What To Do When A Parent Dies

Things Families Need To Tend To After The Loss Of A Parent

There is little as heart-wrenching as having to deal with a death in the family. It can be quite a sad and confusing time, but knowing what to do next can make things a little bit easier to cope with.

For example, you might be wondering what you should do first, and which things can wait a little longer. When and how do you begin to make funeral arrangements? Do they have pets or any other young children that need to be moved to a different place of care? Keep your questions in mind and follow along as we address each task in the order they should be done.

Tasks To Attend To Immediately After Loss

There are a few things you will need to address immediately following the death of a parent. In these difficult times, there are some tasks that must be done which are time sensitive. Read on to learn which things should be attended to right away.

GET A LEGAL PRONOUNCEMENT OF DEATH

This is the first thing that should be done after a parental death has happened. If a doctor is present, they can make the pronouncement of death. A nurse can also make the pronouncement in some states.

If the death occurs at home rather than in a hospital, and with no hospice care, you will need to call 911 so they can make the legal call.

GET A DEATH CERTIFICATE

As you may be corresponding with banks and any other accounts the deceased was associated with, it’s a good idea to get around 20 certified copies of their death certificate.

You will need a certified copy for each significant asset they might’ve had which need a transfer of ownership like homes, vehicles, property, and any bank accounts.

You might want to check which companies require certified copies before buying them—they can get expensive quickly, and some companies you have to deal with may only require photocopies of the death certificate.

NOTIFY THE REST OF THE FAMILY

The next step you will need to take is notifying anyone else in the family of the death of parent. This is important for a few reasons: firstly, someone else in your family may be able to help you take care of the funeral and any other necessary parts of the process.

Secondly, it gives them ample time to begin the grieving process. The sooner they can start, the more quickly they can move on from their suffering.

MEET WITH THE FAMILY ATTORNEY

Next, you will have to meet with your family attorney and start working through your parent’s last will testament and trust, if applicable, that they left behind.

They can work with you to help you make sense of a lot of the legal matters involved after a death in the family has occurred.


Wills vs Trusts - What is the difference?

You may be wondering what the differences are between a will and a trust. A will is where you will find the details of your parent’s final wishes including their desire to be either cremated or buried; if cremated it should indicate if and where they would like their ashes to be spread; and organ donation, etc. Alternatively, a trust is a much more specific document which specifies exactly how one’s final wishes are to be funded.

Read along for more details on each type of document.

Last Will & Testament

A will, also known as a testamentary will, is a document that is legally enforceable and which specifies how someone would like their assets distributed after they die.

It can also be used to appoint guardianship for any remaining dependents after one’s passing. If this isn’t specified, the deceased’s loved ones will have to seek help from a probate court for guardian appointment.

There are some drawbacks to using a will. For example, your will automatically becomes a part of the public record, and therefore anything left through a will must go through a probate court.

Probate attorneys are often expensive, yet unavoidable in these circumstances.

Trust

Like a will, a trust also is a means of transferring an estate to any heirs. The difference though, is that it can actually skip the whole probate court process. It gives another party the authority to handle your assets for the benefit of a third party.

Trusts fall into two main categories—testamentary and living. There is also a kind of trust called a revocable living trust, which is focused on simply avoiding the probate process.

A revocable living trust is created while the trustor, or property owner is alive. It can also be changed as long as the trustor is still alive, which is where the ‘revocable’ part of the name comes from. Once the document is established, there are no fees, and the estate can be passed on quite seamlessly after one’s death.

Something to keep in mind with a trust: it must include the trustor, trustee, successor trustee, and the trust beneficiaries.

Keep these documents and your parent’s final wishes in mind when executing the steps following their passing away. If you find the details about these documents difficult to understand, it would be a good idea to speak with an advisor who can clear up any confusion for you.

ARRANGEMENTS FOR THE BODY

The next steps to follow when a parent has died involve getting any arrangements for the body taken care of. If you are not your loved one’s executor, you will need to consult the executor of their will to find out the final wishes of the deceased.

Some of the arrangements you will have to sort out include transportation of the body to the funeral home, finding out whether your family member was an organ donor, and getting them fingerprinted.

Organ Donation

This is a vital step to be overseen immediately after your parent’s death because the body’s organs will only be viable for so long afterward. Check whether your loved one is an organ donor by looking on their driver’s license or in a medical directive.

If they have specified that they would like to donate organs, and they haven’t passed away in a hospital, contact the nearest one immediately. They will need to move quickly in order to carry out their wishes.


Transportation To Funeral Home

First you will need to determine the funeral wishes of the deceased, specified in their will. If they wanted to have a traditional funeral, and they died in the city they’d like to be buried, then the process would be pretty straightforward. However, in the case they were in a different city or country when they died, it could be slightly more complicated.

