What Should You Do When Someone Dies?

When someone dies, the aftermath can be overwhelming for the person left in charge, and handling a death can seem very confusing and emotional. Regardless of whether a death is expected or unexpected, emotional struggles and feelings of disbelief can cloud thinking, making the task of planning a funeral difficult.

If you have just experienced the death of a loved one, know that Dignity Memorial® providers are ready to assist you in any way we can. A caring Dignity Memorial professional with helpful advice and answers to your questions is just a phone call away. Our large network of funeral, cremation and cemetery service providers ensures that there is a friendly, knowledgeable team member near you.

If you’re unclear about how to handle a death in the family, the list below details what you should do immediately and in the days and months following a death.

And remember, you probably don’t have to do this alone. Friends and family will most likely want to help. Delegating responsibilities to family members and others you trust not only eases your burden but also allows them to show you how much they care about you—and it may even help them begin to heal their own feelings of loss as well.

Consider printing and/or emailing this checklist to yourself and close relatives so that you will have easy access to it in the days and weeks to come.

  • Notify the authorities that a death has occurred. If you're not in a hospital or with hospice care at the time of the death, call 911 immediately so that the death can be legally pronounced. If your loved one is in a hospital or under hospice care, this task generally falls to the medical caretakers.
  • Arrange for transportation of your loved one by calling the Dignity Memorial provider nearest you. We will arrange transportation with no obligation to use our funeral services. Be aware of any arrangements that need to be made for autopsy or organ donation before a mortuary or crematorium takes your loved one into its care.
  • Notify family and close friends of the death. You may wish to ask some of these people to inform others.
  • Arrange for a caretaker for children, elderly parents and pets. (This is a good task to delegate to someone you trust.)
  • Notify your loved one’s employer, if he or she was still working. Ask about remaining pay, life insurance, benefits or any other work-related details you may need to know.
  • Locate the will and any pre-planned funeral arrangements.
  • Select a funeral home, mortuary or funeral director to begin the process of planning a funeral, memorial service, cremation or celebration of life.
  • Designate a main point of contact, or executor. This might be you or someone else, but whoever it is should also have a friend or family member who can be nearby and help with important decisions and more.
  • Gather any documents specifying pre-planned or prepaid funeral arrangements, and obtain the personal information you need for an obituary and death certificate. Download our printable Things to Remember Checklist to help you gather the items and information necessary.
  • Contact any religious or military affiliations of your loved one to determine whether burial benefits or specific funeral plans and services are available. Your Dignity Memorial provider can also inform you of these benefits or help you get the right information.
  • Start an obituary. Your funeral director can help you write an obituary, or you may choose to write it yourself. Have at least one person proofread the obituary before it is submitted for publication.

Get multiple copies of the death certificate. The executor and funeral home director will need to contact the following agencies, most of which will request at least one copy of the death certificate:

  • Health, life, homeowner, automobile and other insurance companies to cease or transfer benefits.
  • Utility companies to change or stop services.
  • Employer for pension plans or employment benefits; each separate claim will require a separate copy of the death certificate.
  • Probate attorney for asset, trust and estate inventory.
  • Tax preparer to determine if an estate tax return or final income tax returns should be filed.
  • Bank for safe deposits and remaining accounts; you may be advised to open a new account for the estate.
  • Deliver the will to the appropriate office for probate.
  • Notify the post office of the death and the location to which mail should be forwarded. (Going through your loved one’s mail can help you become aware of bills, subscriptions or other accounts or services that should be cancelled.)
  • Notify the police if your loved one left behind a house that will sit vacant, so that they can periodically monitor the home against suspicious activity.

Aftercare resources and grief support

Depending on your relationship with your loved one and the traditional mourning customs of your faith, the weeks and months after a death in the family may be extremely difficult. Be sure to take steps to ensure that you are handling the death in an emotionally healthy way, and know that caring for yourself and allowing others to care for you are part of the healing process.

Grief is natural, personal and has no timetable. It may last for a shorter or longer time than you expect, and it may be coupled with feelings of anger, guilt, emptiness or hopelessness. Whatever your experience, know that there are family and friends all around you who are willing to support you at this time.

It’s hard to know how to handle a death, especially when that person is a close friend or family member. There are things that need to be done—and more than likely you will not have to do them alone. Enlist a support system to lean on. It’s so helpful to have someone to assist with planning a funeral and putting someone’s things in order. It also feels good to have a listening ear and a shoulder to cry on.