Checklist: What To Do After A Loved One Passes Away

Financial documents to organize

Grief can be overwhelming when a loved one has just passed away. Your world is suddenly awash in sadness, memories, love, a sense of loss, and a realization of how much you will miss the person who's gone. It's hard to focus on the decisions that need to be made.

Our free guide, "The Complete Checklist for When a Loved One Passes Away," includes details about what to do in the hours and days after a death, as well as what to do once the memorial services are complete. Below is a short version of the guide, a checklist you can follow to make that period of time a little easier.

What to Do Immediately After a Death — Days 1-3

  • Contact immediate family members, especially the legal next of kin if it is someone other than yourself.
  • Determine whether the person wanted to be an organ donor (a driver's license may tell you). If this is unknown, check for how to determine if someone is an organ donor. Medical staff members need to know this as soon as possible.
  • Notify the funeral home or cremation provider of the death. If a decision hasn't been made regarding funeral or cremation, the next of kin will need to make that decision in most cases.
  • Gather legal documents, including a will or other documents specifying his or her wishes. Don't forget to check for a safety deposit box.
  • Find out if the person had life insurance or a final expenses policy. If you're not sure or can't find a life insurance policy, you can do a few things: review bank statements to look for insurance premium payments; contact their employer to see if they had an employer-sponsored life insurance policy; and search their email and computers for communications from insurance companies.
  • Arrange for transportation of the deceased (a funeral home or cremation provider will help handle this).
  • Contact extended family members, friends, and employers. This is a good task to hand off to a member of the family or someone who has asked, "How can I help?"

What to Do In The Days After a Death — Days 3-7

  • Arrange to have someone look after the deceased's home, taking care of things like mail, plants, pets, and security, until a long-term plan is in place.
  • Work with your funeral home or cremation provider on services. This may include decisions on a casket or urn, visitation, burial site, transportation the day of services, the person who will perform the service, flowers, music, people to deliver eulogies, and printed cards or programs.
  • Determine if military benefits might be available. If your loved one served in the military, he or she is entitled to certain funeral and burial benefits. Make sure your funeral home or cremation society knows.
  • Write the obituary. This can seem like a daunting task, especially during a time of grief. The funeral home, cremation provider, or clergy can help you with structure, or you can find examples online or in a newspaper. Neptune has these resources to help with writing obituaries:
  • Notify important people of details about the service. Not everyone will see the obituary.

What To Do After Memorial Services, Cremation, or Burial

In the days, weeks and months following your loved one's memorial services, it can be difficult to face the legal, accounting and paperwork that needs to be done. Use a checklist and set due dates for yourself, which will help you avoid procrastinating these tasks.

  • You'll need several copies of the death certificate, which are typically found at your local or state health department. Death certificates are often required for banks and financial institutions, attorneys or probate, and life insurance benefits, pensions, annuities, and Veterans Administration benefits (10 days).
  • Locate all important documents (1 month):
    • Tax documents
    • Birth, marriage, and divorce certificates
    • Bank account records
    • Social Security cards or papers
    • Military discharge papers
    • Vehicle registrations, titles, or loans
    • Current bills, debts
    • Investment records and debts
  • Notify all legal and financial interests (within 1 month):
    • Creditors (including mortgage lenders)
    • Utility companies (including internet and cell phone providers)
    • Lawyers, accountants, financial advisers
    • Pension agencies
    • Social Security
    • Veterans Administration
    • Motor vehicles division
  • File life insurance or final expenses policy claims with their respective companies (1-2 months).
  • Meet with a probate attorney if one is required in your state (within the first month).
  • Execute the will if you are the executor, or have the executor do it. This will consist of paying debts and distributing assets according to the deceased's wishes (immediately post-funeral and within 1 year).
  • If you want to scatter cremated remains, make sure it's legal. Your cremation services partner can help you learn where you may legally place cremated remains. Send thank-you notes. You may want to thank, personally or on behalf of the family, anyone who helped you through the days immediately after the death and who sent flowers, brought food, and made contributions (within 10 days of services).
  • If the death had an impact on your legal documents, adjust them. If you are a surviving spouse or a beneficiary of the person who died, or if the person who died was a beneficiary of yours, you may need to change some legal or financial documents, including your own will, insurance policies and investments (within 6 months).

How To Get In Touch With Us

The Neptune Society works with more than 100,000 families each year to plan cremation and to help with events surrounding the deaths of loved ones. Contact us by filling out our form here. If you have an immediate need, please call us at 800-637-8863.

Download The Complete Checklist for When A Loved One Passes Away

The Neptune Society is the nation's oldest and largest provider of affordable cremation services. Whether you have an immediate need or want to plan cremation services in advance, we are always available to assist you and your family.

Call 1-800-NEPTUNE (800-637-8863) today or contact us online to learn more.

The Complete Checklist For When A Loved One Passes Away - guide cover

Download The Complete Checklist for When a Loved One Passes Away

With our guide, learn how to:

  • Honor your veteran respectfully
  • Understand benefits eligibility
  • Review memorialization options