What to do When a Loved One Dies: Practical Steps

The death of a loved one is an emotional experience. You may have been grieving the loss of this person for a while if they had an illness or had been suffering a long decline, or this may be a sudden and unexpected death. Either way, there are logistical and legal actions to consider as you are dealing with your new reality without your loved one. Some people call us wanting to manage everything right away. We have found it easier to divide tasks into three different levels of urgency.

Most Urgent: Actions to be Taken in the First Few Days

One of the most urgent tasks is to make final arrangements for your loved one’s body. The options are as plentiful as each family is unique. You should call a local funeral home to help you decide and execute these arrangements. You need need to keep all of the receipts as these expenses are reimbursable from the estate and maybe the VA if your loved one was receiving benefits from the VA.

You also need to secure any unoccupied residence. You should cancel home deliveries (including Meals on Wheels) and notify the Post Office to change mailing address or hold mail.

Items That Can Wait Until You Receive the Death Certificate: 2-6 weeks

You want to determine if your loved one had a Will, and if so, locate the original Will. If probate is necessary, you will need the original Will. The funeral home should have notified Social Security of the death, however there is a $255 death benefit that a family member can claim by calling Social Security.

You also need to notify any other agencies or companies that were providing income. Often there is a continued pension or annuity to a surviving spouse or child. Sometimes an employer or union will have a life insurance or death benefit that will pay out.

You will also need the death certificate to make a claim as beneficiary of any life insurance, investment, or financial accounts. If your loved one did not name beneficiaries, then they will be payable to their estate. Accounts that are payable to the estate require probate. You also want to contact all of their other insurance carriers such as Supplemental, Prescription, or Health to cancel the policies; or Homeowners or Auto Insurance to determine what needs to be done to continue these policies.

Whenever You Are Ready

Contact an attorney to review the assets and determine whether probate is necessary. You may just need to transfer title of joint tenancy assets to the co-owners and make claims on the accounts with beneficiaries.

If there is a Safe Deposit Box that you have access to, you should have at least 2 people present when it is opened and make an inventory. If no one besides your loved one has a key and access, you will need to file a petition in the probate court to open the box.

Your loved one will have a tax return due for the year of their death. There could potentially be a refund if they were having taxes withheld from their income. If your loved one was named as your beneficiary or as an agent in your estate planning documents, then it is time for you to make updates to your estate plan.

If you have recently lost a loved one and have questions or need help navigating the process please call us at 770-854-0688. We would be happy to help.