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home | Death & Funerals | What To Do When Someone Dies

What To Do When Someone Dies

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Sooner or later, the questions will come up for all of us:  What do we do first - second - and then - when someone dies? It's not a question most people want to think about. But when it happens a lot of things need to be done quickly. It helps to have a list tucked away.

If the death occurs in a hospital, the family may be asked to consider making a gift of life by donating usable organs to someone who desperately needs them. If the family consents, then arrangements for the donation may begin quickly. The family will be allowed to stay with the deceased person as long as possible.

If organ donation is not possible, the hospital will make arrangements for the body to be taken either to the medical examiner or a designated funeral home.

When the family is ready to leave the hospital, someone should plan to stay behind to gather the deceased's personal possessions, if that hasn't already been done.

If death happens at home and a hospice agency has been seeing the patient, then the death is not totally unexpected. The hospice nurse will come to the home and make all of the immediately necessary calls and arrangements. A funeral home has usually already been chosen by the family, and the hospice nurse will make the call.

If death was unexpected and did not happen at a hospital, emergency medical personnel will probably have responded. The body will most likely be taken to the medical examiner for a determination about the cause of death. The medical examiner's office will ask the family which funeral home they would like to use after the formalities have been completed. The family will usually have a little time to make that decision.

Then, there will be a number of things to do:

1.  Call the appropriate pastor, priest or rabbi

2.  Arrange for support for surviving family, including child care if necessary

3.  Appoint someone to call immediate relatives, close friends, employer. Look for address books and consult with family members about who to call

4.  Arrange care for pets if necessary

5.  Make arrangements for the immediate family to have as much privacy as they need and want

6.  Arrange for someone other than a bereaved family member to answer phone calls and take messages

7.  Arrange for another person to answer the door, accept deliveries, and keep a list of who delivered what so that acknowledgements can be sent later

8.  Arrange for food donations to the family for the next three or four days 

9.  Look for any written funeral or burial wishes. Encourage family to talk about what the deceased's wishes would have been

10. Contact the newspaper and ask about costs and requirements for publishing an obituary. Ask about extra charges for photographs

11. If an obituary will be published, appoint someone to write the first draft. If funeral arrangements will be published in the paper, someone should volunteer to remain at the home during the services

12. Make an appointment for at least two people, one of them with a clear head for business, to visit the funeral home. The spiritual leader, priest, minister or rabbi can be very helpful with funeral or memorial planning

13. Arrange for the funeral home to obtain at least 7 or 8 copies of the death certificate. These will be needed later

14. Arrange for any separate cemetery or burial needs

15. Select pallbearers

16. Appoint someone to keep accurate records of all expenditures

17. Arrange for the time and location of funereal/memorial services to be communicated

18. Arrange for out-of-towners to have a place to stay, either in private homes or at a hotel/motel 

19. Notify Social Security and Medicare, Medicaid, pensions, employers and any other agencies. Any checks that arrive from these sources should not be cashed until you have official instructions.

This is all that needs to be done right away. There will be time later to make decisions about the estate. If the deceased had an attorney, a CPA, or a financial advisor it would be a good idea to contact these professionals soon to ask what needs to be done right away, and what can wait.

If the deceased owned a business or was engaged in any complex financial dealings, it might be necessary to move fairly quickly. Otherwise, there is no need to rush.


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