My Loved One Has Passed Away. What Should I Do Now? [A CHECKLIST]


Lauren Pitman

Author, Attorney

If someone close to you has passed away, I want you to be able to focus on spending time with family and friends rather than worrying about paperwork.

No one wants to talk about what to do after a death, so you might feel completely unprepared when it comes to these tasks. Maybe you’ve never been through this before. After all, you’re trying to grieve, to spend time with people you may not have seen for a long time. You don’t need to be worrying about paperwork.

Death will never be easy to talk about, but taking on some practical tasks, and checking them off, can help you feel grounded during an emotional and difficult time. Let me walk you through the most important tasks after a loved one has passed away:

In the first minutes:

Make your initial notifications.

If a loved one dies at home:

  • call 911
  • call your loved one’s doctor
  • call the funeral home of your choice
  • contact your loved one’s minister/priest/religious leader

If a loved one dies at the hospital:

  • call the funeral home
  • call your loved one’s doctor
  • contact your loved one’s minister/priest/religious leader
  • …if your loved one was an organ donor, this information needs to be conveyed immediately to the hospital.

In the first hours:

Contact all other relevant parties:

  • close family and friends
  • your loved one’s employer (if applicable)
  • your loved one’s agent under Power of Attorney (if applicable)
  • your loved one’s attorney
  • any religious, fraternal, and civic organizations
  • the Veteran’s Administration (if applicable, your loved one may receive benefits that defray funeral costs)

Arrange for care:

  • your loved one’s dependents
  • pets

Locate important documents, as they will help you with completing the death certificate

  • Will (and other estate planning documents)
  • Birth Certificate
  • Social Security Card
  • Marriage license
  • Military discharge papers
  • Deed to a burial plot
  • Copy of funeral prearrangements
  • Life insurance policies

If you can locate a Will or other estate planning documents, contact:

  • your loved one’s attorney
  • the Personal Representative named in the Will
  • the Successor Trustee (if your loved one had a Trust)

If you cannot locate a Will or other estate planning documents:

  • contact an attorney who has experience with probate

In the first day:

  • arrange for the disposal of any perishables left in your loved one’s home, and take out the trash.
  • secure your loved one’s home. You might consider the use of timed lamps or other ways to make it appear as though the house is still occupied, or contact a locksmith to change the locks.
  • cancel any actions taken by the agent under Power of Attorney. This power ceases at the moment of death, and a death certificate will be required to appoint a Personal Representative to carry out these tasks.
  • make sure the funeral home has all the relevant information to complete the death certificate. If you’re not sure, consult the Side by Side Planner for more information about what’s included in a death certificate.
  • contact your loved one’s landlord or health care facility to discuss a timeline for removing their belongings.

In the first month:

  • Obtain copies of the death certificate. You will need a certified copy for many account closures and other tasks. Each copy costs money, so you don’t want to order too many. I have heard funeral homes recommend anywhere from five to twelve copies, depending on how many accounts your loved one had.

Make visits to:

  • your attorney
  • an accountant
  • the Department of Motor Vehicles to cancel your loved one’s driver’s license and transfer titles
  • the Post Office to forward your loved one’s mail
  • File claims with your loved one’s life insurance company (your probate attorney or funeral director may be able to help you with claim forms)


  • Social Security or any other government offices making payments to your loved one
  • the Registrar of Voters
  • any subscription services to your loved one’s home (newspapers, cable services, internet)
  • all 3 credit reporting agencies. These agencies may require a death certificate.
  • your loved one’s insurance companies to file outstanding claims
  • your loved one’s credit card or loan accounts (they may have additional life insurance benefits)
  • unclaimed property office

Locate or obtain:

  • real estate deeds and titles
  • stock certificates
  • loan paperwork
  • bank statements
  • recent tax returns
  • outstanding bills
  • and bring these documents to your attorney.

Take care of digital assets:

  • close internet accounts
  • unsubscribe from any mailing lists or marketing lists

Don’t forget:

  • send thank you notes and acknowledgment cards to all who brought flowers and food, made donations or showed kindness.
  • thank the pallbearers
  • thank your funeral home and religious officiants

Finally, you will want to update your own estate plan, especially if your loved one was included in your plan in some way. Update your beneficiary forms, as well. Now that you understand the amount of work that goes into wrapping up an estate, I hope you’ll consider your future Personal Representative and gather the relevant information now to make life easier for them in the future.

All the information you need can be found in the Side by Side Planner.


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Disclaimer: The information contained in this article should not be considered tax or legal advice and is not a substitute for such advice. State and federal laws change frequently and the information in this article may not reflect your own state's laws or the most recent changes in state or federal law. For current tax and legal advice, please consult with an accountant or attorney licensed to practice in your state.

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