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What to Do When a Loved One Dies: A Checklist from Funeral Advantage

Woman is packing things of her dead husbandWhen someone you love has died, the process of getting all of the paperwork together and planning the service can be overwhelming. What do you do first?

Who should you call?

Our checklist can help you with the decisions that need to be made before and after the funeral.

Before the funeral

Get help from friends and family

One of the most important things you can do is get help. No one should have to be alone during such an emotional time. Get someone to help you through this process. You may have to make the first few phone calls to relatives and friends, but then you should enlist those people’s help in calling others. You don’t need to carry this burden alone.

Friends and family can help you with the deceased’s belongings, such as taking care of any pets they have. If you didn’t live with the person who died, you’ll want to get help taking care of their home (watering plants, removing valuables, throwing food out, collecting mail, etc.).

These things may seem unimportant, but if someone doesn’t take care of them they can become a problem later on.

Honor their final wishes

Final wishes can be documented in a number of different ways. Most of the time, they are recorded separate from the deceased’s will or trust.

If you’re unsure about what your loved one’s final wishes are, check with other family members or close friends. Final wishes can include things like whether they’re an organ donor, whether they want to be cremated or buried, and other things like the music they want played at their funeral.

Set a budget for the service

Setting a budget for the funeral service is one of the best ways you can manage the high costs of funerals. This may seem difficult during a time of grief, but no one – especially not the person who has died – would want you to believe that bigger and more expensive is better.

The average cost of a funeral can be $9,000 or more. Caskets alone can cost thousands of dollars. This cost doesn’t include items like flowers, obituary notices, transportation costs, or burial markers.

It’s important to set your budget before contacting any funeral homes. Not all funeral homes will operate with your best interest in mind. For example, most funeral homes only showcase their most expensive caskets. But most of the time they have less expensive caskets available. They can even use caskets bought from third-party distributors. Buying outside of the funeral home can save you hundreds – or thousands – of dollars.

Select a funeral home

If you already have a funeral home selected, call and tell them that your loved one has died. They will help you set up an appointment to make the necessary arrangements. If you don’t have a funeral home in mind, ask a friend or relative for recommendations. If you have a church, your clergy may also be able to make suggestions for you.

When selecting a funeral home, it’s important to spend time researching your options. Costs will vary from one funeral home to another depending on the services provided. Funeral homes can give you pricing information over the phone, making the research a lot easier.


Gather all important documents

Over the next several weeks, you’ll need to send copies of various documents to a variety of people in order to start making your loved one’s final arrangements. These documents include:

  • Information in a safe deposit box or safe – This might include birth certificates, marriage or divorce certificates, military discharge papers, a will, property deeds, vehicle titles, financial or retirement account records, IRS returns, other legal documents and insurance policies. If you don’t know whether one exists, contact the bank of the deceased.


  • The death certificate – This document will be used the most. Make sure you get multiple copies and keep them somewhere safe. In the coming days, you’ll need these as you contact creditors, banks, government agencies, and insurance companies.


  • The probate or will – If you don’t know whether one exists, ask other family members. If your loved one had a lawyer, he or she can let you know about any important documents.


  • Any life insurance policies – You’ll want to contact the insurance company as soon as possible so they can start their claim process. Depending on the provider, it could take weeks for you to get the death benefit from the policy. You may need to fill out additional paperwork to allow them to order the deceased’s medical records.


  • Record of military service – This is important if you desire a military component in the funeral. Military Funeral Honors are a free benefit to any veteran (except in the instance of a dishonorable discharge). This can include an honor guard, the folding and presenting of an American flag, and the playing of Taps. Learn more about funeral planning for veterans.

A record of service is also important in order to claim any benefits for the surviving spouse. Depending on the circumstances of a veteran’s death, benefits can include pension, insurance, home loans or housing assistance, health care, employment services and more. Check the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs website for more information.

Planning the funeral

Decide on arrangements

Making arrangements at the funeral home can be the most overwhelming responsibility of all if you don’t know the deceased’s final wishes. Some of the main decisions you’ll be making include:

  • Whether your loved one will be cremated or buried
  • Whether there will be viewing or a visitation
  • How the funeral service will be conducted
  • Whether there will be a procession to a cemetery

In addition, you’ll make arrangements for flowers, transportation, music, and whether there will be a reception afterwards. In all cases, having a close relative or friend help you with the decisions can make the process a lot easier.

Write the obituary

Obituaries include basic facts about the deceased’s life and are often written by family members or close friends. The obituary can be handed out at the service, printed in a newspaper, or posted online.

After the funeral

Some important things that need to be done after the funeral include:


  • Cancel (or transfer into your name or estate) any credit cards, gym memberships, bank accounts and cell phone accounts
  • Stop any deliveries such as newspapers, home-meal services, and nurse visits
  • Go to the post office to stop or forward mail
  • Collect the special lump-sum death payment from the federal government. Generally, the lump-sum is paid to the surviving spouse (or child if there’s no eligible spouse).
  • If you are the spouse of the deceased, you should apply for any benefits you are eligible for such as pension benefits, any company-related benefits, and any government benefits.
  • Start making plans for how to handle the deceased’s estate.

Next steps

Losing a loved one is overwhelming, especially if it happens suddenly. There are literally hundreds of decisions that need to be made, all in a very short period of time.

Families are often left unprepared to handle all of the logistics of handling the deceased’s estate and planning the funeral. Most importantly, they aren’t prepared for how much the funeral will cost.

Funeral costs have been rising steadily over the last decade. Without the proper guidance, families can emotionally overspend by hundreds or thousands of dollars.