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Guidance and Support: What to Do When Someone Dies

It's completely natural to feel overwhelmed when a loved one passes away. Every task may seem daunting, from organizing the funeral arrangements to handling legal matters like reporting the death to Social Security. We're here to guide you through this challenging time with care and understanding.

As part of our commitment of support during these tough times, we've partnered with Empathy, a complimentary app that offers personalized, on-demand support and care to help families through the loss of a loved one. Keep reading to discover comprehensive support options that can ease this difficult process.

Immediate steps to take when someone dies

Notify the proper authorities.

The death certificate holds great importance, as it plays a crucial role in a variety of matters, including processing life insurance claims, addressing financial concerns and facilitating the distribution of assets.

  • If your loved one passed in a medical facility or nursing home with a doctor nearby, the dedicated staff will take care of all necessary procedures.
  • If your loved one was at home, surrounded by the comfort of hospice care, a compassionate hospice nurse will be there to confirm their passing.
  • If your loved one passed away at home unexpectedly, we recommend reaching out to a medical professional to formally confirm their passing. It's always a good practice to dial 911 once they’ve passed to ensure timely assistance.

Once the official confirmation is in hand, the authorities will assist you in making the necessary arrangements to transport your loved one to a funeral home.

Contact a funeral home or cremation service.

Schedule your first consultation with the funeral home. Their team of experts knows what to do when someone dies and is here to assist you, making the process as smooth as possible. They can also help coordinate any necessary communication with the medical facility for transferring your loved one to their facility or a crematorium, ensuring a respectful transition.

In many cases, individuals have already expressed their final wishes, which can provide guidance during this time. However, if these arrangements haven't been made, consider having a heartfelt discussion with your family to understand and honor the wishes of the departed. In such cases, the staff at a funeral home or cremation service can guide you through the process.

Inform close family and friends.

It’s a challenging responsibility, but it's crucial to start reaching out to the people who were closest to your loved one when dealing with the question "what to do when someone dies." In today's age of rapid social media communication, most prefer to ensure that those dear to the deceased are informed directly, rather than discovering the news through social platforms.

Here's a list of individuals you might want to consider notifying:

  • All beloved family members
  • Close friends
  • Co-workers
  • Employers
  • Frequent acquaintances who shared a connection
  • Other professional relationships
  • Old friends who held a special place in their heart

By taking this thoughtful step, you’re providing a warm and personal touch during a difficult time, allowing those who cared about your loved one to grieve and remember together.

Soon after someone dies

Plan the funeral or memorial service.

In an ideal scenario, you may have had a conversation about their wishes with your loved one before they passed. If not, don't worry. Look for any letters of guidance or special instructions they may have left behind. Alternatively, consider gathering your family for an open and supportive meeting to start the conversation about what to do when someone dies, including the funeral or memorial service. While discussing this can be emotionally challenging, it's an essential step if your loved one didn't leave specific instructions. During this conversation, you and your family can explore their preferences, financial considerations and other important factors.

Once you've made these thoughtful decisions, share them with the funeral home so the necessary arrangements can be made.

Consider legal issues.

At a certain point, it's a good idea to have a heart-to-heart with an attorney regarding the timing of county probate proceedings when someone dies. A legal professional will take the time to carefully go over the will and any other documents related to your loved one's property. They'll guide you through the process, making sure everything is handled with care and attention to detail.

Secure the deceased’s property.

If your loved one lived alone, it's important to make their home a little safer during this transitional period when someone dies. Consider securing their home and any vehicles, to ensure everything is protected. Reach out to someone who can kindly collect their mail, tend to the plants and help by clearing out any perishable items. Review the homeowner's insurance policy for specific language regarding coverage on a vacant property and ways to ensure continued protection.

Additionally, for any precious belongings like jewelry or cash, find a secure place to safeguard them. If possible, connect with a thoughtful neighbor who can keep a watchful eye on the property, helping to prevent any unwanted issues while the final details are being sorted out.

Financial considerations in the first month

Begin the process of filing a life insurance claim.

Reach out to your loved one's life insurance provider during this time, and ask for the Life Claims department when you call. You can also usually report the claim on their website.

To assist in expediting the process, having the policy number on hand would be helpful, if possible. Additionally, be prepared to submit a certified copy of the death certificate if requested.

Start managing the deceased’s finances.

Handling a departed loved one’s financial matters can seem like an overwhelming part of the process. Here are some clear, concise steps to take.

  • If the account was jointly held, the surviving account holder will have access to the bank accounts, making things a bit easier during this period. However, if the account was solely in your loved one's name, the bank may need to wait until someone has been officially named as the executor or personal representative. Once that's in place, the funds can be smoothly distributed to that designated person, helping to ease financial concerns when someone dies.
  • For a home held jointly, it's typically a good idea for the surviving partner to continue paying the mortgage and other bills, ensuring that life continues without unnecessary disruptions when someone dies.The same applies to car payments.
  • For any other outstanding debts, the executor or personal representative can handle those payments, keeping things in order.
  • As an additional safeguard against identity theft, send copies of the death certificate to one of the three major credit bureaus: Equifax, Experia or TransUnion. They work together to ensure the information is updated accurately. In the same vein, remember to destroy any cards with your loved one's name to prevent theft and protect against identity fraud.

Processes to undertake in the first few months

Obtain multiple copies of the death certificate.

During this time, you'll find that having multiple copies of the death certificate is important. They serve various purposes, from helping you manage bank and investment accounts to facilitating insurance claims, and even as a means of official proof of your loved one's passing.

