When a loved one dies, the grief and shock can be overwhelming. The last thing most people want to think about is making phone calls or funeral arrangements. While some plans can wait, other steps should be taken immediately. We hope the following guidelines will help facilitate this process during a stressful and emotional time.
- In the immediate minutes and hours after your loved one passes away, you do not need to do anything. It is okay to sit with your loved one for a while, even if your family member died in a hospital. Just let the hospital staff know if you need a little time, or if there are any religious rituals or customs you would like to observe before your loved one’s body is moved. It is important to give yourself time to call your pastor, priest, rabbi, or other religious advisors, as well as close family members or friends whose presence will be comforting.
Note: One exception is if your loved one wanted to be an organ donor. In this case, the hospital where the death occurred, or a nearby hospital if the death occurred at home, should be notified almost immediately so the appropriate steps can be taken. If you are not sure what your loved one’s wishes were in regard to organ donation, check their driver’s license or health care directive. Even if your loved one has signed up for organ donation in a state or national registry, family members are responsible for making the final decision if informed that the organs are medically suitable for donation.
- As soon as you can, obtain a legal pronouncement of death by a doctor or hospice nurse. If no one is present who can make an official pronouncement of death, the body may be taken to the emergency room where a doctor can make the declaration. Barring the need for further medical examination or autopsy, a declaration will enable a death certificate to be prepared. A death certificate is a legal document that you must obtain before some of the later steps can be taken.
- Make arrangements for the body to be picked up, typically by a funeral home. If your loved one died in a hospital or nursing facility, the staff may be able to make those arrangements for you. Your loved one may have already chosen a funeral home and made funeral plans, but if not, the choice of a funeral home will be made by family members.
- If necessary, arrange for the care of any dependent children, adults, and/or pets in accordance with your loved one’s will or nomination of guardian, which should address those issues. If there was no will or guardianship nomination, you may have to request that a court issue an emergency order to ensure that any children or dependent adults are properly cared for and protected.
- Make arrangements to lock up your loved one’s house and car, and if the home will remain vacant, notify the police or the landlord to keep a closer eye on it. A friend or family could also regularly check for mail or phone messages, clean out perishable food, and water plants.
- Find out if your loved one made pre-arrangements for a funeral or memorial service, and if not, ask a family member or friend to help make those arrangements. If your loved one was a member of the military, let the funeral home know if you would like a military funeral so it can make those arrangements. Also, prepare an obituary and send it to the newspaper(s) in which you would like it to appear.
Once you have taken care of these initial concerns, it is time to begin the estate or trust settlement process–also called probate or trust administration.
Although taking care of some aspects of administration on your own may seem simple, this process can be quite complex, and small mistakes can lead to major headaches down the road. It is important to contact an experienced probate and trust-administration attorney to help you with the process, as well as any other legal matters that may arise during this difficult and emotional time.
Contact us as soon as you can (651-738-3433), and we will help guide you through the legal process so you and your family can focus on moving through grief toward healing.