What to Do When Someone Dies

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  • What should you do when a loved one passes away? As hard as it can be, families have to take certain steps after a loss. Learn what to do when someone dies.

Losing a loved one is never easy. Whether the loss is sudden, or it comes after a long illness, the passing of a family member or close friend brings grief and stress that can be difficult to work through. If you were close to a person who has recently passed away, you might wonder what to do next. Some things have to be done immediately after a person passes, while other steps can be taken days or weeks later. Pace yourself, know the limits of what you can handle and get a plan together for what to do when someone you care for dies.

Make Arrangements for the Body

Many people with long-term illnesses choose to spend their remaining time at home. When they do pass, this means you might have to make arrangements to remove them from the home and start the process of putting them to rest. In most areas, this can be done with a phone call to the county coroner’s office, which can schedule transports.

If the death occurs in a hospice or other clinical setting, the removal might be done for you. Some hospitals have their own morgues, where a person’s body can be stored for a short time, while others have relationships with local funeral homes that can collect the deceased person in a timely manner.

Get a Legal Pronouncement of Death

Whenever someone passes away, an official pronouncement of death must be made. Depending on your state and local laws, this can be done by any qualified medical professional. Doctors, medical examiners, and sometimes nurses or paramedics are all able to pronounce the death of a person and draft an official report. In some ways this is a formality, but it can be important for establishing the circumstances and location of a death and for starting the legal process of probate and other procedures.

Call Loved Ones

It's generally a good idea to reach out to family and friends as soon as you feel able after a passing. Ideally, you can designate one member of the family to make the necessary calls to loved ones who couldn’t be present at the time of death. Most funerals or memorials take place within days of a death, which can create travel issues for loved ones who live far away. The sooner you can let them know about the passing, the easier it will be for them to make arrangements to pay their respects.

Take Care of the Deceased Person's Property

When a person passes away, they usually leave behind property that has to be taken care of in one way or another. Be sure you lock up the departed person’s house and car, if they have them, and make arrangements to collect their pets, plants and other living things they may have cared for. If the departed had obligations to other people, such as a rideshare with church members or a job they had to get to, it’s helpful to get in touch with them as soon as you can.

Get a Certified Copy of the Death Certificate

In the weeks following a death, several legal and financial matters need to be resolved if you are to protect the deceased person’s property. If you're the executor of the person’s will, you must have a certified copy of death provided by your county coroner’s office. This is a legal document that certifies a passing and allows you to prove a person has passed away for insurance, banking and other official purposes. It may also be needed in your interactions with government and private agencies that your loved one was involved with. Medical examiners’ offices routinely issue these certificates, and you can generally ask for them from the county’s website. You can also ask for vital records through the federal government's website.

Meet With the Executor and Legal Team

Many people leave a will when they die, which ideally should contain the person’s wishes for how property is to be distributed and the funeral arrangements. A will should also designate one person as the executor, who is responsible for making arrangements and distributing the property left behind. If you are the executor, try to meet with a will and probate lawyer at your earliest convenience. This professional can help you legally transfer ownership of property from the departed to the people named in the will.

If someone else is acting as the executor, you may be called to a meeting with them and the attorney handling the will. At this meeting, you may be asked to take possession of some belongings, sign a transfer of cash from the deceased person's account or otherwise carry out the wishes of the person as described in the will. This is also a good time to meet with a CPA who handles estate matters and discuss tax and other implications of the property transfers.

File a Final Tax Return

The executor of a person’s will is generally expected to file a final tax return with the IRS within a few weeks of the passing. This can usually be done with the regular IRS Form 1040 or 1040EZ, whichever one the deceased would normally have filed. You may have to include a copy of the death certificate when you submit the form. If the departed person was due a refund from the IRS, you can claim this with IRS Form 1310. These steps are important to prevent collection actions by the IRS for non-filing of tax returns, which can help protect a person’s estate.

Cancel Services

Make a list of all the services your loved one was signed up for, and then take the time to cancel them all as soon as you can. Services you might have to contact include:

  • Cable TV or streaming services
  • Internet providers
  • Cell phone carriers
  • Utility companies, such as water, electric and gas
  • Car, home and health insurance providers
  • Club memberships, such as Costco or Sam’s Club
  • Credit cards and banks
  • Newspaper or magazine subscriptions
  • Patreon or other support platforms
  • Facebook, Twitter and other social media sites; some of which can convert a person’s account to a memorial for them

Notify the Appropriate Agencies

If your loved one was enrolled in government programs, you must inform them of the death in a timely manner. Do not cash the person’s last Social Security check, as this has to be returned. You can ask the Social Security Administration for a one-time funeral grant of $255 when you inform them of the passing. Apart from Social Security, don’t forget to contact:

  • Medicare/Medicaid
  • SNAP, TANF or other benefit programs
  • The military or VA, if the person was a veteran

While it can be hard to lose a loved one, you can show your respect by handling the loose ends they leave behind when passing. Try to have a plan in place beforehand, if you can, so you know what to do when someone dies and make the transition as easily as possible.