Losing someone is one of the hardest experiences we ever go through. When someone passes, emotions tend to run high and it’s hard to think about what needs to be done while you are consoling and supporting your family and friends. However, it is critical that you take these necessary steps in the immediate aftermath of a loved one’s death to make sure you have everything under control. These steps will save you a great deal of trouble later down the line:
Step 1: Get a Pronouncement of Death
You can get this from an EMT if your loved one has passed at home and you have called 911. If they are in a hospital, this would come from the attending physician. Or, if they were on hospice, this will come from either the attending hospice nurse or another medical professional from the hospice provider. This short document can be useful in getting a head start on closing out accounts and other legal and financial tasks prior to getting a formal death certificate.
Step 2: Contact Your Family and Friends
You should let your family and close friends know of your loved one’s passing. This group can also provide immediate support and may need to be used to care for your home if you need to travel or watch dependents like children or pets.
Step 3: Determine the Next of Kin or Responsible Party
Every state has different laws around who can serve as a point of contact for a funeral home or cremation provider. Some states, like California, will only allow the legal next of kin as defined by state law to coordinate funeral and cremation arrangements. You can often search for your state and “next of kin rules” on Google to determine who in your family is responsible. It is most commonly a spouse, then a child or parent.
Step 4: Consider Your Loved One’s Preferences
This is the point at which you should determine if you want to proceed with a burial or cremation and begin thinking about the type of service, if any, they would have wanted. Then you should take into account what you think their desires were, if they stated any, and plan accordingly.
Step 5: Select Your Burial or Cremation Provider and Contact Them
Most likely this will be a funeral home, most definitely in the case of a burial, but for cremation, there are many affordable cremation providers out there that could be significantly more affordable than most full service funeral homes. Additionally, if you’re thinking of doing a simple cremation for a loved one, you can also ask local funeral homes if they offer or would be willing to offer a simple cremation option which could save you a significant amount of money. A simple cremation just means you only need the cremation completed and your loved one’s ashes back, not a full service or ceremony which a funeral director would organize. We would recommend you read Google and Yelp reviews before contacting any funeral home or service provider.
Step 6: Request Death Certificates from the State or Your Funeral Provider
Most funeral homes or cremation providers will facilitate ordering death certificates and we would strongly recommend you order these at this time. Getting death certificates from government offices is possible, but does vary by municipality and it’s not unlike waiting at the DMV - so we would recommend you avoid this fuss and order a few more than you need directly from your provider. We generally recommend you order between seven and ten to make sure you have your bases covered.
Step 7: Locate and Organize Your Loved One’s Important Documents
It is important that you give yourself as much time as possible to locate these potentially important documents including social security cards, birth certificates, marriage certificates, insurance policies, tax records, income records (W-2s), property and vehicle titles and deeds, stock certificates, military documents, and their will. Getting started on this early will reduce your stress later on.
Taking these steps within the first 12 hours of a loved one’s passing will ensure you have everything under control so that you can spend as much time as possible with your loved ones in the days and weeks to come.