What To Do When A Parent Dies – A Step by Step Guide

It's not easy when a loved one dies. On top of the grief, there's an array of tasks to complete. This article will teach you what to do when someone dies.

It’s never easy when a loved one dies. In addition to the grief and sadness, there’s an array of tasks to complete. In addition to preparing for a funeral or memorial service, you have to sort through their possessions, see whether they left a will, be sure the correct people and organizations have been contacted, and so much more. It’s a lot, and it can be incredibly overwhelming.

We’ve compiled a list of what to do when someone dies, who to contact, and what paperwork you need to organize after the death of a loved one.

What To Do When Someone Dies:
Immediately Afterwards

these are the things to do immediately after someone dies

Get a Legal Pronouncement of Death

The first step on our list of what to do when someone dies is simply getting a legal proclamation of death. If your loved one died in a funeral home or hospital, it is likely that they have already obtained this. However, if your loved one died at home or elsewhere, you must call your local authorities to get a legal pronouncement of death. You can call 911 and have them taken to the emergency room, where a medical professional can make the declaration.

If there are any disputes about what happened (like how they died) and the person dies while medics are on scene, then a coroner will come out instead of the police officer and you may need to wait for an investigation before moving forward with other tasks listed below

The formal announcement will include information like: date/time of death, cause(s) of death, name, age and birthplace of deceased, place where body was found, etc.

Determine Whether the Person Was an Organ Donor

Because organ donation is an extremely time-sensitive issue, it’s important to quickly determine whether the person was an organ donor.

If the person was an organ donor, immediately notify appropriate personnel such as the hospital where the person died and donation organizations.

Notify Friends and Family

notifying family and friends is an important step after someone dies

After securing a pronouncement of death, you need to tell friends and family about the death. You should notify the individual’s partner or close relatives first. The best way to go about notifying family and close friends is by phone rather than text or social media. This allows you to break the unfortunate news in an appropriate way and comfort their grief.

To get in touch with friends, family members, coworkers, and anyone else who needs to know, check the deceased’s email and phone contacts. After contacting immediate family and close friends, contact coworkers, along with members of any groups the deceased was part of (church, local organizations, etc.).

Ask the person’s family and close friends to spread the word, telling people how they can help. At this point, it also may be appropriate to post the news on social media, although you obviously need to be very sensitive about this and ensure everyone close to the deceased has found out in person.

Communication might be the hardest part of what to do when someone dies simply because of the emotional strain, but once you’ve shared the news with others, everything else will get easier as you’ll find support within your circle.

Determine Whether There Are Any Death and Burial Plans Already in Place

after someone dies you'll want to look into their burial plans

The deceased may have already had specific plans/requests regarding their death and burial. To find out if this is the case, it’s important to immediately contact the deceased person’s most recent executor, family members, or closest friend.

Asking about death and burial plans is an intimate conversation that you may be hesitant to have but it is necessary so as not to delay funeral arrangements with no knowledge of what those wishes were.

Talk openly in a sensitive way about how much they cared for them, what their relationship was like before they died, and what kind of legacy you want them to leave behind if possible. You should also politely ask whether there are any specific directions/requests regarding their death or burial.

If the answer seems unclear, set up time (after asking permission from whoever provided you with this information) to go through the deceased’s paperwork in hopes of finding instructions about what to do when they die. If no specific instructions can be found, immediate family members can help make decisions regarding things like memorial services, burial instructions, etc.

You have several options:

  • Work with a funeral home to arrange burial or cremation. If you choose to go this route, consider checking several different funeral homes for prices and reviews. Prices can differ by thousands of dollars between funeral homes and a little bit of research can save a significant amount of money.

  • Call a direct cremation company. If you don’t need the additional services provided by a funeral home, you can work with a company that specializes in direct cremation and they will arrange everything for you. This is usually significantly cheaper than doing cremation through a funeral home.

  • Contact a full-body donation organization. If you want your loved one to be able to continue helping people even after they’ve died, this option may be a good option. These organizations work with medical schools, health research companies, and other organizations that rely on donated bodies.

  • Arrange the burial by yourself. If none of these options appeal to you, it’s possible to purchase your own cemetery lot and coordinate all aspects of the funeral arrangements on your own. Some people choose this option because it gives them more control over how every aspect is handled.

Ensure Loved Ones and Pets Are Properly Cared For

If the deceased was the primary caregiver for someone living at home, make sure there is a plan in place to continue care for the living person. If they need to be transported to a new location, find out who you can contact ahead of time and what paperwork may be needed. Or, find someone who is able to help with care needs, at least temporarily. These resources may be useful if you need to care for a loved one.

