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What To Do Following a Death

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dealing with death is hard and know what to do when someone dies is extremely importantThe days and weeks following death are extremely difficult.  Time does not stand still so you can catch your breath after the shock of the death itself.  In fact, it takes off.  There is so much to do in such a short period of time.  It helps to know what to expect and what to do following a death.   You have probably already read the expanded and final care article.  This section is designed to provide you with another layer of insight.  But it can be emotional to consider the contents.  If you are not prepared to read my recommendations regarding decisions and planning following death, you may not want to read further.  You can always stop reading at any time and return later.

Eulogy – it is better to write a eulogy, if you plan to, prior to death.  It is hard to concentrate, remember what you wanted to say, and can be overly emotional.  You may choose to get someone else to read your eulogy during the memorial service.  I knew my emotions would take over so was thrilled when one of my son’s offered to read my eulogy.  He was so strong.  It was difficult for him but he really wanted to do it for me and his Granddad.  Another option is to ask your minister or a family friend to help.

Songs, singer, musician, literature (bible verses, poem, other favorite reading) – it is a good idea to make some of these decisions before death.  Remembering details and considering your options can be difficult when you are emotional and distracted.  However, you may want to have a back-up identified as well.  Since you will not know there availability to support your schedule, the desired person or persons may not be able to provide services at the needed time.

Accounts – ownership better as husband or wife to minimize impact from death).  House deed, car deed, saving and checking accounts, and investment accounts are examples of where the use of OR is of benefit on the account.  Make sure credit cards, cable television, telephone, cell phone, utilities, internet, car insurance, and any other personal account no longer have your loved one’s name as the owner.  My mom had them all put in her name well before Dad passed which made the transition process much easier.  Read more in the legal section of Seniorstring.  Each company may or may not need a death certificate.

Will – the estate has to go through probate if there is no will.  However basic, it will serve you well to have a will.  You can use an attorney and there is software you can use to generate a will.  It should still be notarized and filed.

Plot –  if you do not already have a plot, you might want to consider buying one (or two if you are a couple and would like to be buried beside one another) before there is a death.  You can then have the time to make a more educated and logical decision.  If more than one plot who on which side.  There is traditional and non-traditional. Cemeteries will have their own positional guidelines but it is usual for the feet to point east.

Financial advisor – can help get name changes, as needed, to your accounts.  Most organizations require an original death certificate.  Can help you determine how to invest/use life insurance funding.  May also discuss adjustments to existing investments based on new circumstances.  Your financial advisor can also help you get accounts set up for ease of transition upon death.  I strongly suggest you speak with a reputable advisor prior to death.

Funeral home – If you already know what funeral home will be used, a funeral plan can be generated and submitted to them well before death.   Once the funeral home has been notified of the death, they will come and get your loved one.  It was suggested we leave the room while they prepared Dad for transport.  It can be very emotional to see them wrap and move the body.  Funeral homes will usually work with you if you need financing to pay your bill.  They will ask for payment.  If you put the cost on a credit card, you may be able to get any life insurance payouts prior to the card’s payment is due.

At the time of death – call hospice (if you are using their services) and they will contact the doctor and the funeral home.  Our funeral home was very prompt.  Although it was in the evening timeframe, they were at our home to pick Dad up in less than an hour.  If you are not using a service or have not already preplanned with a funeral home, call the local coroner.

Obituary – What people want to say in their obituary is a personal thing.  But know that you can put as much as you want.  We basically used a summary of all the things he did and cared about during his life.  And I have to say we received so many wonderful comments about the obituary.  People Dad had not even seen in twenty years but with whom he shared some of these experiences, came to see him at the funeral home.  Had we used a basic born, died, and remaining family member format, these individuals may not have even realized Dad was the man they once knew.  You do have to pay by the word to have the obituary in the paper.  And that is one reason people use the basic format.  But realize you do have the choice should you want to do more.

Minister or service director – It would be a good idea to check with your minister or service director prior to making a decision on the day and time of your service or submitting an obituary.  Other obligations may limit their availability.   The minister or director will help you step through the process of setting up a service and generating a program.

SSA – you need to report a death to the Social Security Administration.  It was necessary to go to the office with an original death certificate.  The SSA is often associated with large wait times.  At our office there is a check in process where you select the reason for your visit.  In doing so, we bypassed the individuals waiting for common SSA services and were called for service within 15 minutes.  Be sure not to assume you have to wait for everyone else.  Let someone know why you are there and perhaps you will not have to wait very long.