To make things a bit easier for you, the team at the funeral home may be able to assist in obtaining these copies on your behalf. Alternatively, you can explore the option of involving estate attorneys, as some of them offer this service. Or, if you prefer, you can reach out to your county directly to request these important documents. 

Notify creditors and settle any debts. 

During this emotional period, it's crucial to approach your loved one's financial matters with care and consideration. One of the initial steps is to close your loved one's credit card accounts. When contacting customer service, be sure to explain that you're taking this action on behalf of the deceased. Having a copy of the death certificate on hand can be helpful.

It's also wise to maintain a record of the accounts you've closed, helping you keep a clear overview of the financial situation. If you're not the designated executor, it's a thoughtful gesture to inform them about any outstanding balances, ensuring that everyone involved is informed and well-organized.

In addition to closing credit card accounts, remember to address any recurring bills, such as those for mobile phones or internet services, by reaching out to the respective service providers. And, last but not least, don't forget to get in touch with any Medicare Supplement Insurance providers to cancel coverage and billing, making sure everything is in order as you move through this process. 

Long-term tasks after the death of a loved one

Distribute the deceased’s assets as per the will or state law.

If you find yourself in the role of the executor for your loved one's estate, it's essential to maintain open communication with all the involved parties, keeping them informed and updated about the progress of the will, especially if there are any delays. Along the way, make it a point to keep careful records, ensuring that every detail is carefully noted.

Once the estate of your loved one has successfully navigated the probate process, consider setting up a dedicated bank account in the estate's name to manage any necessary financial transactions. Having a precise inventory of all accounts and assets is invaluable during this process, allowing you to proceed with confidence.

As you work through the settling of debts and any taxes owed by the deceased's estate, you'll reach a point where it's possible to ensure that the remaining assets are distributed to the beneficiaries when someone dies.

Throughout this journey, remember that the attorney handling the estate can offer invaluable guidance, assisting you as the executor or personal representative to carry out the distribution of the deceased's assets in accordance with the will or state law. 

Update your own legal and financial documents as necessary.

Experiencing the loss of a family member or friend often prompts us to reflect on the legacy we wish to leave for our loved ones. It's a gentle nudge to consider how we can make things easier for our family in the future, especially during challenging times. This is where life insurance can come into play to offer peace of mind and protection for your loved ones after you're gone.

Investing in life insurance can provide your loved ones with financial stability and help alleviate burdens when someone dies. It ensures their financial security and helps alleviate potential concerns. With life insurance, you can rest easy knowing that it can cover essential expenses like funeral costs, mortgage payments and any lingering debts, allowing your family to navigate the future with more ease and confidence.

For more information, check out these eight reasons to get life insurance.

How to cope with the death of a loved one

Focus on the importance of self-care during this difficult time.

Experiencing the profound grief that accompanies the loss of a loved one can be overwhelmingly difficult. It's vital to grant yourself the necessary space and time to grieve, acknowledging the depth of your emotions.

At times, the weight of grief can feel insurmountable, and that's when leaning on others for support becomes crucial. You might consider seeking solace by connecting with a bereavement group or speaking with a counselor, as their guidance can help you navigate and process these complex emotions.

During this challenging journey, self-care becomes an essential component of healing. Here are some ways to nurture both your mind and body as you travel through the process of loss:

  • Engaging in physical activities like leisurely walks or gentle yoga, allowing your body to find moments of peace.
  • Journaling, providing a therapeutic outlet for your thoughts and emotions.
  • Maintaining a balanced diet and ensuring you stay well-hydrated, providing your body with the strength it needs.
  • Revisiting or discovering new hobbies, offering solace and distraction when you need it.
  • Connecting with supportive friends who can offer understanding and a comforting presence during this period of healing.

Remember, your journey through grief when someone dies is unique, and it's OK to seek support and comfort in whichever way feels most authentic to you.

Consider ways to honor and remember your loved one.

In the midst of your loss, there are heartfelt ways to continue honoring and cherishing the memory of your loved one, long after the funeral or other rites of passage have taken place:

  • Create a serene memorial space where family and friends can gather, sharing stories and reflecting on cherished memories of the deceased.
  • Consider establishing a scholarship, charity or fund in their name, not only preserving their legacy but also benefiting others in a meaningful way.
  • Embrace the therapeutic act of crafting art, personalized items or mementos using their belongings or photos, creating tangible touchstones that serve as comforting reminders. This can be a comforting way to cope with the loss of someone and is often done when someone dies. 
  • Collect precious stories, heartfelt letters and cherished photographs to craft a memory book, preserving the legacy and the warmth of their spirit.
  • Get involved in causes or organizations that your loved one was deeply passionate about or affiliated with, carrying forward their meaningful contributions.
  • Explore the idea of building a website or a social media page where friends and family can come together, sharing photos, stories and heartfelt messages.
  • Write a heartfelt letter to your loved one, expressing your deepest feelings about their presence and their passing, allowing your emotions to find solace and release.
  • In their honor, consider making charitable donations to organizations they supported, continuing their legacy of compassion and care, which is a meaningful way to remember someone who has passed away, and a common practice when someone dies.

Always remember, even in moments of grief, there is space for gratitude. Grief and thankfulness can coexist, providing a healing balance between mourning what we've lost and cherishing the beautiful moments you had together.  

Download a checklist of the tasks highlighted in this article to assist in maintaining organization when someone dies.

And to further realize that healing, remember that Amica offers the Empathy app, available free of charge to beneficiaries of our life insurance policyholders. This app provides comprehensive support throughout the journey of loss, including assistance with what to do when someone dies, funeral planning, estate settling and coping with grief.

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