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What To Do When A Loved One Dies: A Survivor’s Checklist

What To Do When A Loved One Dies: A Survivor’s Checklist

When someone close to you passes away, you may suddenly face an overwhelming number of things to do, from making funeral plans and notifying friends and family, to settling your loved one’s estate.
 
Navigating this extremely difficult time is never easy, but an organized checklist can help make the practical side of things feel more manageable. Our estate planning attorneys have put together this list and timeline of suggested practical steps to take after someone dies.

What to do Immediately:

Things can feel surreal and hectic in the first 24 hours or so after a loved one’s passing, so don’t feel like you have to do everything at once. These are the most important things to take care of first, in order of priority:
 
  • Get a legal pronouncement of death from a medical professional. Notify the loved one's doctor. If your loved one died at home, you may need to call 911 unless other plans were already in place with a hospice or other organization.
  • Follow body bequeathal instructions and/or arrange for your loved one’s body to be moved to a mortuary or crematorium.
  • Handle any temporary care of minor children, make sure they are safely placed in the care of a friend or relative.
  • Secure your loved one’s home, vehicle and valuables or notify the landlord or property manager. You might consider asking a friend to watch over your loved one's home--collect mail, throw food out, water plants, etc. 
  • Find a home (or at least a temporary place to stay) for any pets.
  • Notify immediate family and close friends.

In the Following First Few Days

This is the best time to begin settling your loved one’s affairs and handling insurance considerations. The first few days can be an especially difficult time, so some items, like settling the estate, can wait. These are the most important things to do in the first 3-5 days:
  • Review important documents to see if your loved one left a will, trust, or other estate planning documents.
  • Review your loved one’s documents for a burial plan or instructions on their funeral.
    • Set up a burial or cremation with the mortuary or crematorium according to any arrangements your loved one has made. If the deceased left no advance instruction, you may consider bringing toether a small group of close family or friends for an early conversation.
    • If your loved one served in the military or belonged to a religious group, consider contacting those organizations as may be able to get assistance with the funeral services, burial plot or other benefits. You can also look into Veteran's Survivor benefits
  • Call your loved one’s employer (if they were working) and ask about any death benefits or life insurance policies through their employment.
  • Request a dozen or so copies of the original death certificates. You can get these through the mortuary, crematorium, or office of public health through the vital statistics office. Your funeral director can also help you obtain these. 
  • Notify the following agencies (if applicable) to cancel insurance and ask about death or survivor benefits:
    • Office of Social Security (800-772-1213; ssa.gov). If the deceased was receiveing Medicare, Social Security will inform them of the death. 
    • Office of Veterans Affairs (800-827-1000; va.gov)
    • Any private healthcare, home, auto or life insurance providers to terminate insurancie policies. In most cases, you will need a death certificate in order to file any insurance claim.
    • Any other agencies providing pension services (PERS, etc.) 
  • Notify the US Post Office to forward any mail.
    • Additionally, monitoring incoming mail can inform you about subscriptions, creditors or other accounts that need attention.

In the First 10 Days

Now that you’ve handled the most urgent to-do items, it’s time to start the bigger process of settling the estate and notifying other organizations and individuals who should know about your loved one’s passing.
 
  • Contact your loved one's financial advisor or tax preparer as these people are often privy to the deceased individual's estate planning documents, assets and beneficiary designations. If you're unsure of where to begin in this process, contacting these individuals is often a great place to start. 
  • Contact an estate planning attorney who can guide you through the estate administration process and help you gain (or ensure) you have the legal authority to handle your loved one’s estate.
  • Notify credit card companies, banks and any other investment or retirement accounts, annutities, etc. 
  • Notify the DMV and cancel your loved one's driver's license.
  • Notify the three major credit reporting agencies (Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion).
    • They may be aware of things like estate planning documents, important assets, and beneficiary designations.
    • Notifying the DMV and credit reporting agencies will help prevent any future credit fraud or identity theft. 
  • Request paperwork for any life insurance claim policies or death benefits your loved one or their employer may have purchased. 
  • Search your loved one’s documents and mail, paying close attention or setting aside important documents such as:
    • A Will or Trust
    • Deeds for real estate
    • Titles to motor vehicles
    • Account statements from financial institutions (bank accounts, investments, securities, etc.)
    • Unpaid bills and credit card statements
    • Tax returns
    • Insurance policies
    • Buy-sell agreements for any businesses
    • Safe deposit box keys
    • Birth and Marriage Certificates

As You Continue Settling Your Loved One’s Affairs

As you move forward with the process of handling your loved one’s estate, it’s important to work with an attorney to make sure you have the authority to complete these next few steps:
  • Work with your attorney and a financial advisor to notify and complete the paperwork necessary to pay any debts and transfer assets to those entitled to them through beneficiary designations.
  • Cancel utilities or any cell phone plans - or have them changed into someone else's name. 
  • Work with a licensed accountant or tax professional to file all required tax returns for the deceased's estate or trust.
  • Some to-do items (such as transferring certain assets) may require court approval, so it’s helpful to work with an attorney who understands the process.
  • Likewise, it’s best to hold off on paying bills and giving away possessions until you’ve had the chance to inventory any personal items and/or create a plan with your attorney to ensure this is done properly.
  • Be an advocate for your loved one's estate and death wishes.

Meet with an Estate Planning Attorney

We understand that going through the personal and financial affairs of someone you recently lost can bring up a lot of overwhelming feelings. We’re here to help. The experienced estate planning attorneys at Gevurtz Menashe can help you navigate the often stressful estate administration and probate process. We are well versed in all the nuances of estate laws and procedures in both Oregon and Washington.
 
If you would like to learn more, please call our Portland office at 503-227-1515, our Vancouver office at 360-823-0410, or schedule a consultation online.