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Wednesday January 23, 2019

Savvy Living

Savvy Senior

What to Do When a Loved One Dies

Can you tell me what steps need to be taken after a loved one dies? My 80-year-old father has a terminal illness and I would like to find out what I will need to do when he passes so that I am prepared.

I'm sorry about your father's situation. This is an important question and is something that many families inquire about when a loved one's death becomes imminent. Here is a run-down of some things you can do that can help keep a sad event from becoming even more painful.

Before Death Occurs

There are several tasks you can do now while your father is still living that will make things a lot easier and less hectic after he passes away.

First, find out where your father keeps his important papers, including his birth certificate, marriage and divorce certificates, Social Security information, life insurance documents, military discharge papers, financial documents as well as keys to safe deposit boxes or home safes. You also need to make sure you have an up to date copy of your father's will or trust.

You will also want to ensure that your father has an advance health care directive. An advance health care directive specifies end-of-life medical treatments and appoints a health care proxy to make medical decisions in the event of incapacitation. If your father has not filled out an advance health care directive, see for free state-specific forms and instructions.

In addition, discuss with your father whether he wants a do-not-resuscitate (DNR) order, which will tell health care professionals not to perform CPR if your father's heart or breathing stops. Your father's doctor can help you with this.

It is also a good idea to pre-arrange funeral and burial or cremation arrangements.

Immediately After Death

When an individual passes away, a legal pronouncement of death must be obtained. If a doctor is not present, you will need to contact someone to make this pronouncement. For example, if someone under hospice care passes away at home, a hospice nurse can be called. The nurse can declare the death of the individual and help facilitate proper transportation.

If an individual passes away at home without hospice care, call 911 and locate the individual's DNR document, if he or she has one. Without a DNR order, paramedics will generally start emergency procedures and, except where permitted to pronounce death, take the person to an emergency room for a doctor to make the declaration.

If an autopsy is not required, the next step is to call a funeral home, mortuary or crematorium to arrange proper transportation. If your father is an organ or tissue donor, the funeral home or county coroner should be contacted immediately.

Within a Few Days

If funeral plans were not pre-arranged, then arrangements will need to be made and an obituary should be prepared. If you father was in the military or belonged to a fraternal or religious group, you should contact those organizations because they may have burial benefits or conduct funeral services.

Up to 10 Days After Death

To wind down your father's financial affairs, you will need to obtain multiple copies of his death certificate. These are typically provided by the funeral home.

If you are the executor of your father's estate, you will need to take his will to the appropriate county or city office to have it accepted for probate. The executor should also open a bank account for the estate to pay bills, taxes, funeral costs and other estate-related expenses.

You will need to contact your father's advisors including his estate planning attorney, if he had one. You should also contact his tax preparer to see if estate or final income tax returns should be filed. His financial advisor can provide information regarding his financial holdings. His life insurance agent should be contacted in order to obtain claim forms. Speak to a representative at his bank to locate and close accounts. You should call the Social Security Office (800-772-1213) along with other agencies that provided benefits in order to stop payments and, if applicable, ask about survivor benefits. You should also cancel his credit cards and, if relevant, stop household services like utilities, mail, etc.

For more information regarding the duties of an executor, a great resource is "The Executor's Guide: Settling a Loved One's Estate or Trust" available at

Savvy Living is written by Jim Miller, a regular contributor to the NBC Today Show and author of "The Savvy Living” book. Any links in this article are offered as a service and there is no endorsement of any product. These articles are offered as a helpful and informative service to our friends and may not always reflect this organization’s official position on some topics. Jim invites you to send your senior questions to: Savvy Living, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070.

Published January 26, 2018
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