What to do when someone dies
Over the past 18 months my business partner and I have interviewed hundreds of people who have recently settled the affairs of a deceased family member. These interviews have been very insightful and I'd like to share the first things I will do when I lose a loved one. I wanted to fit it in to 10 points, but it wasn't quite that simple. So here are the first 16 things to do when you lose a loved one.
Immediate to do list (within the first day or two):
Get a legal pronouncement of death
This is a legal declaration that someone has actually died. If the person passes away in a hospital or nursing home this will be easily provided by doctors or nurses. However you may need to call 911 if the death occurs at home. This makes it possible to order death certificates, which will be vital at just about every step along the affairs settling journey.
Let family, friends, and employers know
This is simple and self explanatory. Use your judgement to get the difficult news to anyone you think needs to know.
Alfred provides a place for you to list out who you would like to be made known of your passing. Your planning ahead takes one more thing off of their plate.
Decide what to do with your loved one's body
If they are organ donors you will need to let a hospital know quickly. This is obviously time sensitive so take care of this early.
Make plans for transportation. If they have already pre-planned a funeral, you may need to call that funeral home. Otherwise you can call a local funeral home, a direct cremation company (like after.com) or a body donation service.
In the funeral section of Alfred plans these details will be clearly outlined for your loved ones. From burial policy documents to funeral wishes, these details are all easily managed in step 1 of an Alfred plan.
Create a plan for dependents (and pets)
If the deceased has left children or pets then hopefully they have outlined a plan via guardianship legal documents. If there are no such documents then you will need to come up with a temporary plan and set up a conversation with a lawyer to solidify long-term guardianship.
You can house guardianship docs within Alfred so they are easily accessible. Additionally, if you don’t have appointed guardian forms already prepared, we will get you in touch with the appropriate legal services.
Take care of property
It’s unfortunate, but recently deceased are often targets for thieves. Criminals will monitor obituaries and then rob the deceased’s home if it is not properly secured. In our church congregation someone stands watch at the deceased’s home during the funeral service to make sure that nobody shows up to take or damage the property. Be sure to keep homes and vehicles locked.
We will be adding a property section to our plans shortly so that you can outline exactly what you plan to do with your property. From homes to cars to boats and more.
Secondary to-do list (within a few days):
Secondary to-do list (within a few days):
Make funeral arrangements
Your loved one may have outlined their funeral wishes and it’s best to follow those to honor their wishes. If they haven’t made plans, you knew them best so plan a service that would fit their wishes.
Financing a funeral can be a real challenge for some. A cremation runs from $5,000-$9,000 and funerals average $11,500. Many people have pre-paid for their funeral or they have a policy that will help cover expenses. Over $1B in life insurance goes unpaid each year because beneficiaries don’t know about the policies. Check to see if they have any such policy. You can speak with their insurance agent or try to find documentation on your own.
Purchase a casket or an urn. You can do this through a funeral home or online. As with most things, you may find cost savings if you look online.
Alfred provides specific storage and organization of these policies so that your loved ones can quickly make a claim and receive funds.
If you don’t have any means to pay for a service, consider a GoFundme. Communities are powerful and often jump at the opportunity to help out.
Write an obituary
This is a special experience. Remembering and condensing a life into a paragraph is a difficult but rewarding task. I don’t have any specific tips here. You’ll do a great job!
Clean out the deceased's property (if they lived alone)
There are things that will spoil (food) and a good cleaning needs to take place shortly after a death.
Forward mail (if they lived alone)
You can do this simply on the US postal service website or over the phone.
There are 3rd party services for this, but they will charge you dearly. It is free if you talk to the post office directly.
Look into military service benefits (if applicable)
If your loved one is a veteran they will likely be eligible for certain benefits. You can communicate this to the funeral home and they will help you claim those benefits.
We include a section in each plan for people to outline their military or government service so families don’t have to search for this information.
Hold the funeral
You can do this in many ways. Funeral homes offer chapels or your local church could be an option. Again, this is unique to the wishes of the deceased.
After the funeral:
Order a headstone
These are rarely ready in time for a funeral so plan to make this order after the service.
Order copies of the death certificate
You can do this through your funeral home or at the local records office. Death certificates are still hard copy (we’re trying to change that!) so you will need to order enough to send to all the financial institutions where your deceased has holdings. Usually 5-10 is sufficient, but if your loved one left behind a complex estate you may need more.
If you have a will or no legal documents at all, the belongings of the deceased will have to go through probate. With a will the probate process is simply to validate the will. In most cases this is simple and can be managed on your own. If you expect familial issues or other complexities, consider hiring an attorney. If you have a trust set up, you may avoid probate altogether.
Trust and Estate planning is rarely boilerplate. It is best to connect with an attorney and have them guide you through planning ahead. Alfred helps connect you to the best estate attorneys in your area. We also allow you to store your legal documents and attorney information on our platform so your loved one’s will have easy access to those details.
Dig into finances
This might be tough. If there is a financial advisor, CPA, or estate attorney they will be very helpful here. You will have to track down account information for banks, trading accounts, mortgages, utilities - the list goes on. If there was not a well organized way to pass this information on then you might be digging through papers for a while. If you don’t know what accounts your loved one held, use their mail and any online accounts you have access to in order to identify what accounts may be open.
Once you have located accounts you will have to start notifying the relevant parties. Take or mail copies of the death certificate to each bank and change ownership of the accounts. You may need a court order to open and inventory a safe deposit box if a key isn’t readily available.
Here are a few of the types of accounts you’ll need to close: Insurance, utilities, credit cards, banking, trading, 401k, other investment accounts, other bills - just to name a few.
We have built a robust financial account section where you can quickly see all of the financial accounts in one place. This will expedite the process exponentially.
In today’s world you will also have to manage the deceased’s digital footprint. Closing social media, streaming and other services is a necessary step. You will also want to find passwords to their computers and devices. If you can’t, you will be hiring a lawyer to help you get access. We have heard many sad stories of families fighting to get access to a device that they didn’t know the password to.
We’ve outlined details of how to close specific social media accounts HERE.
It takes an average of 570 hours to get through all of this. And it is usually spread over 16 months. Alfred makes that a lot faster!
Build a plan with us so that your family doesn’t have to spend 570 hours managing logistics.
They’ll appreciate it - I promise.
Sign up for Alfred HERE and get 30 days free!