You will need to arrange to have the body transported to the funeral home from where they were when they died. If they passed away in another country, it will be more complicated and can get quite expensive to have them brought home.

You can do so by contacting the U.S. Consulate where they died, and they will assist you with any forms needed to process the transfer.


Fingerprinting

This will usually be taken care of by the funeral home. If you would like to have a fingerprint of the deceased made into a jewelry keepsake, you can contact them to obtain the fingerprint records.

Here are a few ideas for ways you could commemorate the life and memory of your parent or other loved one who has passed away: you can have their fingerprint engraved onto fingerprint jewelry like a memorial thumbprint keychain or a thumbprint engraved necklace pendant.

You can even have it engraved on a ring for an especially unique and special keepsake.

ARRANGE CARE FOR ANY DEPENDENTS

Any dependents your parent or family member may have left behind will need to be cared for, and the arrangements of which made as quickly and efficiently as possible. Anyone else your parent was caring for before their death will need to be placed into a temporary home, and then a permanent home as needed. Search for final wishes indicated in the will of the deceased which specify with whom they would like their dependents to be placed with in this situation.

A temporary home, unless otherwise indicated by the deceased, would likely be that of someone who lives conveniently close and ideally who the dependent is familiar with.

A permanent home for the dependent, if not specified in your parent’s will, would preferably be family or close friends who have a comfortable and stable lifestyle that would fit the dependent’s needs.

Gather as much helpful information as you can in order to make the temporary transition as easy on the dependents as possible. Include any relevant information such as:

  • Their health records
  • Their mental health status
  • Any personality quirks they might have
  • The diet they are accustomed to
  • Any dietary restrictions
  • Schooling information if the dependent is still in school

ARRANGE CARE FOR ANY PETS

Don’t forget about the pets! They can sometimes be an afterthought when someone has died, unfortunately, but finding and bringing them into someone else’s care is a very time-sensitive objective that must not be forgotten.

Find A Caregiver

First, you will want to check with the executor of your parent or family member’s will, if you are not the executor yourself, to see whether they had specified a temporary or permanent caregiver for their pets upon their death.

If no one has been specified in any documentation, you will have to ask around amongst the family members to find anyone who might be able and willing to take them in until a permanent home is found for them.

Determine The Pet's Routine

If you don’t already know the pet’s routine, search any available documents left behind to find whether the deceased had written down any details regarding their pet’s care. You will need to provide this information for the pet’s temporary and permanent caregivers.

Some details you will need to know include:

  • the pet’s veterinary information (the name, contact information, and address)
  • their health records and vaccinations
  • any medications they are on
  • the details of those medication requirements (how often they must be given it, ways it can be administered more easily, etc.)
  • You will also need to find out the food they typically eat, the quantity they eat, and also how often they should be fed.

SECURE MAJOR PROPERTY

Finally, you will need to make sure any of your parent’s major property is secure. This includes homes, vehicles, and anything else they owned with major value. You can call the landlord and/or the local police to let them know in the case that the home will be completely vacant.

Make sure to call the non-emergency line when calling the police regarding this matter. It might also be a good idea to notify their neighbors of the vacancy.

Tasks Needing Attention In The Next Couple Of Days

Now that the more time-sensitive matters have been handled, you will need to look ahead a little farther and manage things like the funeral arrangements, mail forwarding, etc.

It can feel quite overwhelming having to focus on such detailed tasks at a time like this, but the more you can knock off your list now, the less you will have to stress about in the coming weeks.

Of course, if you genuinely feel that the workload is too much, enlist the help of other family members who might be able to step in and lighten your load a little.

FUNERAL & MEMORIAL SERVICES

This is something that shouldn’t be done by one person alone. If there are other close family members around, see if you can have them help you with the funeral planning. You can also elect to enlist the help of an outside funeral planning service if everybody simply has too much on their plates.

You will first need to search for any funeral instructions or final wishes your parent might have left behind. If this is not specified in their will, you and their other close family members will have to decide some of the following details:

This can be written by you or another family member, and can be published online or in a local newspaper. This could also be a part of a package deal you negotiate with the funeral home, and handled by them for free.

Make sure to include anything the deceased might have written regarding their obituary in their final will. If you are writing their obituary, be sure to include any services they did for their community.

Try to remember all the people who would’ve been most affected positively by their presence. Make sure it’s a beautiful send-off representing their life and acts, and how they impacted those around them. Read more about how to write an outstanding obituary.

Finalize Funeral Details

Meet with the director of the funeral home of your choice to get the plans going. They will be able to answer any questions you might have about the funeral or memorial service.

If you are having a funeral for your parent, you need to make a few selections with regards to the service such as a printed pamphlet, flowers, the casket, pallbearers, music, and anyone you would like to speak there.