Probate – best to prevent any part of the estate from going through probate.  It can take months and you will lose money.  The last thing you want is to give a large portion of your estate, i.e. money, to the government.  But the fees will add up and that is exactly what will happen unless you plan.  You also don’t want our loved ones to wait months or years to receive a penny.  That also could happen if your estate has to go through probate.  Find out more about avoiding probate at http://www.legalzoom.com/planning-your-estate/estate-planning-basics/top-three-ways and http://www.understand-estate-planning.com/avoid-probate.html.

Death certificates – we were advised to get numerous original death certificates.  At the time we calculated the need for nine but decided to get some extra just in case.  And it is a good thing that we did.  We needed 14.  More can be obtained later but to expedite the transition process, having them readily available was a huge plus.

Life insurance – It is suggested you notify your life insurance agent there has been a death right away.  It can take them some time to get the funds to you. Some companies have their death notification forms online but others will have to mail them to you.  They will need an original death certificate as well.  Once you add processing time into the equation it can take weeks, not days.

Sign in book – funeral homes often sell most of the extra items you might want for the memorial service and funeral.  But we found them to be more expensive, and less variety, than you can buy elsewhere.  We bought our guestbook at Michael’s Hobby store.  Hobby Lobby had some too.

Thank you cards – funeral homes often sell most of the extra items you might want for the memorial service and funeral.  But we found them to be more expensive, and less variety, than you can buy elsewhere.  We bought our thank you cards at Hobby Lobby.

List of food, flowers, memorials, other – have someone help write down the names and gift/assistance people provide so that you can send them a thank you note later.  With the distraction, emotions, and large number of people who wish to help in your time of need, there is no way to keep up with the list otherwise.

Pallbearers – this decision sounds easy but my mom had a hard time trying to decide.  We ended up having several honorary pallbearers.  Use of honorary pallbearers is the perfect solution for those who are not physically capable to helping to carry the casket but would like the honor.  Identify six people, whom you would like to honor and have the physical strength to help carry the casket.  The funeral home said they do not typically put the names of pallbearers in the program.  This actually caused confusion at Dad’s memorial service.  People were not sure who was honorary and who was a primary pallbearer.  They were not sure when to enter or where to sit.  I would suggesting having the names added and getting the funeral home to provide direction to honorary vs main pallbearers.  The casket and your loved one generate quite a load.  My son has been a pallbearer more than once and he found Dad’s casket to be the heaviest by far.  Dad has gotten extremely thin in the weeks prior to his death since he had stopped eating so the weight could only be attributed to the casket itself.  His casket was wooden so perhaps a wooden casket is heavier than other choices.  But it was a BEAUTIFUL casket.

Flowers – flowers can be expensive.  Typical options are a drape for the coffin and two side arrangements.  You can opt for plants on the side, which can be brought home, and greenery for the coffin, which is much less expensive but still very attractive.  We bought stem roses for family to place on the coffin at the graveside ceremony and buried with Dad.  Of course you do not need to buy any flowers or greenery.  Chances are people will send flowers or plants which can be used for decorations.  And churches and the funeral home may have arrangements you can borrow.

Burial – when selecting a day and time it is recommended to consider the schedule of those who would like to attend.  Holidays, work, out of towners, minister/service director availability, singer/musician availability, and church availability are some examples of what you should consider.

Vault or no vault – some areas do not require vault.  The vault itself prevents the earth from sinking over time and helps preserve the casket.

Call list – some people will want to be notified when death occurs.  This can allow them time to plan travel, provide emotional and physical support as needed, and may serve as a point person for distributed word to others.

Jewelry – if you plan to keep special jewelry for yourself and/or other loved ones, you might consider replacement of the jewelry with a less expensive option.  It may be important to you for your loved one to be buried with replacements for special jewelry, such as a wedding ring, so the feeling of being tied together is maintained.

Burial outfit – the funeral home asked us for an outfit that included underclothes but no shoes.

Anxiety medication – Talk with your doctor about potential medication to help you get though the days and weeks ahead.

Accommodations for visitors – not necessarily a good idea to have many people staying at you home unless you know for certain they will be taking care of you vs the other way around.  The last thing you need to do is worry about feeding and trying to maintain a schedule for others.

Memorial service – the typical service lasts approximately 45 minutes.  Ours ran close to an hour and the police were pushing us to our cars to leave.  Most everyone missed the graveside service because they missed the procession and did not know exactly where the burial plot was located.

Headstone – you do not have to buy from a local merchant.  Many large companies have regional representatives but may product the product elsewhere.  It can take some time to get the headstone placed at the cemetery.  The company we used quoted between 4 and 5 months.  For large cemeteries you may want to take note of some landmarks to help you quickly find your plot when returning for visits.  This is especially true early on when the gravestone has not yet arrived.