Estate PlanninG

What You Need To Do After A Loved One Dies

We don’t need to tell you that losing a family member can be stressful and emotional. The last thing most people want to do is think about making phone calls, signing papers, or making funeral arrangements. And in the midst of grief, trying to figure out the next steps to take can feel overwhelming.

Some things don’t need to be done immediately, but there are some steps that you’ll want to take soon after the loss of your loved one. Hopefully the following information will help you navigate this difficult and confusing time.

What To Do Immediately

Rest assured: there’s nothing immediate you need to do in the minutes and hours after your loved one passes away. It’s okay to simply sit with your loved one for a while, even if they died in a hospital. Tell the hospital staff if you need a little time or if there’s any religious rituals or customs that you’d like to observe before the body is moved. Give yourself time to call your pastor, priest, rabbi, or other religious advisors, as well as close family members or friends whose presence will be comforting.

Note: One exception is if your loved one wanted to be an organ donor. In this case, the hospital where the death occurred or the nearby hospital (if the death occurred at home) should be notified immediately so the appropriate steps can be taken.

If you’re not sure, check your family member’s driver’s license or health care directives. Even if your loved one signed up to be an organ donor, family members are responsible for making the final decision regarding organ donation (considering your loved one’s organs are medically suitable for donation).

Next Steps

  • Before any other steps are taken, make sure to obtain a legal pronouncement of death by a doctor or hospice nurse. If no one is present who can make an official pronouncement of death, the body may be taken to the emergency room where a doctor can make the declaration. If there is no need for further medical examination or autopsy, a declaration will enable a death certificate to be prepared. A death certificate is a legal document that states the date, location, and cause of a person’s death.
  • The next thing you’ll need to do is make arrangements for the body to be picked up, typically by a funeral home. If your loved one died in a hospital or nursing facility, you can ask the staff to help make those arrangements for you. Your loved one may have already chosen a funeral home and made funeral plans, but if not, the choice of a funeral home will be made by family members.
  • If necessary, arrange for care for any dependent children, adults, and pets in accordance with your loved one’s will or nomination of guardian, which should address those issues. If there was no will or guardianship nomination, you may have to request that a court issue an emergency order to ensure that any children or dependent adults are properly cared for and protected.
  • Make sure to lock up your loved one’s house and car, and if the home will remain vacant, notify the police or the landlord to keep a close eye on it. Consider making arrangements for a friend or family to regularly check for mail or phone messages, clean out perishable food, and water plants.
  • Find out if your loved one made pre-arrangements for a funeral or memorial service, and if not, ask a family member or friend to help you make those arrangements. If your family member was a member of the military, let the funeral home know if you would like a military funeral. Also, prepare an obituary and send it to the local newspaper and any other newspapers in which you would like it to appear.

After these initial concerns are taken care of, it’s time to begin the estate or trust settlement process (also called probate or trust administration). Although it might seem simple to take care of some aspects of administration on your own, this process can actually be quite complex, and small mistakes can lead to major problems down the road. For this reason, it’s important to reach out to an experienced probate and trust administration attorney to help you with this process – as well as other unanticipated legal matters that may arise during this time.

Reach out to us at (925) 831-4840 to set up a virtual consultation. We’ll help guide you through the legal process so you and your family members can focus on moving through grief and toward healing.