When a Loved One Dies: A Practical Guide for the Family

During this difficult time, you may have many conflicting emotions and concerns. A loved one’s death often brings intense grief, confusion, and feelings of loss and isolation.  These feelings may make it hard for you to sort through the tasks that must be done when a loved one dies.  This page was developed to help you get through today and the days ahead.  It offers information and suggestions you may find useful for taking care of practical matters.

What to Do First

A number of tasks need to be done very soon after you learn of your loved one’s death.  Following is a checklist to serve as a guide. You may want to complete these tasks yourself or have a close friend or family member help you.

  • Contact family members and close friends to inform them of your loved one’s death.
  • Ask a relative, friend, or neighbor to answer your telephone or to help make telephone calls if you need to tell a number of people.
  • Discuss the choice of a funeral home with close family members and friends, considering the wishes of the person who has died.
  • Contact your clergyman or clergywoman if you have one.  He or she can assist you with arrangements for a funeral or memorial service.
  • Notify your loved one’s employer.
  • Notify the employers of other household members.
  • Notify the schools that children are attending.
  • Contact your attorney if you have one.  He or she can assist you with legal matters.
  • Ask someone to keep a list of all telephone calls, flowers, and food donations so that you may acknowledge them at a later date.
  • Decide who will take care of any pets that may now be without a caregiver.

Arranging the Funeral or Memorial Service

Arrangements for the funeral and religious services, if you choose to have them, can be made after you leave the hospital.  It may be helpful to discuss the details of the funeral with other family members and friends before contacting the funeral home so that you have a good idea of what you want before making any firm decisions.  If there is to be no funeral service, you and your family may want to discuss a memorial service, depending on your loved one’s wishes.

Decide if you would like donations made to a specific organization or charity in memory of your loved one.  If so, discuss this with the funeral director.  The funeral director can make sure the donation request appears in the obituary.  The funeral director will make arrangements for the placement of the obituary in the newspaper.  You may also want to keep memorial donation information near the telephone so the information can be given to people who call and request it.

After you have discussed these matters with family members, you will need to make an appointment to meet with the funeral director.  If you are a member of a religion, your clergyman or clergywoman can assist you with arrangements for a funeral or memorial service.  You may want to have a family member or friend go with you to the funeral home.

It will be helpful to have the following information with you when you speak with the funeral director:

  • The full name of your loved one and nicknames or other names your loved one may have used
  • Date of birth
  • Place of birth
  • Social Security number
  • Occupation
  • Father’s name
  • Mother’s maiden name
  • Proof of military service, if a veteran
  • List of family members and relationships
  • List of religious, professional, or civic organizations and any other clubs in which membership was held
  • The name and address of any organization or charity to which you would like to have donations made in memory of your loved one
  • A list of people who might be available to serve as pallbearers during the funeral

It may also be helpful to have a list of people who may wish to speak about your loved one at the funeral or memorial service. You can give this list to the funeral director or clergyman or clergywoman who is handling the service. You may also wish to tell the funeral director or clergyman or clergywoman about any reception to be held after the service, in case friends ask about making food donations.

After the Funeral or Memorial Service

Shortly after the funeral or memorial service, it is important to take care of certain tasks related to your financial concerns. Taking care of these tasks now will help to avoid delays and confusion that may occur if these tasks are neglected.  You may wish to handle these tasks yourself or have a family member do them. Or you may wish to talk with your attorney, if you have one, about doing these things.

  • Have 5 to 10 extra copies made of the death certificate. You will need these to process Social Security and insurance policy or other claims.
  • Contact any companies with which your loved one held a life insurance policy and/or accidental death insurance policy. Such companies may include insurance companies, motor clubs, and your loved one’s employer.
  • Contact the Social Security Administration office that serves your community if you think you are eligible for benefits or if you need more information about eligibility.
  • Contact your bank or financial institution(s) concerning any individual or joint accounts held in your loved one’s name. This may involve closing the accounts or transferring their control to you, another family member, or your attorney, if you choose. If you have an attorney, he or she may be able to complete this task for you. You will also need to discuss the status of any certificates of deposit, bonds, individual retirement accounts (IRAs), or similar savings accounts.
  • If your loved one had health insurance, notify the health insurance company.
  • Contact your loved one’s employer about pension benefits your loved one may have been receiving or that family members may be entitled to receive.
  • Notify your loved one’s creditors, including any financial institutions and companies or department stores that issued loans or credit cards in your loved one’s name. You may wish to have your name replace your loved one’s name on any bank or car loans or credit cards, or you may wish to cancel your loved one’s credit cards.
  • Notify any clubs or organizations in which your loved one was a volunteer or a
    dues-paying member.
  • Contact companies regarding changing your loved one’s name on any certificates of title, including titles to a home, a motor vehicle, real estate, or a recreational vehicle.
  • Notify your state’s Department of Motor Vehicles if your loved one had a valid driver’s license.

On Grieving

Remember that grieving is a normal process that takes place over time.  It often involves intense emotions you may find difficult to manage.  If you would like information about community support groups or mental health or social service professionals who can provide support for you or other family members, please call 1-800-533-UPMC (8762).

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