What to Do When a Loved One Dies: A Checklist

What do you do when someone you love dies? Many of us have no idea what first steps we should take after the death of a loved one. Who do you call, what needs to be done, where do you begin?

Get Legal Certification of Death

One of the very first things you will need to do is get a legal certification of death. This can be done by a variety of professionals, depending on the situation and location.

State laws vary, but generally a hospice care worker, emergency medical technician (EMT), registered nurse (RN or APRN), physician, coroner, or medical examiner can pronounce death.

Once the death is pronounced, you can work with the medical professional or the funeral director to obtain the actual death certificate.

Note that you will want at least 10-15 copies of the death certificate. Many institutions will require a copy to properly handle the decedent’s accounts. These range from various government agencies like the IRS and Social Security to credit card and insurance companies.

People to Notify

There are also many people you will want to notify. Here is a brief list.

  • Immediate family members. Ask them to contact others.
  • Close friends. Ask them to contact others, if you would like them to do so.
  • Minister, pastor, or priest.
  • Employer and other business associates. Ask them to cancel appointments.
  • Ask someone to look after the decedent’s home and/or pets.
  • Ask someone to look after the house, to prevent theft.

Contact the Funeral Home

Call the funeral home, mortuary, or medical school about transporting the body. You will need to decide on which funeral home to use.

Soon after you will want to decide, or find out what the decedent chose, for final disposition. This means whether the body will be buried or cremated.

Arrange the Funeral

Contact the people who will help you arrange the service. This can include religious leaders, family members, and vendors for flowers, funeral programs, caskets, or cremation urns.

Schedule an Obituary

Notify the local newspaper of the death and include information in the obituary on location of service, donations, flowers, etc.

Begin Settling the Estate

Immediately after a death is not the appropriate time to settle the estate. However, the funeral home needs to get paid, bills are still due, and you want to make sure that everything is in order.

At the very least, contact the lawyer and executor of the estate to get the process started.

Other Matters to Resolve

You will also need to contact many of the following organizations and service providers.

  • Social Security office
  • Life insurance company
  • Civil service or Veterans organizations regarding funeral or death benefits
  • Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) to cancel driver’s license – this helps prevent identity theft
  • Volunteer organizations, fraternities, or any other commitments
  • Credit card companies and credit reporting agencies
  • Subscriptions and automatic bill payments

See this article for a list of accounts to cancel when someone dies.

Printable Checklist for What to Do When a Loved One Dies

You can use our downloadable, printable checklist (available here), or build your own list based on these important tasks.

What to do when someone you love dies - a checklist

18 thoughts on “What to Do When a Loved One Dies: A Checklist”

  1. Thank you for the helpful checklist of what to do if someone was to die. I have never had someone close to me die, and I have been wondering what to do if they were to die. That is good to know that I should call the funeral home, mortuary, or medical school about transporting the body, then decide whether they will be buried or cremated. That is a lot to do. I hope that I can do everything right, if the time comes.

  2. If the deceased is listed as primary on a a credit card and spouse is just authorized user, that card will be cancelled immediately. The spouse can reapply but it will take days. It is VERY important that one has at least one credit card in their name only. I learned the hard way and was shocked when all credit cards cancelled without notice to me. Young women today probably will establish their own credit but older women used “authorized user” back in the 60’s and never changed it,

  3. This isn’t a very good list and somewhat ridiculous. First, contact immediate family and friends for help. I think almost all funeral homes help you with the obit, contacting the life insurance cos, the VA, & the minister/church. All the other stuff can be done right after the funeral. Most death certificates take a couple of weeks, and I just got a couple of copies from the courthouse – a lot of the places just took copies. It seems to me whoever wrote this list has never planned a funeral.

  4. Hi Pam,

    Thanks for your comments! The death certificate was addressed first because many people do run into issues without it later on, especially because it does take several weeks. It’s important to take care of it quickly because if it gets pushed back, it can hold up many other things. And you’re absolutely right, first notify immediate family – but no one needs a blog article to tell them that! Rather, people appreciate the information a little further on, like “ask someone to look after the house to prevent theft.” That’s helpful!

    And yes, a good funeral home will help you with all this. I’m glad that your experience has been so positive! Not everyone gets a great funeral home, or even chooses to use a funeral home. We’re trying to provide the most helpful information for people in all sorts of situations.

