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Savvy Living

Savvy Senior

What to Do When a Loved One Passes

What steps need to be taken after a loved one passes away? A family member of mine who has no children was diagnosed with terminal cancer. He has asked me to take care of his affairs so I would like to know how to prepare.

The death of a loved one can bring about a host of different tasks and responsibilities.

Here is a list of some things that can be done now and after their death to help keep a difficult time from becoming even more challenging.

Before Passing

There are several things your family member can do now that can facilitate the handling of their affairs after their passing.

First, your family member should determine that all their important documents are easy to locate, such as their up-to-date will or trust, birth certificate, Social Security information, life insurance policies, military discharge papers and financial documents. If your family member has a safe deposit box or home safe, they should plan on how to deliver instructions for their access once they pass. Your family member should also maintain a list of any digital assets (with their corresponding usernames and passwords) in secure storage space for any email, online banking and social media accounts.

If your family member does not have an advance directive, you can find templates for your state by searching online. An advance directive includes a living will that specifies what medical treatments they want or not and appoints a health-care proxy to make further medical decisions if they become incapacitated. Make sure to also have any prearrangements made for a funeral, memorial, and burial or cremation services. Doing so while your loved one is alive ensures their final wishes are met with their approval.

Immediately After Passing

Once your family member passes away, you will need to get a legal pronouncement of death. If no doctor is present, you will need to contact someone to do this. If the passing occurs at home under hospice care, a hospice nurse can declare the death and help facilitate the transport of the body.

If no hospice care is present, call 911 and let the operator know of the situation. You will then need to call the funeral home, mortuary or crematorium to make arrangements for the transfer of the body. If your family member is an organ or tissue donor, contact the funeral home or the county coroner immediately.

A Few Days After Passing

If funeral plans were not preplanned, you will need to make arrangements and prepare an obituary. If your family member was in the military or belonged to a fraternal or religious group, you should contact those organizations as they may have burial benefits or conduct funeral services. You should also notify family members, close friends, and any employer, if they were still working, so others have the opportunity to pay their respects. It is also vital to ensure their home is secured in order to prevent potential theft or vandalism of their home.

Up to 10 Days After Passing

To settle your family member's financial affairs, you will need to get multiple copies of their death certificate. If you are the executor of the estate, take their will to an estate attorney and determine if you should file for probate. If you are appointed by the court to act as an executor, you will need to open a bank account for your family member's estate to pay bills including taxes, funeral costs and medical bills.

The estate attorney can guide you on other steps including finding a tax preparer to prepare and finalize income taxes, liquidating financial holdings, notifying life insurance companies and contacting Social Security and other agencies that provided benefits in order to stop payments. You should also cancel any credit cards, delete or memorialize social media accounts and stop household services like utilities. The home and personal belongings will also need to be dealt with in the coming weeks.

Savvy Living is written by Jim Miller, a regular contributor to the NBC Today Show and author of "The Savvy Living" book. Any links in this article are offered as a service and there is no endorsement of any product. These articles are offered as a helpful and informative service to our friends and may not always reflect this organization's official position on some topics. Jim invites you to send your senior questions to: Savvy Living, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070.

Published February 3, 2023
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