The death of a loved one takes a large emotional toll on those closest to the deceased. In addition to grief, you’re also expected to deal with closing out the life of your loved one—from rehoming pets to canceling a credit card after death. Figuring out what to do when a loved one dies can leave you feeling stressed and overwhelmed, but this checklist when someone dies can help make the process easier.
Table of contents
- What to do immediately after a loved one dies
- Making funeral and burial arrangements
- How to handle estate and legal matters after a death
- Two weeks after death: What to do when someone dies
- Financial and administrative tasks after someone passes away
- Expert tip: Take care of your mental health during this difficult time
- How do I notify Social Security of a death?
- Who has power of attorney after death if there is no will?
- What accounts need to be canceled after someone dies?
- How long do bank accounts stay open after death?
- What happens to a person’s credit cards when they die?
- Do I have to pay the credit card debt of my deceased loved one?
- What happens if there is no beneficiary named on a bank account after death?
- Do beneficiaries pay taxes on 401k inheritance?
- Can a 401k be transferred after death?
- What is an inherited IRA?
- What not to do after a loved one dies?
- Articles related to what to do when a loved one dies
- Knowing what to do when a loved one dies is difficult but being informed can help
Ignoring practicalities after the death of a loved one could cause even more stress in the long term. Closing accounts, dispersing funds and personal belongings, and notifying the proper agencies and organizations reduces the chance for fraud.
This article will help you go through the checklist when someone dies, making it easier to manage everything that needs to be done. We’ve also gathered answers to some of the most common financial questions after someone passes away.
What to do immediately after a loved one dies
The period immediately following major life events like the death of a loved one is likely one of the most difficult. You’re still coming to terms with their death, and yet you’re expected to take care of things.
You probably aren’t sure what to do when a loved one dies. As soon as you can, start working through these initial steps after the loss of a loved one.
Get a legal pronouncement of death
When deciding what to do when someone dies, your first task is to get a legal pronouncement of death.
If your loved one passes in a hospital or nursing home—where a doctor is on staff at all times—the facility will likely take care of the pronouncement, but you can also reach out to a hospice nurse to get a pronouncement if a loved one passes at home under hospice care, according to the National Institute on Aging.
In cases of an unexpected death, you should call 911 as soon as possible. First responders will arrive and transport your loved one to a hospital.
The first responders may also be able to help you deal with the initial shock or trauma of losing your loved one.
Notify friends, family, and employers
After your loved one is pronounced deceased, your next step is to contact family, friends, and those close to the deceased. Family members to notify right away might include a spouse, living parents, siblings, and children of the deceased.
You may also want to notify close friends of the deceased, such as a lifelong friend from childhood.
Employers or volunteer organizations should also be notified of the death soon. Some people forget this step when figuring out what to do when a loved one dies.
However, the last thing you want to deal with when grieving a loved one is a call asking why they’re not at work.
Get guidance from the hospital
If your loved one passes away in a hospital or other care facility, you can ask the facility what they need from you.
In many cases, these facilities take care of some of the initial steps after a loved one dies, which could reduce your stress and give you more time for grieving and mental wellness. After a loved one passes, call the facility for guidance or procedures related to the next steps.
Arrange care for pets
Did your loved one pass away with pets or dependents living in their home? If so, finding care for them should be a top priority when working out what to do when a loved one dies.
You may be in a position to take them into your home. Doing this could help you in the grieving process by giving you a living connection to your deceased loved one.
If you cannot accept pets into your home, start by asking friends or family of the deceased if they can temporarily take care of the animals or if anyone wants to be a first time dog owner or first time cat owner.
Many animal shelters or rescues may also be available to offer immediate care for animals after the death of their owner.
Making funeral and burial arrangements
After taking care of the immediate needs after the death of a loved one, you can start planning the burial or funeral arrangements and going through the checklist when someone dies. Many people use an estate planning checklist to prepare their end-of-life arrangements in advance.
Your loved one may have a detailed pre-existing funeral or burial arrangement plan. This could include pre-purchased funeral or burial services. If not, consider asking those closest to the deceased, such as a surviving spouse, of any known end-of-life wishes or plans.
Find out if there are any funds to help with the burial
Using your loved one’s end-of-life plans as a guide, start making funeral, burial, or cremation arrangements.
Loved ones who were in the military or part of a fraternal organization may qualify for specific funeral displays and cost coverages.
Certain deceased veterans, for example, may be eligible for Veterans’ burial allowances to help cover the cost of funeral, burial, and transportation.