If pets are involved, get them into a safe home. This might mean contacting animal control services or other resources which will take in animals until families are reunited. Plan on how any food, water, and shelter needs will be met during this time period as well as make arrangements for emergency veterinary care should it become necessary.

Notify Their Employer

When checking items off your list about what to do when someone dies, be sure that if your loved one was employed, you officially notify their employer of the death. Depending on what they did for work, you may need to notify people in a specific order about this event. Make sure you ask about any outstanding paychecks, benefits, and whether there is a company-wide life insurance policy.

What To Do When Someone Dies:
Within Several Days Of Death

what to do when someone dies

Secure the Property

If your loved one owned a home, vehicle, or any other valuable property, make sure that it’s appropriately secured. You also may want to ask neighbors or the police to keep an eye on things so that nothing is taken. Go through the home and throw out any expired or spoiled food, lock up or take home any valuables like jewelry, and get the mail.

Have the Mail Forwarded

Forwarding mail is only necessary if the person lived by themselves. This can prevent mail from piling up, giving the impression that this property is still occupied. The mail may also help identify bills and accounts that should be paid or closed. You’ll need to file a request at the post office and show proof of your appointment as executor and authorization to manage his or her mail.

Make Arrangements for the Funeral, Burial, or Cremation

The funeral is likely first on your mind when considering what to do when someone dies. But this can mean a lot in itself.

Funeral arrangements can involve working with the funeral home, selecting participants, planning the different elements of the funeral, and more. If the will didn’t specify these things, you can work with family members on what would best honor the loved one.

Organize any food or drink needed beforehand so it can be ready when people arrive at the venue. Arrange transportation routes for guests coming from outside locations, and order any printed materials or flowers that you want.

Write an Obituary

An obituary is a wonderful way of remembering and honoring a person’s life. It is often written by family members and close friends, but can also be penned by an obituary writer or funeral director.

A good obituary should include: full name of the deceased, date of death, place of birth (city/state), occupation, education background, marriages and children (listing all their names).

It may also mention hobbies and interests along with any honors they received during their life. Last, it would provide the location where people can send condolences to the bereaved family members, along with any information about the funeral.

The main goal for an obituary is not only to inform readers about what has happened, but also to give them some insight on who that person was and what made them special. You can choose to pay the local newspaper to publish the obituary or simply publish it online.

What To Do When Someone Dies:
Within Several Weeks After The Death

what to do within the first few weeks of someone dying

Get Certified Copies of the Death Certificate

Certified death certificates are necessary for a number of things, such as settling the estate, closing bank accounts, filing insurance claims, and registering the death with the government. To get copies of the death certificate, you can either ask the funeral home you’re working with to get them or order them from the state vital statistics office. You should get at least 10 certified copies of the death certificate.

Locate the Will and Executor

The loved one’s will usually clarifies what to do when someone dies – like who will be the executor of their estate. The executor is responsible for carrying out what they wanted to happen after they died, including distribution of property and ongoing support for family members who are financially dependent on them.

Hopefully, your loved one told you where they kept their will and you’re able to locate it without any issue. Perhaps they were even using a tool for document storage and sharing like WayWiser. If they didn’t look in locations where they kept important documents, like a safe, desk, safety deposit box, etc. The loved one’s lawyer or accountant may also be able to help you locate the will.

If your loved one didn’t have a will, the court will appoint an administrator to help take care of the many items to do when someone dies. If there’s no one to take on the role, then it could be quite difficult for loved ones and family members to manage what happens next with their estate. In this situation, you may need to find a lawyer in your area who practices probate law or consult another attorney specializing in wills and the many pieces of what to do when someone dies.

meet with an attorney after someone dies

Meet with an Attorney and CPA

You don’t have to hire an attorney and CPA, but it will make things significantly easier when considering what to do when someone dies. When it comes to settling an estate, it can get pretty complicated, and a trusts and estates attorney can make it easier to navigate the process. Meeting with a CPA is a good idea because a final tax return will need to be filed on behalf of your loved one and the estate itself may have to submit a tax return.

Initiate the Probate Process

Probate is the court-supervised process of distributing a person’s assets after they have died. If you are the executor, or if someone has named you as their representative in a will, this step is necessary to ensure that all debts and taxes related to these assets are paid out before transferring them to beneficiaries.

To initiate the probate process, you will need to file a petition with the city or county probate court office.

