What to do When a Loved One Dies

Losing a loved one is never easy.  It can be overwhelming. Having a guide, a checklist of suggestions, can help make a difficult time easier.

Not everyone will need every entry on this list. And despite all the things suggested, this is by no means a definitive list. Some of the suggestions may also seem obvious, but they represent needs that might be overlooked by someone grieving.

Start with the people who knew your loved one:

  • The deceased's place of employment (where the HR department might have information about death benefits)
  • Caregivers (paid or otherwise) or home-delivered meals volunteers
  • The deceased's church or place of worship
  • Local newspapers will need information for an obituary  
  • Out-of-town newspapers if the deceased lived in another city besides the one in which he/she died
  • And don't assume all relatives have been notified, especially those who may have been out of contact for years
  • Cell phone contacts (if you have access to the deceased's cell phone)
  • Social clubs (bowling leagues, senior centers, fitness clubs, square dance clubs, etc.)

Be careful about notifying the deceased's social media “friends” if not everyone is known. It can invite identity theft. Contact the administrators of these sites to begin closing these accounts.

Then begin to collect and secure the legal documents you may need:

  • Death certificate
  • Car title and registration
  • Insurance policies (car, life, house, death, burial, pet, health)
  • Power of attorney documents
  • Safety deposit box information (don't forget the key)
  • Marriage or divorce documentation
  • Contact a lawyer or attorney who may be in possession of a will, if one was written

Remember, you contact insurance companies not just to access the deceased's benefits but also to end possible monthly installment payments.

Move on to things that affect the home, notify:

  • The post office, which may allow you to route mail to the estate executor
  • A landlord or apartment superintendent (and don't forget to ask about any refundable deposits)
  • Utility companies
  • Home-maintenance businesses

Think about notifying the police, too. If a person dies and leaves a home unoccupied, it could become a target for theft or vandalism, especially if someone is reading the obituaries for that reason. 

Utility companies could include:

  • Landline phone service
  • Cell phone service (but don't forget to check the contacts listed in the phone first)
  • Electricity/power
  • Gas
  • Water/sewer
  • Cable/satellite
  • Internet
  • Personal emergency response service  (Think: “I’ve fallen, and I can’t get up!” ) 

Home-maintenance businesses could include:

  • HVAC contractor (there may be a scheduled maintenance date)
  • Lawn service
  • Bottled water service
  • Pest control service
  • Trash/garbage pick-up
  • Maid/homemaker service

Identifying the assets, money and benefits:

  • Banking institutions, of which there could be more than one (checking at one, savings at another, a loan or mortgage at yet another)
  • Credit card companies (like banks, there could be more than one account)
  • Lien holders (these could include claims on a car, house, or undeveloped land)
  • Pension/retirement fund agency
  • Stockbroker
  • U.S. Railroad Retirement Board
  • All honorably discharged veterans are entitled to be buried in a national cemetery at no charge

Government notifications:

  • The Internal Revenue Service requires a tax return form for the deceased
  • Medicare and Medicaid (TennCare) must be notified if the deceased was receiving payments
  • Social Security must be notified if the deceased was receiving Social Security checks
  • City and/or county tax assessor

If the deceased was receiving Medicare and Medicaid payments, you are required by law to inform Medicare and Medicaid of that person's death. The same is true of Social Security. Keep in mind that any payments received from Social Security after death are to be returned to Social Security. *Social Security also offers a burial compensation award to those who qualify. 

Contact the people involved in health care:

  • Primary care physician, physical therapists, and the Veterans Administration if the deceased was a veteran
  • Notifying the drug store/pharmacy may prevent someone else from trying to refills prescriptions in the deceased’s name

A few final things to consider:

  • A pet that has lost its owner probably has a vet with records that need to be updated
  • Grocery and food delivery subscriptions (like Schwan's) will need to be canceled
  • Mail order delivery companies and subscriptions will need to be updated (Fruit of the Month, Book of the Month, etc.)
  • The Dept. of Safety does not require reports of firearms as they change hands but does appreciate a death certificate to update their existing records
  • As appropriate, probation officers should also be notified
  • Postage stamps and thank-you cards, something you might not always have around the house but will probably want to thank funeral attendees and the people helping you following your loss