What to Do When a Family Member Dies

Tamsen Butler
Bereaved crying at funeral

Losing a family member can be a trying time, even when the death was anticipated. Beyond grieving, there are many tasks that must be done after the death of a family member.

Death in a Hospital or Medical Setting

If your family member dies while at a hospital, a social worker will likely gently walk you through all the next steps. While they can help guide you, there are many tasks you and your family will have to take care of without help. You will probably be asked about organ or tissue donation.

Death at Home

If a family member dies at home, call 911. This should be done even if you are certain the family member cannot be resuscitated or saved by medical personnel because an ambulance will then arrive to take the body to the hospital where a doctor will confirm death - this is important for future legal considerations.

Anticipated Death

If your family member was already in hospice care at home, you will call the assigned hospice nurse immediately following the death instead of 911.

Honor the Family Member's Wishes

Often when the death is anticipated - and sometimes even when it's not - the family member will have already made clear what their final wishes are. This can include things like burial versus cremation, religious memorial versus secular memorial, or even little details such as what songs should be played at the memorial service. If the deceased left these wishes written out, review them as quickly as possible as this may influence what happens next.

Contact a Funeral Provider

Funeral homes take much of the burden off family members by guiding them along in the preparation of a funeral or cremation. They are also responsible for collecting the body of the deceased from the hospital or morgue.

Transport and Burial Laws

Interestingly, some states allow family members to transport the body themselves while other states require the body be moved only by a licensed funeral director. According to the Federal Trade Commission, not all states require the involvement of a funeral home for funerals at all. It is important to note, however, that every state has strict laws regarding the proper burial or cremation of the deceased, so it's not something that should be tackled without prior knowledge of the laws involved.

Religious Considerations

Depending upon the faith of the deceased, there may be specific arrangements that need to be made. If you are unfamiliar with any religious requirements, contact the place of worship of the deceased.

Assign Responsibilities Among Family

Many decisions must be made and tasks accomplished following the death of a family member. It can be incredibly overwhelming for one person to tackle all the necessary tasks, especially when that person is already trying to deal with their grief. Delegate tasks out to those best suited to accomplish them correctly.

Alert Others

Alert Others

Family members and close friends should be alerted of the person's death as soon as possible, but waiting to make an announcement can wait for distant relatives and friends until a time and date has been set for services; this avoids the need to make two announcements: one of the death and one of particulars about the memorial service. The exception to this, of course, is if the date won't be set for some time or if there is no service planned.

Family and Close Friends

Contact family personally if possible; a blanket social media status has the potential to shock and offend those close to the deceased. You should also contact close friends personally as well if possible; if the deceased kept an address book or had social media accounts, this can guide you as to who should be contacted.

Employers and Volunteer Organizations

Contact the employer of the deceased as soon as possible, or any organizations for which the deceased volunteered. Inquire with the employer whether company-provided life insurance existed.

Religious Leaders

Get in touch with the pastor, priest, or religious leader of the place of worship for the deceased.

Legal, Financial, and Government

  • Contact the attorney of the deceased; this person can guide you regarding the will or assignment of the estate executor.
  • Contact the financial institutions and creditors with which the deceased did business; you will likely need the official Death Certificate in hand before these institutions will deal with you.
  • Contact the Social Security Administration, and if the deceased was a veteran, contact the Department of Veterans Affairs. Note that the funeral director may take care of these tasks for you, but don't assume they will if no agreement to do so has been made.
  • If there is life insurance present, contact the company and present the Death Certificate.
  • Note that a final tax return must be filed for the deceased.

Contacting so many people can be an overwhelming process and is one that should be delegated out to several people, if possible.

Social Media Considerations

What happens to social media accounts after someone dies? The answer largely depends on the social media platform. For example, Facebook allows family members to either delete or memorialize the Facebook page of someone who passed away through the "Help Center" function, while Twitter provides the opportunity for a designated representative of the deceased to deactivate the account of the deceased. Check out the "help" sections for each of the deceased's social media platforms to find out how to deactivate or memorialize pages for your family member.

Take Care of You

Losing a family member can be a jolting experience. In the shuffle of necessary tasks, it's easy to forget to take care of yourself. Don't allow the responsibilities that fall upon you to delay your acknowledgment and grief process necessary to heal. The funeral home or hospital can provide you with resources for grief groups or therapists - these resources are a good idea if you're having a difficult time dealing with your loss or just want someone to talk to.

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What to Do When a Family Member Dies