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What to Do When Someone Dies


The first hours after the death of a loved one can be overwhelming and confusing. Consider making a list or download our end of life checklist to paint a clear picture of what needs to be done. As you review the items, take advantage of family members and close friends that offer help. Try to delegate responsibilities to lighten the load.

In the hours after someone passes, there are a few decisions that require your immediate attention. Read on to identify what items you should focus on now and what decisions you can delay for a few days.

In the first few hours…

Find out who is in charge.

Each state has its own laws for who is legally in charge of making final arrangements for a loved one. If your loved one didn’t leave any legal documents outlining who is in charge, you will have to find out who the Next of Kin is. Visit for more information.

Get a legal pronouncement of death.

If your loved one has passed with a doctor present, they will perform the legal pronouncement. If your loved one is on hospice care, then call the hospice nurse to coordinate. Otherwise, you will need to arrange for a legal pronouncement of death.

In some counties, you can call the medical examiner’s office directly, but other counties require a visit from emergency services first. If you are unsure about how you should proceed, call 911 to send someone to perform the legal pronouncement.

Find and follow any instructions your loved one has left.

Your loved one may have purchased a prepaid funeral plan, prepared a last will, or left other estate-planning documents that will help you move forward.

Consider your options.

If your loved one hasn’t left any instructions, then you will have to make a few decisions quickly. If you are unsure of how to move forward without guidance from your loved one who has passed, bring together key family members for an early conversation. As best you can, consider what your loved one may have wanted, what you and your family can afford, what is realistic, and what can help you and your family the most during this time. Though you will have to make decisions quickly, do your research and don’t rush into anything that makes you or your family uncomfortable.

Choose between burial and cremation.

This is a personal decision that will affect the rest of the funeral arrangement process significantly. Your decision will influence your budget, the type of memorial you can have, the timeframe of a service, and more. Read more about burial and cremation here.

Choose a funeral provider.

Once you’ve chosen between burial and cremation, you will want to choose a funeral provider. This decision is usually made quickly without much research. Without shopping around, families buy expensive packages with services that don’t fit their needs. Before settling on a funeral home, ask for a General Price List from a few providers – they are legally required to provide their price list to you. Funeral homes vary drastically in prices and offerings, and a bit of research can go a long way.

Call someone to collect your loved one.

After the death, how long you can stay with the body depends on where the death happens. If your loved one passed at home, arrangements should be made as soon as your family is ready and according to local laws. Once you’re ready, call the provider you have chosen. They should walk you through the process and will send a team to collect your loved one in a timely manner.

Notify key people.

Once your loved one is in the care of the funeral home, you can begin notifying others of their passing. If your loved one was employed, notify their employer. Ask about remaining pay, and any benefits or work-related details you may need to know. This task can easily be delegated to a family member or friend.

In the days following the death…

Locate important documents.

Your funeral home will tell you what information they need to make arrangements, like your loved one’s social security number, driver’s license, etc. 

Request death certificates.

To begin closing out your loved one’s accounts, you will need to submit death certificates to financial institutions, government agencies, and insurers. You will probably need multiple copies. The exact number depends on the complexity of the estate and the number of accounts to be closed. Each certified record will cost between $20 and $30.

Decide how you would like to say goodbye.

Increasingly, families are choosing to make arrangements independently of funeral homes. This allows a much more personalized service for your loved one and eliminates the time and cost pressures of a traditional funeral home. You can plan a memorial or celebration of life service at a later date with your family to fit your budget and taste. Personalized celebrations of life are especially popular for families who choose direct cremation services. Read more about the benefits of a direct cremation here.

If you have chosen a traditional funeral home and would like to have a memorial service before your loved one is buried or cremated, coordinate body preparation with your funeral director. The state will usually require embalming if the body will be held or transported for more than 24 hours after death. If embalming is required, your funeral home will walk you through any time-sensitive decisions you’ll have to make and outline all additional charges.

Prepare an obituary or share memories of your loved one on social media.

Enlist a friend to help you prepare an obituary to remember your loved one. If you are planning a memorial service or celebration of life and would like to open the service to the public, include the date and time of the funeral service. Today, many people share memories and photos of their loved ones who have passed on social media platforms. You can join a community like Tulip Stories to share your fondest memories of your loved one.

In the weeks following the death…

Find important documents.

Locate any documents that will help you close out accounts. It will be helpful to have the following documents ready: social security card, birth certificate, marriage certificate, birth certificates of any children, insurance policies, deeds and titles for property and vehicles, bank and credit card statements, stock certificates, honorable discharge papers, income tax and W-2 forms, and a written will. 

Probate the estate.

Consult an estate attorney to probate the deceased’s estate, if needed. To transfer ownership of your loved one’s property, you will likely need to go to probate court if there is no written will or clear executor of the estate.

Contact government agencies.

Most funeral homes will notify Social Security of your loved one’s death. However, you will still need to contact them to transfer or stop benefits. You may also need to notify the Veterans Administration or Medicare.

Cancel passport and driver’s license.

Surrendering identification documents helps protect against voter fraud and other forms of identity theft. If you would like to keep the documents as mementos, you can ask for them to be returned to you after they are cancelled.

Cancel utilities.

If your loved one had real estate that won’t be used frequently, contact their utility companies to stop or cancel services. Some you can cancel immediately, while others you may want to delay to maintain the property.

File final tax return.

Even after someone dies, there is a final income-tax return that needs to be filed. Contact a tax preparer to make sure this is completed properly.

Stop health insurance.

Notify your loved one’s health insurance company to end coverage. Be sure that coverage for any dependents continues, if needed.

Claim life insurance policies.

Life insurance policies take time to process, so you likely won’t be able to use the funds to help pay for a funeral. If your loved one had life insurance, file appropriate claim forms once you receive the death certificates. If your loved one was the beneficiary of another policy, arrange to have the name removed.

Cancel other insurance policies.

Make a list of the insurance policies in your loved one’s name and contact the providers. You will have to include a death certificate to cancel most policies.

Close any active credit card accounts.

For each account that your loved one had, call the customer service phone number listed on the credit card or monthly statement. The agent can help you close the account. You may need to submit a copy of the death certificate by mail or fax. The sooner credit cards are cancelled, the fewer fees are accrued.

Notify credit bureaus.

To minimize the chance of identity theft, contact the three major credit firms, Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. Provide copies of the death certificate as soon as possible to ensure no fraudulent accounts have been opened. 

Notify financial institutions.

Take a death certificate to the bank to close out accounts. Change ownership of joint bank accounts.

Notify the post office.

You can forward your loved one’s mail to prevent accumulating mail from attracting attention. Mail can also inform you about any unknown subscriptions, creditors, and accounts that need to be cancelled.

Clean out your loved one’s house.

Take care to keep or distribute mementos and family heirlooms, and consider donating unwanted items.

If you are struggling to find a simple, affordable funeral option after an unexpected death, call Tulip’s Family Care Team for more information at (855) 468-8068. We are available 24/7 to answer your questions. We offer the most affordable direct cremation option available, and everything can be arranged online or over the phone in just 15 minutes.