  5. Let me say it is a MESS if someone dies without a will or poa, not one credit card company accepted the death certificate and still today we are receiving letters from the credit card companies that have been informed. My sons are still going through heart ache when their dad died suddenly . The letters all express their condolences but put credit collection agencies to do their dirty work. Lawyers have told us my sons are not responsible for their dads debt but someone needs to tell the credit card companies .

  6. Thank you so much for putting this list together. It is overwhelming when you lose a loved one. It helps to have a list to consult especially as your going through the grieving process. Thank you! ❤️

  7. Regarding; PAM APRIL 16, 2019 AT 7:40 PM
    Having recently lost my Mother as well as Father and Mother in law, this article IS very well written and informative. I think Pam has a chip on her shoulder for some reason.

  8. Thank you so much for this information. My Mom is 88, my husband is 74. I need to get prepared. Actually..tomorrow is not promised to any one ..we ALL need to be prepared.

  9. Great list. To some of you…Settle down. This list is great and doesn’t have to be done in any specific order. I didn’t need but 3 death certificates, so at $25 each it makes sense to take your time and see what you will need. You can easily get a death certificate on anyone at your vital statistics division of your health department. Relax people! It’s not easy and there are no rules.

  10. I am currently going through the death of my father. He had no will and my mother recently lost her vision, so I am trying my best to contact everyone and get everything in order myself. Without POA, nobody even wants to talk to me. You have to jump through hoops to get anything accomplished. This is the hardest thing I have ever had to deal with and I wouldn’t wish it on anyone!!! It did open my eyes and I am in the process of getting all of my affairs in order so my children never have to suffer through this! Grieving is hard enough but handling the affairs of someone after they die is heart wrenching!! Thank you for the guidance!

  11. Just a side note: POA is not applicable after death. It is the job of the Executer after death, not the POA, to make decisions and perform the duties that need to be done. He or she can ask for help but it is ultimately the job of the Executer to resolve the issues after death.

  12. I am a Family Service Counselor at my local and very popular funeral home and memorial park.
    There are so many emotions that people go thru when they are grieving. I absolutely LOVE how I am able to assist families before, during, and after.
    Side Notes: * The most popular number of death certificates families generally request is 10 😀 *We all actually write our obituaries everyday of our lives, it’s good to complete a Planning Guide so those left to officially write one for your service program will know what you want shared and what you enjoyed during your life. *Creditors want someone to repay the debts, however, some will honor the death certificate and take a loss. Best thing to do is keep your debts at a minimal so they can be paid off with insurance proceeds, savings or etc. * First, call someone to pronounce the death, get family or close friends in route for support, then call funeral home of choice to bring your loved one into care. Wait for that funeral home to call you to set your appointment to come in and make arrangements. Meanwhile, gather items like important papers, policies, and clothing including under garments that may be helpful at the arrangement to eliminate multiple trips to funeral home.

    ❤️If you are reading this make sure you Protect the ones you Love by being prepared. Your Life deserves to be celebrated ❤️

  13. We also went to the Division of Elections and had our son’s name removed from the voting rolls.

  14. Lost my daughter at barely 35, a picture will prevent errors in makeup and hair. View the results ASAP. She never wore that much makeup in her life. I ordered 12 Offical D Certificates (seal on them.) Had one left.

  15. Good information but half the stuff you list, the funeral home takes care of for you. The family should not have to worry about all of that in time of need.

  16. Excellent point, Liza! We do have quite a few readers who are looking to take care of the arrangements themselves, plus various funeral home may take care of one task but not another, so it is helpful to list all the tasks. Thanks!

  17. Poa’s are not valid once there is a decedent. Also probably only need 2 or 3 certified death certificates. Most places will take a copy as a proof saving the expense. The pandemic should have taught us planning ahead. You can use transfer on death and with rights of survivorships and make sure that someone else is on accounts. This will forego a lot of need for the court system. And of course the will as your legal document as backup, just in case.

  18. My dad was a mortician for a few years, around the time he and Mom got married. Boy, did he have some interesting stories to tell! But I distinctly remember him mentioning that when he first started working at the funeral home he worked at first, he was told that grieving widows coming in to pick a coffin and services were a gold mine, because you could talk them into buying the most expensive casket, and all the bells and whistles for the funeral. (“Surely your husband was worth this, wasn’t he?”) Dad always said that one of the best things you could do was to plan everything out, pick the funeral home, pick the casket, etc, BEFORE you die. (You would think that I would have done all that, wouldn’t you? Unfortunately, not yet.)

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