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Immediate Steps to Take When a Loved One Dies


What to do When a Loved One Dies

When a loved one dies, family members are often overwhelmed with grief, which makes it very hard to manage all that must be done to honor your loved one and settle their affairs.  And for many people, the first time they consider these issues is when they are in the middle of them.

Despite your grief, there are things that must be taken care of right away.  These include:

Getting a legal pronouncement of death.  This is generally done by doctor, though in some states it can be done by registered nurses, advance practice registered nurses, or physicians’ assistants, particularly if the individual is already in a hospital or medical care facility. If someone dies while in hospice care, contact the hospice care nurse.  He or she can legally declare death and arrange for the body to be transported. If someone dies while not in medical or hospice care, call 911. When paramedics arrive, they will generally start resuscitation.  If the person has a “do not resuscitate order,” present that to the paramedics when they arrive.

Arranging for the body to be transported.  If there is no autopsy required, the body can be picked up by a funeral home, mortuary, or crematorium.

Making arrangements for the care of dependents and pets. 

Contacting others including:

  • Family members
  • Friends
  • The person’s employer
  • The military unit to which they are or were assigned, if applicable
  • The individual’s community of faith
  • Any organizations to which the person belonged that played a significant role in his or her life.


Additional Tasks


Making final arrangements. This could be burial or cremation, with or without a service or memorial.

Getting copies of the death certificateWhile you may receive one or two copies from the funeral home or mortuary, some experts suggest getting 10–20 copies. A wide range of institutions, from financial institutions, to credit card and insurance companies, may require a death certificate before they will discuss your loved one’s account with you or pay you death benefits.

Getting letters of “administration,” “representation,” or “testamentary.”  These come from probate court and give you the authority to settle the business of the person who died.  If there is a will, the executor of the will must get a letter of testamentary. If you are the spouse, partner, or next of kin of someone that died without a will, you can get a letter of administration or representation from the probate court that will allow you to settle their affairs.

Securing the home if the person lived alone.

Finding financial documents:

  • The will
  • Records of accounts—these can be most recent statements from banks or credit unions, retirement accounts, and investments; look for beneficiary designations
  • Records of debts—these can be the most recent credit card, mortgage, auto loan, student loan, or any other kind of debt statements
  • Copies of all insurance policies—life, health, disability, homeowners, auto, and any others
  • Identification documents
  • Marriage and birth certificates
  • Tax returns from the last two years
  • Copies of recent credit reports from Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion

Notifying important institutions:

  • The Social Security Administration—there may be a death benefit that beneficiaries are entitled to. In addition, the person’s Social Security number will be placed on the master death list preventing identity thieves from using it
  • Financial institutions where the individual had accounts
  • Insurance companies
  • Credit bureaus
  • Credit card companies
  • Creditors--any business or organization to which the person owed money
  • Utility companies
  • The post office—they don’t need notice of death, but you will need to reroute the mail to the executor or administrator of the estate
  • Department of Motor Vehicles—you will want to cancel the person’s driver’s license or ID, license plates, and disabled placards; you will also need to vehicle registration, and ownership

Opting out of prescreened offers and direct marketing.  This may prevent unwanted offers or mail from ending up in the wrong hands.

  • To opt out of prescreened offers permanently, visit
  • To prevent unwanted calls, contact the National Do Not Call at, or call 1-888-382-1222
  • To prevent unwanted offers via the mail, contact the Direct Marketing Association's (DMA) Mail Preference Service (MPS).  This lets you opt out of receiving unsolicited commercial mail from many national companies for five years. When you register with this service, your name will be put on a "delete" file and made available to direct-mail marketers and organizations. This will reduce most of your unsolicited mail. However, your registration will not stop mailings from organizations that do not use the DMA's Mail Preference Service. To register with DMA's Mail Preference Service, go to

Tools to Help

What is a Do Not Resuscitate Order?

Description of a DNR order

Learn More

What is a Beneficiary Designation?

Description of a beneficiary designation

Learn More

Steps to Take When a Loved One Dies

Checklist to help you manage all of the tasks associated with a loved one’s death


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Information is great. But taking small steps now can lead to big changes.
  • Today
  • Get some support. This is an emotionally trying time.
  • Take care of steps 1 – 4 on the checklist, "Immediate Steps to Take When a Loved One Dies."
  • You’ll probably need to deal with Step 5 as well—making final arrangements.
  • Next Week
  • Get help addressing important tasks within the first weeks after death—steps 6 – 10 on the checklist, "Immediate Steps to Take When a Loved One Dies."
  • As you gather important and financial documents, make sure you put them in a safe and secure place.
  • During the Next Few Months
  • Continue to take care of items on the checklist, "Immediate Steps to Take When a Loved One Dies."
  • Check the person’s credit report to make sure no one has opened accounts using his or her identity.
  • Start thinking about ways to manage financial issues when family member dies.