Checklist of Practical Steps for When a Loved One Dies

Call (646) 820-9202

by:  Tehila Mörtl


A number of us with Advise & Protect Senior Care Consultants have had the devastating experience of losing a loved one so, we know all too well the challenges surviving spouses, partners, children and family members face.  The magnitude of grief and trying to decipher what steps to take can be overwhelming.  Thus the reason we feel it prudent to share a checklist of practical steps to take when a loved one passes. 

Within the first hours

  • When death occurs at home, call 911 and notify attending physician to obtain pronouncement of death and obtain transport.  If the individual had a Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) order please be certain to have the document available as paramedics generally begin emergency procedures upon arrival. 
  • For those under hospice care at home, the on duty hospice nurse can pronounce so, make this one of your first calls.
  • If a Health Care Proxy was appointed, call that individual immediately.
  • In the event that your loved one would want to donate organs, tissue or body donation, make arrangements for such.  If your loved one designated a Health Care Proxy, he or she will provide instructions.
  • Notify family members and close friends.  Enlist the assistance of friends to assist with further contacts on your behalf.
  • Contact employer if elder was currently employed.  When talking to the employer, request information on benefits, life insurance, final paycheck and any outstanding reimbursements due. 

During the same day

  • Arrange for pet care.
  • Request at least fifteen (15) certified copies of the death certificate, as these will be needed to file life insurance claims, close credit card and bank accounts, file for surviving spouse benefits, etc.
  • If applicable, request an autopsy and a copy of the report.
  • Ascertain what arrangements (i.e. burial, cremation, casket/urn), if any, have been made.  For those whose loved one have pre-arrangements, contact the funeral home or mortuary.  If preparations were not made in advance, you will need to choose a funeral home or mortuary.  For those with a life insurance policy, funeral homes will typically collect payment through the policy.
  • As distasteful as it might sound, I recommend contacting the Life Insurance Company or agent immediately as it can take more time than one might think to process the claim.
  • Contact your employer to advise bereavement leave.

Within the first couple of days or week

  • Keep a guestbook available for visitors and funeral/memorial service attendees to sign.
  • Secure home and personal property, checking doors and windows to ensure everything is locked.
  • Locate all legal estate documents (i.e. will, trusts).
  • Arrange for friends or members of house of worship to provide assistance (i.e. arrange and coordinate meal preparation, pick up medication, provide transportation, grocery shopping, answer phone calls, run errands) and emotional support to spouse, children and other family members.
  • If preparations were not made, select a casket or urn and make funeral or memorial services arrangements.  Even if prearrangements were not made, many elders have purchased burial plots.
  • Select an organization(s) to which memorial donations can be made, obtain mailing and contact information.
  • Keep a list of individuals who have provide assistance and send gifts or donations.
  • Remember there is usually a family member, loved one or close friend who not only wants to help but needs to as well so do not hesitate to assign someone the task of keeping track of final expenses.
  • Write an epitaph and select a headstone or columbarium maker.
  • Prepare an obituary and submit to newspaper(s).  Obituaries not only serve as a notice to friends but creditors as well.  For those who prefer donations over flowers, be certain that charitable organization is included.  (See below for a list of information you might wish to include.)
  • Create a file of personal accounts, birth certificate, Social Security number, marriage license, military discharge papers and financial account statements, to ensure everything is available when filing for benefits, etc.
  • Cancel upcoming appointments and scheduled trips where necessary.  Obtain information on any cancellation charges including confirmation numbers.
  • For decedents who were veterans, contact the Veterans Administration (VA) and request information on funeral and burial benefits.  Depending on the nature of discharge and service duration, burial in the national cemetery might be available and this service along with a ceremonial American flag, headstone and presidential memorial certificate is provided at no charge.  For additional information please contact Veterans Affairs at (800) 827-1000 or through their website:
  • If you are surviving spouse, file a benefits claim through local Social Security office or go online at
  • Complete and submit mail forwarding form to post office and cancel subscriptions, recurring membership fees and orders (i.e. magazines, fruit of the month, cell phone).
  • Create a list of credit cards, debit cards, phone cards to cancel.  When contacting companies, establish which require a certified copy of the death certificate.  You will also want to ask if any of the credit card accounts, auto loans and mortgage are protected by insurance that pays the account balance in the event of cardholder death. 
  • Notify other companies, businesses, agencies and organizations of death.
  • Make appropriate changes to bank and investment accounts.
  • Contact health, long-term care, auto, homeowner’s, liability, long-term care and other appropriate insurance agents.  Not only could premiums be reduced on insurance policies but you might be eligible to receive a refund for a portion of the most recent premium payment.   
  • Maintain an open file of all medical expenses so that claims can be filed.
  • If you are the surviving spouse, check to ensure utility bills are in both names. It is important to note that some companies will shut off service and then restart it should the account change names.
  • Make changes to emergency contact information.  This is particularly important for elders whose spouse has passed.
  • Request that a neighbor keep an eye out for your home during funeral services as there are individuals who monitor obituaries looking for homes to rob while services are taking place.

Should you have questions or need assistance following an elder’s passing, please feel welcome and encouraged to call Advise & Protect to talk with one of our experienced and compassionate senior care consultants.  We have the experience to assist with securing any service you might need.  For those who would like to share their own experiences with an elder’s passing, please contact us directly.

Should you be in need of help with senior care, elder law, moving for seniors, estate management, medical equipment, etc. please do not hesitate to call Advise & Protect Senior Care Consultants at 646-820-9202 so that we may aid in meeting your needs!


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