Prepare for expenses
Be aware that the average cost of a funeral, according to Policy Genius, is over $6,000 to $15,000 or higher. Even if your loved one has funds set aside for funeral arrangements, you might not be able to access them immediately.
This means you or other loved ones may have to cover the initial cost of the funeral. The deceased’s estate will reimburse you later.
Rules about funeral costs
Luckily, the Federal Trade Commission requires funeral homes, directors, and other industry members to follow strict pricing transparency rules. The FTC’s Funeral Rule helps protect consumers dealing with the loss of a loved one.
According to the rule, you must receive an itemized list of funeral home costs. It’s called a General Price List (GPL)—when you visit a funeral facility. Understanding your rights under the rule can help you avoid unexpected costs related to burying your loved one.
Many families choose to include a memorial service or gathering of loved ones after someone passes away. Memorial services might offer closure and peace to those who knew the deceased.
However, you are not required to have one, and planning a memorial right after losing your loved one may be difficult.
In that case, you may want to see if another person close to the deceased is willing to take on the responsibility of planning the event if desired.
How to handle estate and legal matters after a death
If your loved one had a medical condition or was on hospice, you may already have their estate planning documents—such as a will—in your possession. If their death is unexpected, you may have to go to their home and look for the documents yourself.
Stepping into your loved one’s home for the first time after they pass can be an emotional experience. You may want to take a trusted friend along to help you deal with the rush of emotions you may face.
It may help to have someone with you when it’s time to look for important estate planning documents, including:
- Wills (Find out more about the importance of a will)
- Powers of attorney
- Trust or legal entity documentation
- Account records such as bank statements
- Debt records
- Identification documents
- Insurance policies
- Birth and marriage certificates
- Recent tax returns
Once the proper legal documents are in your possession, secure the home and personal property of the deceased. Put the necessary legal documents in a safe, secure location until you meet with the estate attorney.
For now, it’s best to keep any documents you find, even if they seem insignificant. Remember, you can always focus on how to declutter paperwork later.
You can contact the post office to forward mail to the estate executor. Do this after you secure the property until after the will reading and the disbursement of the estate takes place.
Forwarding the deceased’s mail allows you to see what bills are due. You’ll also see if there’s any unexpected activity on their credit accounts. That can alert you to deceased person’s identity theft.
Two weeks after death: What to do when someone dies
A week or two after your loved one passes away is often when the bulk of your administrative tasks begin with the checklist when someone dies.
Due to the many things you’ll likely need to do in this timeframe, it’s essential to take time in the first week for yourself. You may want to consider some journaling self care or counseling to help you process your feelings.
Remember, however, as you go through the tasks ahead, it’s okay to take time when needed. Even when things seem to be moving quickly, and you’re wondering what to do when a loved one dies.
Get a death certificate
Two weeks after the death of a loved one is when you should start going through the process of closing accounts, organizing the estate, and initiating probate if necessary.
You’ll need a death certificate for most of these tasks, so starting there is a good idea. Most experts recommend getting 10 to 20 copies of the death certificate. This ensures you have enough certified copies to send to all institutions you have to notify of the death, such as banks or insurance companies.
If you’re working with a funeral home, the director will likely help you secure death certificates from the state. You can also request a death certificate copy from the vital records office of the state where the death occurred.
Talk with an estate attorney or probate lawyer and identify the executor
You may need to talk with an estate attorney if your loved one has a will. Estate attorneys help families plan and execute their estates.
You might also need a probate lawyer. They can help you with the probate process and distributing assets.
For families with a will, the document should name an estate executor or a personal representative for the deceased. Going forward, the executor will likely handle most of the tasks required of the estate.
In many cases, the closest family member is the executor, such as a spouse or eldest child.
Your estate attorney can help you better understand your role if you’re the executor. This can include what steps you need to take regarding the legal proceedings of the estate.
Hire other financial and tax professionals
Consider hiring a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) and other financial and tax specialists to help manage the financial aspect of the estate. A CPA will help you navigate the tax process of funds from your deceased loved one.
Depending on the estate size and what types of accounts your loved one had, you may wonder, “Do I need a financial advisor?” It may be a good idea to hire one.
A financial advisor will aid you in understanding the financial assets of an estate. After distributing funds and assets, your advisor can also help you manage any windfalls that come your way.
For example, your loved one had a significant nest egg in a savings account. You now need to learn how to invest 100k. Working with a financial advisor could make it easier to navigate your options.
Verify the will through probate
Probate is the process of legally distributing assets from the deceased’s estate. Estates with a will generally go through probate to verify the document’s authenticity. With a well-defined will and last wishes, the probate process is usually quick and uncomplicated.
