What to Do First When a Family Member Dies [Checklist]

When someone close to you dies, there are several things that will need to be taken care of immediately or within days. Just as importantly, not everything is urgent. Here’s what to do first when a family member dies:

  1. Have the death pronounced.

    You’ll need to have an official pronounce the death before you can arrange for a funeral or cremation. If death happens in a hospital, nursing home, or under hospice care, the nurses and doctors will take care of this. Sometimes a death may be pronounced at the scene of an accident. If the person dies at home, the process is a little different.

  2. Authorize organ or body donation.

    If your family member wanted to donate their organs or their body and they died in hospital, make sure the doctors and nurses know. They’ll let you know what happens next. If arrangements were made to donate the body for medical science, contact the institution.

  3. Call immediate family.

    Call immediate family first, in case they want to say goodbye in person.

  4. Observe any cultural or religious rituals

    If you want to perform any religious or sacred rituals, do those now, too.

  5. Locate important papers and review final wishes.

    Find the will or trust, military service records, the deed to burial property, and a copy of funeral or cremation pre-arrangement contracts.

  6. Arrange for transportation.

    If no autopsy is needed, the funeral home or cremation service can arrange for the removal of the body. If the family member died away from home, the process is more involved (start with an online search for “funeral shipping” or “how to repatriate a body”.)

  7. Arrange for pet or child care.

    Make plans for any pets or children that need immediate care. Consider whether their primary caregiver will need any relief in the next few days and set it up.

  8. Start making arrangements for cremation or burial.

    Check the papers to see if there is any guidance on how the family member wanted to be remembered and whether they wanted a funeral or a memorial service. Consult with family members to choose

  9. Consult the calendar.

    If the family member was employed, contact their employer or business partner(s). If they had appointments or meetings scheduled, contact those people as well. If the person was recieving in-home care, you may also need to call off any caregivers scheduled to come to the home.

  10. Secure the home.

    If the family member’s home will be empty, take out the garbage and empty the fridge. Lock the garage, doors, and secure personal property. You may also need to cancel newspaper subscriptions and arrange for mail forwarding so the mailbox.

  11. Notify friends and family.

    When you’re ready, start telling others about the death. Consider carefully when and how to share on social networks, and communicate your preferences when you make calls to friends and other family members.

I’m sorry you’re going through this. If I missed something, let me know and together we can help make this a little easier for others.

Take Care,

Karen Purze

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Karen Purze

About the Author

Karen Purze

Karen Purze is the author of Life In Motion: A Guide for Gathering Life’s Vital Details, a workbook to help people get their affairs in order. She blogs about end-of-life and emergency planning at lifeinmotionguide.com.

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