It can feel overwhelming to have to make such tedious decisions at a time like this, but try to keep perspective of the meaning the service will have for everyone involved, and make it special (while remaining realistic about what is affordable with your budget).

Remember Religious Aspects

With this question, your main consideration should be the character of the person who has passed away. Were they religious, spiritual, or neither? If they weren’t religious, it wouldn’t make sense to incorporate any symbols, headstone carvings, bible passage readings, or anything similar into the funeral/memorial.

In their death, make sure their service appropriately reflects their beliefs and values that they held in life.

Decide On Embalming Or Cremation

Had your parent ever talked about what they might prefer between cremation or burial? It’s a difficult decision when not explicitly expressed by the parent prior to the death, but it can be figured out with some discussion.

With embalming, you must now opt for an open or closed casket. The cause of death may steer this decision one way or the other. If the body isn’t suitable for viewing for any reason, or if it simply isn’t the kind of experience you’d like the funeral attendees to have, you can always opt for a closed casket funeral.

Select A Burial Site

Is there a specific cemetery that would make more sense? Are some of their other deceased family members buried in a cemetery already? Is most of the still-living family located in one city, where it would therefore make the most sense for them to be buried?

All of these are points to keep in mind when you are deciding your parent’s final resting place.

Make Headstone Selection

For this decision, it’s best to consider both budget and the kind of person your parent was. The design of the headstone or urn should represent their personality since it will become the focal point for the grieving process of their loved ones. Choose from lawn memorials, kerb sets, memorial ledgers, and more.

You can even opt to have their ashes buried in a cemetery if the family members agree they’d all like somewhere to visit. You will also need to decide between various materials available to create your headstone. Learn about all your options when choosing a headstone for your parent here.

Choose A Headstone Inscription

You and your close family members should come up with the inscriptions you’d like on the headstone as well. This will depend greatly on whether your parent was religious, and what kind of person they were in general.

If they weren’t religious or even spiritual, it wouldn’t make sense to have a passage or reference from the bible on their headstone. If this is the case, try to pick a quote that meant a lot to them.

Choose a saying they lived their life principles on, or even just a few words that you and the rest of your family feel reflect the kind of person they were the most accurately, and that they would truly love.

Keeping Or Sharing Cremated Ashes

As you likely knew your parent well, think back to any places that meant a great deal to them. That way, you should be able to narrow down an area they might like their ashes to be spread.

Alternatively, you may decide to keep all or some of the ashes in the urn and in your home. If you have siblings, you may decide to split the ashes up evenly amongst you.

A great way to hold and memorialize their ashes is via cremation jewelry like these beautiful options. This is the best way to split ashes between you and a few other people because the jewelry actually allows you to take a bit of your loved one around with you anywhere you go.

Organize A Post Service Reception

Those closest to the deceased may want to spend time after the service with others who knew them best, especially if there are family members or friends traveling from another state or country. An event post funeral will give friends and family a chance to reflect on your parent’s life and reminisce on their favorite memories and pastimes with them.

It can be made into a celebration of their life, and those who attend can pay tribute to your family member by telling stories and smiling in their memory. Suggest that everyone who is local bring a dish of food to be shared.

Consider Favors For Guests

Memorial favors would be an excellent way for the mourning attendees of the funeral to remember the service, and your beloved parent, forever.

Instead of only leaving them with the funeral service pamphlet which might have a photo of the deceased on the front, leave a basket of special photo engraved jewelry for every mourner.

There are different options—you could elect to give everyone a pendant to hang on their rearview mirrors in their cars, necklaces, and even wallet cards that are engraved with your parent’s photo.

HAVE THE POST OFFICE FORWARD THEIR MAIL

Make sure to have their mail forwarded either to your house or someone else’s that was close to them. This is essential to remember, as you don’t want it to start piling up at their home.

Another benefit of doing this as soon as possible is that it could also help you keep track of which accounts they were associated with. There will inevitably be quite a few accounts that need to be maintained following their passing.

Tasks To Attend To In The Upcoming Weeks

It may have felt like a whirlwind getting everything squared away in the first few days after your parent’s passing. Luckily, the rest of the tasks can wait slightly longer than the first few that follow their death. However, you still don’t want to delay this next task.

The general idea at this point in the process after your parent’s death is to maintain your parent’s estate and ensure that identity theft and fraud are prevented. While you don’t necessarily have to rush into the following items, they are no less important to tackle as soon as you can.

START THE PROBATE PROCESS

If your parent has left a will behind, the executor of the will chooses an attorney that can handle the probate process. In the case that a will was not created, the probate court will appoint an administrator that can handle the estate inventory and the rest of the probate process requirements.

In the case there is a trust, the assets will need to have been transferred to the trust prior to their passing. If they weren’t then those assets will be subject to a full-fledged probate process in court.

