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What to Do When a Loved One Passes

Jun 18, 2021 2 min read Kevin Johnston

Key Takeaways

  • If you spread key tasks out over time, they’ll be easier to manage.
  • You may need both an attorney and an accountant to handle a will and other legal and tax matters.
  • Make sure you have all the documents you’ll need to manage your loved one’s estate and affairs.


After you lose a loved one, you may feel overwhelmed by emotions and a mountain of financial and logistical tasks. Grief can make it challenging to focus, so your wisest move is to make a list of tasks and people to contact, and spread them out over the coming weeks and months. This will relieve some of the pressure to do everything immediately.

Let's look at some essential tasks for when someone dies, from the first week through the ninth month. This checklist can be adapted for the death of a parent or the death of a spouse.

Remember that you may be able to delegate some of these tasks to other trusted friends or family members so that you don’t have to carry this burden alone while you’re grieving.



In the first week

  1. 1. Notify all the members of your immediate family and relatives. Don’t forget to contact any appropriate clergy or spiritual counselor.

  2. 2. Make sure any dependents of the deceased will still have care, and arrange for the care of any pets.

  3. 3. If the person was working, notify their employer so that you can receive the final paycheck and any benefits. If the deceased was a partner in business, contact them regarding ownership rights and amounts due.

  4. 4. Start gathering documents, such as a will or trust, insurance policies and any document detailing the funeral wishes of the deceased.

  5. 5. Alert financial professionals who may have had dealings with the deceased, including investment advisors and insurance companies.

  6. 6. Begin arrangements with a funeral home. They may be able to help with the obituary and get it published.

  7. 7. Request at least 12 copies of the death certificate from the funeral home. You may need these when you notify creditors or financial institutions. If your spouse has died, make sure to also have certified copies of your marriage certificate on hand, as you’ll need to prove you were married to collect benefits such as a life insurance payout or funds from your spouse’s retirement accounts.


By the end of the first month

  1. 8. Get documentation that will allow you to make decisions on behalf of the deceased.

  2. 9. Make sure the deceased’s loans, bills, tax accounts and any other ongoing financial obligations are settled. Contact any financial institutions that hold investment accounts in the deceased’s name to find out if a beneficiary was named. Contact all relevant credit card companies and to close the accounts.

  3. 10. If there is a will or trust, contact the estate planning attorney who prepared it for advice on next steps. If the will was done online or is some other DIY document, you may want to consult an estate attorney for the next steps. They can help you with probate, the legal process that officially recognizes the will and appoints an executor to administer the estate and distribute assets to the beneficiaries. If there’s no will, a judge in probate court will appoint an administrator to ensure the estate is divided according to state law.

  4. 11. Notify the Social Security Administration, Medicare, Medicaid and possibly the Veteran’s Administration. If you are a surviving spouse, you may be eligible for a one-time payment of $255 through Social Security PDF opens in a new window.

  5. 12. Consider contacting an accountant to prepare final tax returns of the deceased’s estate. Make sure to file those returns—it’s required by law.

  6. 13. If a bill or utility is solely under your late spouse’s name, contact the company to change it over to the appropriate party.


In two to four months

  1. 14. Complete an inventory of all of the deceased’s assets and liabilities.

  2. 15. Cancel the driver’s license of the deceased and change the names on all assets, including homes, vehicles and insurance policies.

  3. 16. Write to your local Board of Elections to let them know your loved one has passed.

  4. 17. Contact the three major credit bureaus—Equifax, Experian and TransUnion—to report the death, and ask for a “deceased” notation in the report so no one can take out credit in the deceased’s name.

  5. 14. Complete an inventory of all of the deceased’s assets and liabilities.


Within six to nine months

  1. 18. Consider creating an investment strategy for any monies left by the deceased. A financial professional can assist you. Also, if you had named the deceased as a beneficiary in a will or insurance policy, check your accounts and make the necessary changes.

  2. 19. If you had named the deceased as a beneficiary in a will or insurance policy, check your accounts and make the necessary changes.


How to get your finances on track

Avoid waiting too long to handle all of this. Moving forward after a loved one dies can be hard, but having both their finances and yours in order sooner rather than later will keep the estate’s bills from piling up—and perhaps even your own if you’re entitled to insurance or pension benefits. Resolving these issues now means one less stressor as you heal and move on with your life.


What you can do next

If you take your time and spread the tasks out, you'll find it much easier to handle the many things needed to take care of the deceased's final affairs. Consider getting professional help whenever possible, especially with investment management.


Kevin Johnston is a financial writer who writes about personal finance and investments, as well as financial management and planning. He has written for the New York Daily News, New York Post, San Francisco Chronicle and Houston Chronicle.


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