What to do when someone dies at home?
Here is a checklist of what to do. If the death was unexpected, you should dial 911 and ask for an ambulance and police immediately. If your loved one was under hospice care, consult with them as well.
Experiencing the death of a loved one at home can be a challenging and emotionally overwhelming event. In such moments, knowing what steps to take and who to contact becomes crucial. This article will provide guidance on navigating the process when someone dies at home, including immediate actions, notifying the authorities, contacting a funeral home or mortuary, and managing the estate. By understanding the necessary protocols and seeking appropriate support, individuals can ensure a respectful and well-managed transition for their loved ones, while also addressing important legal and practical matters that arise in the aftermath of a death at home.
Step 1: Notify first responders
The first step when someone dies at home is to call 911 or the local emergency services immediately. An operator or dispatch representative will give you instructions on what you need to do. If your loved one has an advance medical directive outlining any wishes about extraordinary life-saving measures, let the authorities know. Do the same if you believe your loved one has already passed away. If your loved one was under hospice care, consult with them as well; in many cases, they can certify a death at home without the involvement of other authorities.
Medical professionals may attempt to resuscitate your loved one -- or verify their death. Although the situation will be emotional and confusing, allow the first responders the space to complete their efforts.
It is important to remember that the authorities need to be notified so that they can properly document the death and determine if further investigation is necessary. Once the authorities arrive, they will assess the situation and determine if the individual has passed away.
They will guide you on the necessary steps to take and may request specific information about the circumstances surrounding the death. It is important to provide accurate and detailed information as requested, as this will help them in their investigation and documentation process. Follow any instructions provided by the authorities, as they will assist you in navigating the legal requirements and procedures that need to be followed. In some cases, they may require you to obtain a death certificate, which serves as an official document confirming the individual's passing. This certificate is crucial for various legal and administrative purposes, including settling the deceased's estate and managing financial matters.
Step 2: Get a legal pronouncement of death
If the individual has passed away, the authorities will contact the medical examiner or coroner to determine the cause of death. In some cases, the medical examiner may need to perform an autopsy to determine the cause of death. Once the cause of death has been determined, the family can begin to make arrangements for the disposition of the body.
Step 3: Check for Directives
Advance directives map out a patient's wishes regarding the care they would like to receive as they reach the end of their life. Advance directives are important not only prior to death, but after as well. These legal documents often include information on whether the deceased wanted to become an organ donor. Locating these documents quickly is important because the process of preserving organ function for donation is time sensitive.
Step 4: Arrange for transportation of the body
The next step is to contact a funeral home or mortuary to make arrangements for the funeral or cremation. The funeral home will work with the family to make all of the necessary arrangements, including transportation of the body, preparation of the body for viewing, and the planning of the funeral or memorial service.
It is important to keep in mind that when someone dies at home, there may be additional steps and requirements that need to be followed. For example, if the individual was under hospice care, there may be specific protocols and guidelines that need to be followed.
If the individual was not under hospice care, there may be legal requirements that need to be followed before the body can be transported. In some cases, the medical examiner or coroner may need to issue a death certificate before the body can be moved. It is important to check with local authorities to determine the specific requirements in your area.
Step 5: Pick a Funeral Home
If your loved one did not make prior arrangements, you will have to find a funeral home. An online search, talking with family and friends, reaching out to your religious community – are all ways to find recommendations for funeral homes. If you don't already have a funeral home in mind, we recommend considering the following:
Understand that price transparency is the law
If you visit a funeral home in person, the FTC requires the funeral provider to give you a general price list itemizing the cost of the items and services the funeral home offers. If the price list does not include specific prices of caskets or other burial containers, laws require the funeral director to show you price lists. If it’s more convenient and less stressful to call funeral homes by telephone, the Funeral Rule enforced by the FTC requires funeral directors to provide price information on the phone.
Consider the entire cost before selecting a funeral home
When comparing prices, calculate the total cost of all the items. Although funeral homes may offer packages that cost less than buying individual items or services, you may not need all the services. Consider the wishes of the deceased, your budget and input from relatives and friends. The amount that you spend isn’t tied to the love you had for the deceased. Going into debt isn’t advisable.
Step 6: Take time to process
When someone dies at home, it is important to take care of yourself and your loved ones. The grieving process can be difficult, and it is important to take time to process your emotions and seek support from friends and family.
Step 7: Organize the Funeral
If directives were left behind, inform the Funeral Home of these and arrange the funeral accordingly.Funeral Homes can assist in coordinating the details of the service, including the venue, clergy or officiant, and any other necessary elements.
