What To Do When Someone Dies

Whether you know it is coming and are able to be present when your loved one passes, or whether you get a phone call in the middle of the night, the news of a loved one’s death leaves us feeling empty and everything seems to stop.  The last thing on your mind is a “to-do” list but in actuality there are many things that must be done when someone passes.

Below is a list compiled to help you through this time.  The more planning you can do, the easier this process will be. At the end of the day, you want to keep yourself and your loved ones in a place where they can focus on the one who has passed and take the time needed to grieve.

Right Away…

1.    Get a Legal Pronunciation of Death
•    If your loved one is in the hospital or in hospice the nurse will do this.
•    If your loved one passes at home or another location, you must call 911 and have the paramedics come. This is the time where you will want to show the Living Will and “do not resuscitate” (DNR) so they can make this pronunciation on the spot. If you do not have a DNR designation on a living will the emergency team will most likely still attempt resuscitation and will have to take the body to the hospital in order for a Doctor to make this determination.

2.    Make Arrangements for the Body to be Transported
•    If no autopsy is needed, you will want to call the mortuary or crematorium.
•    A licensed funeral director can help you either administer the plan that was set in place by the person prior to their passing, or help you transport the body, select a casket/urn/grave marker, arrange for burial, prepare an obituary, help contact the employer, insurance company and attorney, and offer grief support.

3.    Notify the Individual’s Doctor or County Coroner

4.    Notify Family and Friends
•    This may be a very demanding job, it is suggested to split up this task and make personal phone calls. Finding out your best childhood girlfriend passed away suddenly on social media is not the way anyone wants to receive this information and certainly not the way the one who passed would want people to hear about their passing.

5.    Find Someone to Care for Children, Dependent’s or Pets
•    This cannot wait. If there is a will or trust, there should be instructions related to the individual’s wishes. If there is not, work with family to ensure any children, pets or people that were being cared for continue to receive care until something more permanent can be arranged.

6.    Contact the Individual’s Employer
•    If the person was working, call the employer right away and inquire about any benefits or wage due (this may include sick time, vacation, disability income, etc). Again, if there is an estate plan (will or trust) any life insurance policies and benefits will already be accounted for, if not, you must specifically ask about life insurance policies or other benefits.

Within a Few Days…

7.    Arrange for burial or cremation.
•    If the person is religious this will include a service and you will want to contact the organization they were a member of. If there is an estate plan, the individual may have already made arrangements for their death through a pre-paid burial plan. If not, this money will have to be paid up front then reimbursed out of the estate.
•    If the person was a member of a military branch or other group, contact that group as well.

8.    Prepare an Obituary
•    This must be thoughtfully written to not only honor the person who passed but to inform others not directly called of the passing.

9.    Ask a Friend or Relative to Care for the Person’s Home
•    It will take time for things to be organized, in the meantime someone will want to be going over to the home, taking in mail, watering plants and ensuring nothing is happening to the property.
•    This is a large job and must be given to someone who can be trusted not to take items out of the home that would be a part of the estate and must be accounted for.

Within A Week or Two …

10.    Obtain a Death Certificate
•    You will need the original and several copies for closing the estate.

11.    You May Need to File For Probate
•    Unless there is an estate plan that automatically disburses all of the individual’s assets upon death, you will need to take the will to the county and open a probate in order to administer the estate.  If there is no will or trust, you will need to open an probate through intestacy ( someone who dies without a will).

12.    Call a Probate Lawyer
•    Unless everything was handled in advance, you will want this professional to help walk you through the process of handing the estate.

A lot must be completed when a loved one passes.  The more they planned and prepared prior to death will directly relate to how seamless or stressful this process is upon death. The name of the game is to have an estate plan drawn up, to inform family members of this plan, to keep all of the necessary documentation all in one place and to not wait.  None of us know when our time will be up, therefore it is never too early to create a plan.

If you have any questions or need assistance with a probate or an estate plan, please contact Elizabeth Westby with Westby Law, PLLC., eawestby@westbylaw.com or 602.686.6375, for your complimentary consultation.

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