However, if your loved one didn’t have a will, the probate process will likely take much longer. An estate without a well-defined plan for assets could lead to lawsuits between heirs, extending the probate process.
Each state has different laws regarding probate, so it’s often worth hiring an experienced probate lawyer to help you through the process.
Financial and administrative tasks after someone passes away
When deciding what to do when someone dies, you’ll probably wonder what happens to bills (see how to catch up on bills if needed), recurring services, and the physical property of the deceased.
Once the court verifies the deceased’s will, you can begin processing assets, canceling bills, and deactivating the deceased’s identity.
Inventory assets and properties
The probate process often includes an inventory of the deceased’s assets and belongings. This list includes significant assets like real estate and cars, as well as personal belongings such as furniture, jewelry, and clothing.
You may consider hiring an appraiser to help sort through your loved one’s belongings and get an accurate estimate of the value of the assets.
Going through a loved one’s belongings can cause a range of emotions. You might feel raw grief being in their home without them, or you may be able to relive happy memories as you go through their things.
No matter what you’re feeling, inventorying a loved one’s things might be overwhelming. It may be a good idea to take a trusted friend or relative to help you through the process.
Search and record additional assets
You may find your loved one had other non-physical assets that need to be counted in the estate’s value. Generally, these assets include bank accounts, investment accounts, and retirement plans.
This process can take years, depending on how many unexpected assets your loved one carries. Start by searching through safe deposit boxes and filing cabinets in the deceased’s home to find documents related to these accounts. It’s also recommended to check your loved one’s mail regularly for statements from unknown accounts.
Additionally, you can look through past tax returns to understand what accounts your loved one owned.
List bills and debts owed by the deceased
Going through an unexpected bank account after death isn’t the only type of statement you should look for in your loved one’s mail. Your loved one probably had monthly bills, such as utility bills, cell phones, cable alternatives, or cable plans.
Make a list of the ongoing bills and any debt your loved one had at the time of their death. This will help the executor know what needs to be paid by the estate and also give you a list of services that need to be canceled.
Get rid of subscriptions and services
The cost of cable, streaming services, cell phones, magazines, and more will continue to be charged to the deceased unless you cancel the accounts. Using your list of bills, cancel any subscriptions or recurring services of your loved one that are no longer needed.
However, you may want to avoid canceling utilities like power or water for now. This will help keep the home livable while you go through your loved one’s belongings and clean up the house.
Deactivate the passport
If your loved one has a passport, you’ll need to contact the federal government to deactivate it, reducing the chances of identity theft. This might require you to send in the passport with a certified copy of the death certificate.
If you’d like to keep the passport as a memento of your loved one, you can request the passport office send it back after processing the cancelation. This allows you to have a keepsake of past travels and adventures with your loved one.
What to do when a loved one dies: agencies and organizations to notify
In addition to deactivating your loved one’s passport, there are several agencies, organizations, and businesses you’ll likely need to notify of your loved one’s passing. Many of these organizations will require a certified copy of the death certificate to verify the deceased and may have a form you must fill out.
Common organizations and agencies you’ll likely need to notify include:
- Social Security Administration (SSA)
- Insurance companies
- Banks and financial institutions
- At least one credit bureau (TransUnion, Equifax, or Experian)
- Driver’s license authority, such as the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV)
- Credit card companies
Most agencies and organizations will inform you precisely what needs to be done to cancel or close an account.
However, you can get started with this checklist when someone dies to help you close accounts:
- Contact DMV to cancel their driver’s license, if applicable.
- Close credit cards or remove the deceased as an authorized user.
- Make life insurance claims where appropriate. (Find out more about the importance of life insurance.)
- Terminate other health-related insurance such as long-term care or health insurance.
- Delete or memorialize social media accounts.
- Close email and other online accounts, if accessible.
- Update voter registration status.
- Contact rewards programs, such as hotel rewards or frequent flyer programs, to see if you can transfer rewards to a beneficiary.
Expert tip: Take care of your mental health during this difficult timeEveryone experiences grief differently following the death of a loved one. No matter how you process your loss, it’s important to take care of yourself and get the help you need.
After all, you can’t pour from an empty cup and still be there for family and friends. As you deal with your loss, consider the resources available to you—from talking with close friends to seeking a mental health provider or counselor to help you cope with grief.
How do I notify Social Security of a death?
Generally, the funeral home director will notify the Social Security Administration (SSA) of your loved one’s death.
However, suppose they do not offer this service, or you’re going through a non-traditional burial route. In that case, you may have to contact the SSA to notify them via phone or by visiting your local Social Security office.
