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First 10 Things to Do When Your Parent Dies

Donna is a freelance writer who uses her personal experiences to guide others through life's changes.

A list of the first 10 things to do when a parent dies.

A list of the first 10 things to do when a parent dies.

What to Do When Your Parent Dies

Losing a loved one is always difficult. It is natural and healthy to take time to grieve, however, there are some administrative and personal tasks that need to be done shortly after your loved one's passing. This article sets out some items that should be handled or considered after losing a parent or close family member. Knowing what things need to be done will lessen the stress of the situation and help you to move forward.

1. Contact a Funeral Home or Mortuary

The order that you tackle the items in this article doesn't really matter, except this first topic. Hopefully, your loved one had already made their final arrangements. Whether these pre-arrangements are in place or not, the first thing you should do is contact a funeral home or mortuary. They will help you make all the necessary arrangements for collecting and preparing your loved one and planning the funeral service.

The funeral home or mortuary also handles two important tasks: They do the initial paperwork to create the death certificate and they will report the death to the Social Security Administration. You can also get copies of the death certificate from the funeral home, which you will need for some of the items below.

If you have a family religious leader, this person can also be a great resource and support through making final arrangements.

2. Notify Doctors and Medical Insurance

Depending on the circumstances of your loved one's passing, their primary doctor might already know of the death. If not, you should contact their primary care physician, along with any other doctors, to inform them of the news.

You should also inform their dentist, eye doctor, and anyone else that they might have appointments with in order to close their files.

You should also notify whoever administers their medical insurance of your family member's death. Tell them to stop their medical insurance so that you don't have to make any more payments on the coverage.

3. Tell Friends, Family, and Neighbors

Notifying friends might be one of the most difficult tasks after losing a loved one. There was a time when you could assume that people would see an obituary in the newspaper, but not anymore. You can share the news on social media, but if you want certain people to know about your loss, you will probably need to contact them directly. Consider creating a list of the people who should be told, and split the list between family members or friends to contact. Ask people in your social circle to spread the news to others.

4. Purchase a Burial Plot or Make Plans for the Ashes

Depending on your family member's final arrangements, you may need a burial plot. Hopefully, your loved one has already bought a plot. If so, the funeral home should contact the cemetery to make arrangements for the burial. If your loved one does not already have a burial plot, the funeral home can help you select and purchase one.

If cremation was preferred, you'll need to decide what to do with the ashes. You may need to purchase an urn to hold them.

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5. Write an Obituary

The funeral home or mortuary can write the obituary for your loved one if you want, but you will need to provide personal information for the obituary to be written. They will also submit the obituary to newspapers if you choose (note: most newspapers charge to print obituaries in their papers). If you don't want the obituary in print, most funeral homes will post obituaries, along with a photo of your loved one, on their website for free. You can then share this link with family, friends, and on social media.

6. Contact the Social Security Administration

Although the funeral home or mortuary informs the Social Security Administration of the death of your loved one, you will also need to contact Social Security to claim additional benefits. The Social Security Administration grants a one-time death benefit to the spouse or dependent of the deceased (in 2022, this death benefit was $255). The Social Security office will also tell you if the spouse or dependent of your loved one is entitled to any of their social security benefits.

7. Contact Their Life Insurance and Pension Company

You will need to find out if your family member had life insurance and/or a pension. These companies will need to be informed, and will require a copy of the death certificate, in order to pay out benefits or move coverage to a beneficiary.

8. Administer Will and Personal Property

If your loved one left a will, you should probably contact a lawyer to see if the estate will need to go to probate. Probate is the legal process in which a will is reviewed to determine if it is valid and how the estate will be settled. If there is no will, you should contact a lawyer to help settle the estate.

If your family member was married and owned any real estate, you will want to check the deed to see that their spouse is listed as a co-owner. You will also want to confirm that the spouse is listed on the home insurance. If not, you will need to start the process of adding their names to the deed and insurance.

9. Contact Banks, Retirement Account Provider, and Investment Managers

Financial matters can be difficult to understand and know how to handle. However after your loved one passes, you will need to contact their bank and retirement or investment brokers if applicable. All of these entities will need to be inform and will require copies of a death certificate to settle these accounts and move the holdings to the beneficiaries.

10. Notify Credit Card Companies, Utilities, and Other Ongoing Bills

You will need to notify all the billing companies of your family member's death. Depending on the circumstances, some of these accounts, like utilities and car insurance, can be moved into the spouse or dependent's name. Credit card companies will often close an account immediately upon notification of your family member's passing if there isn't another name on the account.

Other Tasks

There are a number of other tasks that might also need to be handled.

  • You might need to choose and purchase a gravestone for your loved one.
  • There will probably outstanding bills that will need to be settled.
  • You will probably need to disperse or dispose of some personal items of your family member.
  • You might need to sell a home, car, or other property.

The tasks listed above will vary depending on your family's situation. Take each one of these tasks in its own time and let other people help you in this process. Most importantly, take care of yourself and be sure to allow time to grieve.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2022 Donna Herron

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