CONTACT SOCIAL SECURITY

This is best done within a month of your parent’s passing. The reason is that any checks they were receiving that may have been sent after their death will need to be paid back. Another reason they should be contacted is that if there is a surviving spouse, they might be eligible for increased benefits.

Sometimes, the funeral director does this part for you. Check with the funeral director you are working with to see whether they have already contacted Social Security. If not, this is the next item to be checked off your list.

REVIEW BILLS TO BE PAID

Make a consolidated list of accounts and monthly bills to make it a little less stressful. Any mortgage bills are particularly important to pay attention to.

Don’t forget about utility bills, either—contact the utility companies and stop service, or transfer to another name. If you are not the executor of your parent’s will, then you can send them all to the executor or administrator to ensure they get paid as needed.

INSURANCE COMPANIES

It’s important to take the necessary steps of closing out any insurance policies your loved one might have had. Make sure you don’t leave any out—try to remember every possible thing they might be insured for. This will make certain that unnecessary bills do not simply pile up at your parent’s home. The sooner these policies are closed out, the less complicated it will be.

Health Insurance

You will need to notify your parent’s health insurance company, or their employer to end the coverage policy. Make sure that any dependents are still covered as needed.

Life Insurance

Similarly, if they had a life insurance policy, you should contact the policy carrier to begin filling out the claim forms. Most of them will require a certified copy of your parent’s death certificate.

Other Insurance

Don’t forget any other insurance policies they might have been carrying like homeowners, auto, or renter’s insurance. These companies should also be notified of their death.

NOTIFY BANKS, MORTGAGE COMPANIES & ACCOUNTANT

Make sure you contact any mortgage companies, banks, finance companies, and any other creditors your parent was associated with. You can either have the accounts closed, or you can transfer the ownership. For this, you will also need a copy of the death certificate in the case that you don’t have a joint account with them.

As an accountant often handles the responsibility of consolidating lots of financial records, it’s important to make them aware of their client’s passing away. They can help you or the executor of the deceased to make sure their taxes are properly paid.

CANCEL THEIR DRIVER'S LICENSE

You also need to make sure that their driver’s license is cancelled. You can do this by having a copy of your parent’s death certificate sent to their local department of motor vehicles. Ensuring that their name is removed from the DMV’s records helps to decrease the risk of identity theft.

NOTIFY CREDIT CARDS & CREDIT BUREAUS

To close any accounts your parent held with credit card companies, make sure to contact them within a few weeks of their passing. If they have any cards with outstanding debt, make sure to notify the administrator in charge of handling such things.

To alert the credit bureaus, send a death certificate of the deceased. Be sure to send one to each of the following three credit bureaus in order to evade identity theft. For this, you should only need photocopies.

  • Experian:  PO BOX 4500, Allen, TX. 75013; Tel. 1-888-397-3742
  • TransUnion:  PO Box 2000, Chester, PA 19022; Tel. 1-800-680-7289
  • Equifax:  PO Box 105139, Atlanta, GA 30348; Tel. 1-888-766-0008

CANCEL EMAIL & SOCIAL MEDIA ACCOUNTS

Unless you have plans to use their email to tie up any necessary loose ends, contact the administrator of their email account and any other online accounts they might have so they can be shut off. You may have to show the death certificate for this errand as well.

Some families may want to keep social media accounts live as they can be a form of online memorial while others may prefer they be taken deactivated. Learn more about what to do with social media accounts when a loved one passes.

GO THROUGH YOUR PARENTS HOUSE

If your parent lived alone and the house is now vacant, it’s now time to finally sift through whatever is inside. You’ll need to do things like throw out any old food and clean up any leftover messes. You might also want to water any plants they’ve got, and perform any needed maintenance chores.

You should also check their emails to make sure all the final ends are tied. There will likely be files of some kind you’ll need to go through as well. Make sure you have anything you might need from their house before finally finishing up the process.

Preparing For The Loss Of A Parent

Coping with the death of a parent can take a toll on those affected, and the workload that follows often doesn’t make it any easier. That’s why the best-case scenario is to always be prepared in advance.

Make sure those you love have prepared the necessary documents and declared their final wishes ahead of time so that when the time comes, those closest to them can take the time they need to grieve their loss.

It might even be a smart idea to suggest that someone outside the family be appointed the executor of their will. That way, you can spend less time stressing over all the tedious details and more time processing your emotions and giving yourself ample time to heal.

Helpful Reading:

Ash Jewelry In Their Memory: The Ultimate Guide To Choosing Ash Jewelry

How To Make An Online Memorial

10 Ways To Support A Family Member Or Friend After They've Suffered A Loss

September 2, 2020 by Jeri K. Augustus