Who has power of attorney after death if there is no will?
Power of attorney dissolves upon the death of the person and is no longer valid. Though many people authorize a power of attorney during their lives, giving a trusted family member or representative the authority to act on their behalf if they become incapacitated.
After death, the only person in charge of the estate is the named executor in the will. If there is no will, the local probate court will name a personal representative.
In most cases, the representative is a close family member or friend of the deceased.
What accounts need to be canceled after someone dies?
You may not realize just how many subscriptions, services, and accounts you have until you have to cancel those of a loved one. Common accounts you may have to cancel after the death of a loved one include:
- Bank and financial accounts
- Credit cards
- Mortgage or rental agreement
- Retirement accounts
- Loans such as car loans
- Online payment accounts, such as PayPal or Zelle
- Utilities including electric, gas, water, garbage, sewer, and internet
- Entertainment subscriptions such as cable TV, streaming services, or music subscriptions
- Mail subscriptions, including newspaper or magazines
- Online or software subscriptions like Amazon Prime or online storage
- Memberships to trade unions, gyms, or wholesale stores
- Social media accounts and email
How long do bank accounts stay open after death?
The FDIC will keep insuring the account for 6 months after death. You’ll likely have to provide a certified copy of the death certificate, court documents, and social security number in order to close the account.
If you have a joint bank account with the deceased, you may be able to reclassify the account as an individual account in your name only.
Knowing how to close a bank account is important in this situation.
What happens to a person’s credit cards when they die?
You will need to call credit card companies to let them know your loved one has passed away. Once canceled, the deceased’s estate pays any outstanding balances for a credit card after death.
Do I have to pay the credit card debt of my deceased loved one?
No, in most cases, the executor pays off the debt from the estate’s value, and you do not have to pay the credit card debt. If there is more debt than the estate’s value, the debt goes unpaid.
The exception is if someone shares responsibility for the credit card after death of the cardholder. If you are a co-signer on the credit card, you will likely have to pay off the debt.
However, authorized users on a credit card account are usually not considered responsible parties and don’t have to pay back the debt.
What happens if there is no beneficiary named on a bank account after death?
If there is no beneficiary named on a bank account after death, the account will go through probate law.
However, this can vary significantly based on state and local law, especially if there’s no will from the deceased. It’s good to check with a local estate attorney to learn more about your situation.
Do beneficiaries pay taxes on 401k inheritance?
Yes, if a beneficiary takes the 401k inheritance as a lump sum, it is taxed as normal income, but there are many other rules depending on what you do with the 401k.
It’s best to consult a trusted tax professional to figure out what to do when someone dies and leaves you a 401k.
Can a 401k be transferred after death?
There are rules for beneficiaries with a 401k after death. Most 401k accounts can be rolled into an inherited IRA (individual retirement account), which generally must be emptied in the 10 years following the rollover.
Beneficiaries may also be able to keep the account where it is and withdraw funds over the next decade.
Spouses, however, have additional options when they inherit a 401k after death. A spouse beneficiary can choose to keep the 401k at the current location, roll the balance into their own 401k account, or roll the inherited 401k into an inherited IRA.
There are exceptions and requirements to these options, so it’s a good idea to work with a tax professional or financial advisor to understand better how to handle the money in a 401k.
What is an inherited IRA?
An inherited IRA is an IRA inherited by a beneficiary. Inherited IRAs can be funded by a rollover from an employer-sponsored account like a 401k plan or an IRA owned by the deceased.
Inherited IRAs differ from other types of IRAs because of required distributions. In some cases, the money in an inherited IRA must be fully withdrawn within 10 years of the inherited IRA account being opened.
What not to do after a loved one dies?
There are a lot of common mistakes people make when figuring out what to do when a loved one dies. Some things not to do after the death of a loved one include:
- Feeling pressured to make decisions before you’re ready.
- Spending estate funds without a plan or before probate.
- Not working with an attorney or tax professional.
- Going through the personal possessions of the deceased without a plan.
While there are many practical things you shouldn’t do when a loved one dies, perhaps the most important thing to avoid is not giving yourself time to heal or grieve. The stress and pain of losing someone you love can be overwhelming, especially if you don’t make time for healing.
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Additionally, take time when you need it—you’re going through a major life change, and it’s okay not to be okay.
Sometimes, it helps to have a checklist to help you answer questions and get through things like what to do with a 401k after death or who gets power of attorney after death.
When you’re ready, use this checklist to help you figure out what to do when someone dies and ask for help. And remember, it’s important to know how to nurture yourself and practice attitudes of mindfulness to get you through this difficult time.