resuscitate order drawn up if the person desires.
  5. Make sure the person gives copies of the documents to his or her doctor and a few family members or friends. Take the documents to the hospital if the person is admitted

Government Agencies to Contact

  1. Social Security Administration, 800-772-1213 (everyone). 
  2. Veteran’s Administration (if decedent was formerly in the military).
  3. Defense Finance and Accounting Service, 800-269-5170 (military service retiree receiving benefits).
  4. Office of Personnel Management, 888-767-6738 (if decedent is a retired or former federal civil service employee).
  5. S. Citizenship and Immigration Service, 800-375-5283 (if decedent was not a U.S. citizen)
  6. State Department of Motor Vehicles (if decedent had a driver’s license or state ID)

Putting deceased on the DO NOT CONTACT list

For a fee of $1.00, you can list the decedent’s name on the Deceased Do Not Contact List which is maintained by the Direct Marketing Association. All members of the Direct Marketing Association will delete the decedent’s name from their mailing lists once the name is posted. A website for registering the name is the Direct Marketing Association (register at

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