Checklist: What you need to do when someone dies

During this confusing and complicated time, it can be overwhelming to keep track of all the steps you should take.

You should be keeping your focus on grieving your loved one and honoring their life and legacy — not getting caught up and bogged down by the logistics of taking care of their personal affairs and end-of-life arrangements.

Use our checklist here as a step-by-step guide with a breakdown of all the steps you need to know to help you navigate the death of your loved one.

Download a Printable Checklist

At Time of Death

  • 1.

    Get a legal pronouncement of death

    This will be determined by the whereabouts of your loved one’s passing. If your loved one died in a hospital, a doctor can handle this for you. However, if your loved one perished at home unexpectedly or at a different location, and not at a hospital or hospice, call 911 to ensure appropriate emergency procedures are taken. Note that if your loved one passed while in hospice care, a hospice nurse should be contacted.

  • 2.

    Start coordinating funeral home arrangements

    Get in touch with a funeral home to discuss the receipt and transfer of your loved one to their premises. They will also want to speak with you about scheduling funeral arrangements.

    To find the best funeral home near you to pay tribute to your loved one, check out for the largest online directory of its kind for funeral homes.

  • 3.

    Notify friends and family

    Keep in mind, there is no one way or right way to do this, but it is important that close friends and family are contacted. Consider how you will share this difficult news. Sharing this information in a phone call can be crucial for some family members, while sending an email or text message can be an appropriate way to tell others.

  • 4.

    Tend to your loved one’s personal affairs

    It is time to start taking care of your loved one’s personal affairs. If the deceased had dependents or pets, ensure arrangements are made for them. Your loved one’s home must be tended to as well. This may include things like gathering and sorting their mail, watering plants, cleaning out and emptying their refrigerator, etc.

  • 5.

    Notify religious officials

    Notify church and clergy or other religious officials if your loved one belonged to a religious affiliation.

  • 6.

    Consider your loved one’s final wishes

    Consider your loved one’s final wishes (in regard to funeral arrangements and other memorialization services) Also, review their last will or trust documents.

  • 7.

    Consult with friends and family about funeral arrangements 

    Discuss funeral arrangements with close friends and family to determine the best way to pay tribute to your loved one’s life and legacy. Also, take the time now to consider any questions or concerns you may have that you would like to discuss with the funeral director.

  • 8.

    Publish obituary

    Write an obituary for your loved one. You can post in your local newspaper and websites like allow you to commemorate your loved one’s love and legacy in a digital obituary.

  • After Funeral and Memorialization Services

  • 9.

    Take Care of Your Loved One’s Valuables and Personal Assets

    It's an unfortunate truth, but news of someone’s passing may invite the possibility of criminal theft of your loved one’s personal belongings, valuables, or financial or personal information. Family members who or may or not be entrusted in your loved one’s will may also attempt to take what they wish of your loved one’s sentimental and financially valuable items. Therefore, it is wise to change locks on your loved one’s home and make sure windows or doors are properly secured. Try to find a safe place to keep family heirlooms, fine jewelry, car keys and personal information protected.

  • 10.

    Get in touch with executors in your loved one’s will

    Get in touch with any individuals named in your loved one’s will to begin settling their estate. Examples of common, possible executors named within the will may be a surviving spouse, child or loyal friend. Several people may also serve as co-executors of your loved one’s will.

  • 11.

    Determine if probate will be required to settle your loved one’s estate.

    Probate refers to the process of authenticating a decedent’s last will and testaments to ensure that their estate is properly entrusted to the rightful beneficiaries. It also involves locating and determining the value of a will and testament, and settling final bills and taxes.

  • 12.

    Collect Letters and Submit Will to Probate Court (if there is one)

    If your loved one’s estate will be going through a probate process to authorize those entrusted in the will, you will need to obtain letters of trust including “letters testamentary” or “letters of administration” and present them to the probate court. While this can be a sensitive situation for all involved, keep in mind that the clerks and judges understand this and are trained to assist in such matters.

  • 13.

    Handle financial and legal documents

    There are a great deal of things to take care of in this section including contacting creditors, notifying the IRS, settling outstanding bills and claims, canceling services, subscriptions, utilities, drivers licenses, SSN, & voter’s registration, etc. Click here for a full list to download with everything you need to know.

  • Final Steps

  • 14.

    Release and divide assets to heirs & beneficiaries.

    Once all claims and taxes are settled, you can begin distribution of your loved one’s final assets to heirs and beneficiaries.

  • 15.

    Close the estate

    After all assets have been distributed amongst heirs and beneficiaries, to complete the probate process, you may need to submit a final estate inventory report to the probate court to close out your loved one estate.

  • 16.

    Self-care and Grief

    Beyond the emotional difficulty of losing a loved one, handling their final personal and financial affairs can be a demanding, exhausting and overwhelming process. Remember to practice self-care during this time, treat yourself with love and patience, and allow yourself time to reflect on your loved one’s life and memories, and to relax and grieve.