Things to Know, What to Do When a Loved One Dies

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By Marc Levesque, senior resource case manager; Jessica Dakin, geriatric care program manager; and Michelle Wyman, certified dementia specialist, all with Hartford HealthCare Center for Healthy Aging

The death of a loved one is difficult and overwhelming. Experts at the Hartford HealthCare Center for Healthy Aging have created a guide to friends and families manage a loved one’s death.

Things to know or do before:

  • Know the location of the will, birth certificate, marriage (divorce) certificates, military discharge papers, Social Security information, life-insurance policies, pre-paid funeral services, financial documents, keys to safe deposit box/home safe and email/ social media accounts and passwords.
  • Ask the person’s wishes about funeral arrangements, organ donation, and burial or cremation.
  • Have the person complete an advance directive, including a living will, which specifies wanted and unwanted procedures. The person should also appoint a healthcare representative/proxy to make medical decisions if he or she becomes incapacitated.
  • If appropriate, consider a do-not-resuscitate order to be drawn up that tells healthcare professionals not to perform CPR if the person’s heart or breathing stops and restarting would not result in a meaningful life.
  • Make sure the person gives copies of the documents to their doctors and a few family members or friends. Take the documents to the hospital if the person is admitted.

What to do after a loved one dies:

Get a legal pronouncement of death. If your loved one died in a hospital, a doctor can take care of this for you. If he or she died while in hospice, call your hospice nurse. If your family member is at home, call 911.

Arrange for organ donation (if applicable). Check your loved one’s driver’s license and/or advance directive to see if he or she was an organ donor. If so, let hospital staff know immediately (or call a nearby hospital if your loved one died at home).

Notify close friends and family. Every family is different, and there’s no one right way to do this. For some families, sharing the news in-person or over the phone is critical. For others, an email or text message may be alright.

Decide what you’d like to do with your loved one’s body and arrange transportation. First, check to see if your loved one expressed any wishes about final disposition or had made prepayments to a funeral home or cemetery. If no wishes or plans have been stated, you have three main options:

  • Call a funeral home. A funeral home can help you arrange either a burial or cremation. It is recommended in checking reviews and prices for a few different funeral homes before making a decision, as both can vary widely.
  • Call a crematory. While you can arrange a cremation through a funeral home, there are also crematories that will work with you directly if you aren’t interested in the added services of a funeral director. A direct cremation through a crematory can be one-third of the cost of a direct cremation through a funeral home.
  • Call a full-body donation organization. Your loved one may have already registered to be a body donor so check for paperwork. If he or she hasn’t, there are still many programs that accept donations from next of kin. Many medical school programs rely on body donations and will cover most costs and coordinate with other research programs.

If the deceased was a veteran, notify the Veterans Administration (tel. 1.800.827.1000) to determine applicable benefits.

Arrange care for any pets or dependents. If your loved one was responsible for caring for people or pets, quickly find someone who can care for them temporarily while you figure out a long-term plan.

Call Social Security (1.800.772.1213) to notify them of the death (if the funeral home has not done so already).

Secure their property. If your loved one lived on their own, make sure his or her home and any vehicles are locked up. Remove any valuables. Arrange for ongoing property maintenance.

Notify the person’s employer. If the deceased was employed (or actively volunteering), call to let them know that your loved one has died. Determine any employment benefits like pay owed, life insurance policies, death benefits, pension plans and credit unions.

Ask the post office to forward mail. If the person lived alone, this will prevent mail from piling up and showing that the property is unoccupied. The mail may also help you identify bills that need to be paid and accounts that should be closed.

Obtain death certificates (usually from the funeral home or town hall in the town they died in). Get multiple copies (10-15); you’ll need them for financial institutions, government agencies, and insurers.

Consult with an attorney about probate (if necessary).

Notify any banks or mortgage companies. If you’re unsure of what accounts your loved one held, use their mail and any online accounts you have access to in order to identify what accounts may be open. Then, take copies of the death certificate to each bank and change ownership of the accounts.

Reach out to any financial advisors or brokers. Try to identify any additional financial and investment accounts that your loved one held. Work with each one to transfer ownership. You’ll likely need a death certificate for each account.

Notify life insurance companies. Fill out the claim form for any life insurance policies that the deceased had. Also, suggest to family who may have listed your loved one on their policies as a beneficiary to make the appropriate revisions.

Cancel all insurance policies. This could include health insurance, car insurance, homeowner’s insurance, etc. Depending on the policy, reach out to either the insurance company or your loved one’s employer to stop coverage. If the deceased was on Medicare, the Social Security office will inform them of the death, but if your loved one had Medicare Prescription Drug Coverage (Part D), a Medicare Advantage plan and/or a Medigap policy, you need to call each yourself to cancel.

Identify and pay important bills. Make a list of bills that are likely to be due (e.g. mortgage, car payments, electricity), and do your best to track them down via the person’s mail and online accounts. Set up a plan to ensure these bills continue to be paid on time.

Close credit card accounts. Leverage your loved one’s mail, wallet and any online accounts you have access to in order to identify open credit card accounts. For each one, you’ll likely need to call customer service and then email or mail a copy of the death certificate.

Notify credit reporting agencies. Provide copies of the death certificate to Experian, Equifax and TransUnion in order to minimize the chances of identity theft. It’s also a good idea to check your loved one’s credit history in another month or two to confirm that no new accounts have been opened.

Cancel the person’s driver’s license. This will also help to prevent identity theft. Go online or call your state’s DMV for instructions. Have a copy of the death certificate ready. Notify the local election board. This helps reduce the risk of voter fraud in your area.

Close email accounts. Once you feel confident that you have necessary information on other accounts, it’s a good idea to permanently close your loved one’s email accounts as an additional step to prevent fraud and identity theft. Every email provider has their own process, so do a quick online search to figure out the steps you need to take.

Contact a tax accountant (if necessary). You’ll need to file a return for both the individual and the estate.

Important Contact Information:

Department Of Veterans Affairs

1.800.827.1000

www.vba.va.gov

Social Security Administration

1.800.772.1213

www.ssa.gov/benefits/survivors

Credit Reporting Agencies:

EQUIFAX

1.800.685.1111

www.Equifax.com

Trans Union

1.800.888.4213

www.TransUnion.com

Experian

1.888.397.3742

www.Experian.com

Hartford HealthCare Center for Healthy Aging, a not-for-profit member of Hartford HealthCare Senior Services, is a resource and assessment program designed to enhance access to services and information related to attaining optimal quality of life for seniors and their caregivers. For more information about Hartford HealthCare Center for Healthy Aging, visit http://hhccenterforhealthyaging.org or call 877.4AGING1/ 877.424.4641.

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