Inventory and Track Down All the Assets

Usually, the first step in the probate process is making an inventory of all assets and liabilities. This is an important step when thinking about what to do when someone dies. This includes inventorying bank accounts, retirement benefits, money in the home safe, debts owed to creditors such as mortgages or car loans etc. The inventory is used by the executor to make distribution decisions on what will happen with these assets for each person who has an interest in them.

Once an inventory has been made, all the assets need to be tracked down, which can be difficult at times, depending on the complexity of the estate. While there are companies that will help you do this for a percentage of the assets, there are also ways to do it yourself. Identify all the assets controlled by your loved one by examining tax returns, files, mail, emails, investment accounts, and bank accounts. Don’t forget about safety deposit boxes or file cabinets that might have personal materials in them.

Cancel Unneeded Services

cancel services for someone who died

Most likely, there will be a number of unneeded services that should be canceled. This could include a gym membership, magazine subscriptions, turning off lights with smart switches installed by a third party company like Vivint, cable, Netflix, and utilities such as electricity or trash collection.

Notify the Social Security Office

It’s possible the funeral director may have already done this as they are well familiar with what to do when someone dies, but if not, you’ll need to do it yourself. Family members of the loved one may be eligible for certain death benefits. You can contact the Social Security Office and they will notify Medicaid of the death.

Notify Life Insurance Companies

If the loved one had any life insurance policies, fill out the necessary forms to make a claim. You’ll need to provide both a death certificate and policy numbers. Also, suggest that friends and family who have life coverage policies on your loved one update theirs.

Contact Relevant Financial Institutions

To change ownership of any financial accounts, you’ll need to provide them with a copy of the death certificate. This includes banks, financial investment firms, mortgage companies, and any other institutions where the loved one had an active accounts. Note that if there is a safety deposit box but you can’t find the key, you may need to obtain a court order or pay a fee to have the box drilled open.

Alert the Three Major Credit Agencies

To prevent fraud and identity theft, it’s important to alert the three major credit agencies: Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian. Once there is a death certificate issued by authorities, contact each agency as soon as possible with this info.

If you’re not sure what information these agencies have about your loved one, call them and ask (they might have some records of those missed). If there is anything suspicious, such as an account being opened after their death, take action immediately to prevent fraud.

Cancel Active Insurance Policies

It could be anything from health insurance to car insurance to home insurance. Depending on the policy, reach out to either the company or loved one’s employer to stop coverage.

If your deceased loved one had Medicare Prescription Drug Coverage (Part D), a Medicare Advantage plan, and/or Medigap coverage, you’ll need to call and cancel those as well.

Cancel Their Driver’s License

Canceling the loved one’s driver’s license is another step in preventing identity theft of fraud. The local DMV can provide full instructions, but you’ll at least need to present a death certificate.

Pay Important Bills

make sure to pay all important bills after someone dies

As part of what to do when someone dies, try to identify any important bills that will be due soon for the deceased. To pay these bills, you will need to provide information such as the account numbers and how you will pay them. Find out what type of bills have been incurred by checking through recent bank statements or bills received in the mail. Also, make sure you set up a process to continue paying bills until all the financial matters have been settled.

Close Credit Cards

Identify open credit card accounts by using your loved one’s mail, wallet, and any internet accounts you have access to. To close the credit accounts, you’ll most likely need to phone customer care and then email or mail a copy of the death certificate for each one.

Delete or Memorialize Social Media Accounts

When a loved one dies, some people choose to simply delete their accounts. However, Facebook and Instagram also provide the option to memorialize an account. The person who memorializes the account can either only view the profile or they can share the content with friends and family as well. This option allows you to keep a loved one ’s account active but still have access to it. You’ll need to provide a death certificate to the company, along with your ID whether you choose to delete or memorialize an account.

Delete Email Accounts

Finally, you should delete your loved one’s email accounts in order to prevent identity theft. If you’re unable to find the login information, you’ll need to contact the email provider. You’ll probably need to provide proof of death as well as verify that you’re the executor.


The death of a loved one is hard enough as it is, even without all the administrative tasks that need to be performed. Hopefully, the checklist above that covers what to do when someone dies will give you the clarity and guidance you need during that difficult time.

And remember, don’t hesitate to ask for help. When you’re sad and grieving, it’s normal to need more help than normal. Your loved one would certainly want you to do that. While these tips are intended to relieve the stress of a caregiver, you should consider them when looking to relieve the stress of grief as well.

Have another question? Ask an expert.

Our team is here for you. If you have a question about caring for an older adult or other member of your family—be it physical, legal, medical, financial, or anything in between—we’ll have one of our Trusted Advisors get back to you ASAP.

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