Planning a funeral or memorial service is an important part of honoring the life and memory of the deceased. It allows family, friends, and the community to come together to pay their respects and provide support to one another during this difficult time. When planning the service, consider the wishes of the deceased as well as any cultural or religious traditions that are important to your family. If no wishes were mentioned, this would be a good time to discuss with family members what you believe your loved one would have wanted. Start by determining the type of service you want to have, whether it's a traditional funeral, a cremation, a memorial service, or a combination. Choose a suitable venue that can accommodate the expected number of attendees and provides a peaceful and respectful atmosphere. Consider the availability of clergy or an officiant who can lead the service and provide comfort to the mourners. Arrange for other necessary elements such as music, readings, or rituals that hold significance to the deceased or reflect their beliefs. Additionally, it is essential to notify family, friends, and the community about the service, either through personal invitations, newspaper announcements, or online platforms. By carefully planning and organizing the funeral or memorial service, you create a meaningful tribute that celebrates the life of your loved one and provides an opportunity for healing and remembrance.
Step 8: Secure the Deceased's Property
It is important to secure the deceased's property to prevent theft or damage. This may include locking the house or apartment, removing valuables, and notifying the landlord or property manager. Other simple but important to-dos can include mundane household tasks and chores such as:
Taking the trash out
Checking the mail (and eventually forwarding it)
Bringing in any newspapers or other deliveries, etc.
Looking into Veteran’s benefits
Step 9: Notifying Relevant Parties
In addition to the authorities and the funeral home, it is crucial to notify other relevant parties about the passing of your loved one. Start by contacting the deceased's primary care physician or the medical examiner, if applicable, as they may need to provide necessary documentation or guidance. If the person was employed, inform their employer about the death to initiate any required processes, such as arranging for final paychecks, notifying colleagues, or addressing employee benefits. By notifying these parties in a timely manner, you can ensure that appropriate actions are taken and necessary documentation is provided, allowing for a smoother transition and administration of the deceased's affairs.
Contact Social Security and government agencies.
Veteran’s Administration, if your loved one served in the military.
Defense Finance and Accounting Service, if the deceased was a military service retiree receiving benefits.
Office of Personnel Management, if they were a retired or former federal civil service employee.
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service, if your loved one was not a U.S. citizen.
Department of Motor Vehicles, if decedent had a driver’s license or state I.D. card.
Contact day-to-day accounts. It is important to cancel any accounts and services that belonged to the deceased. This may include:
Cell Phone Service
Cable and Internet Service
Step 10: Manage the Estate
Upon the passing of a loved one, it becomes necessary to manage their estate and attend to their financial and legal matters. Start by locating the deceased person's important documents, such as wills, trusts, and financial records. These documents will provide valuable information regarding the deceased's wishes and the distribution of their assets. It is advisable to consult with an attorney or estate planner who specializes in probate and estate administration. They can guide you through the legal processes involved, assist with interpreting the will or trust, and provide advice on how to navigate the complexities of estate management. Depending on the nature and size of the estate, it may be necessary to initiate the probate process, which involves validating the will and distributing assets in accordance with its instructions or applicable laws. This step ensures that debts are settled, taxes are paid, and the remaining assets are distributed to the rightful beneficiaries. Seeking professional assistance in managing the estate can alleviate some of the burdens during this challenging time and ensure that the deceased's wishes are carried out effectively and in compliance with legal requirements.
Locate Important Documents. There are several important documents that will need to be located after someone passes away. These may include:
Will or Trust
Life Insurance Policies
Bank Account Statements
Investment Account Statements
Retirement Account Statements
Social Security Information
Marriage or Divorce Certificates
Birth and Death Certificates
Settle Financial Accounts. Financial accounts will need to be settled after someone passes away. This may include:
Paying any outstanding debts or bills
Closing bank accounts (consider online investment accounts too)
Transferring ownership of assets
Filing tax returns
Close all online accounts. Here’s a brief overview of those digital realms you should monitor, and eventually close:
Close social groups accounts. Did your loved one belong to any professional associations or unions? Even just your local video rental store should know, as should the public library. Here’s a check list for you:
Professional associations and unions
Health clubs and athletic clubs
Video rental stores
College Alumni clubs
Rotary, Kiwanis, Lions, Veterans’ organizations and clubs
After the funeral or memorial service, there are several important tasks to address as part of the post-funeral process. Firstly, it is customary to send thank-you notes or letters of appreciation to those who attended the service, sent flowers, or offered condolences and support during this challenging time. These expressions of gratitude not only show your appreciation but also provide a sense of closure and acknowledgement to those who reached out to you.
In addition to expressing gratitude, it is crucial to consult with legal and financial professionals to navigate the complexities of managing the deceased person's estate. This may involve working with an attorney who specializes in probate or estate planning to handle legal matters such as distributing assets, settling debts, and addressing any outstanding financial obligations. They can guide you through the necessary steps and paperwork required to ensure that the estate is managed appropriately and in accordance with the law.
During this time, it is essential to consider long-term estate management. This includes addressing tasks such as updating beneficiary designations on life insurance policies, retirement accounts, and other assets. It may also involve working with financial advisors to develop a comprehensive plan for asset distribution and financial planning for the future. This step is crucial to ensure that the wishes of the deceased are carried out, and the estate is managed in a way that aligns with their intentions.
Navigating the post-funeral tasks can be overwhelming, but it is essential to approach them with patience and support from professionals and loved ones. Lean on the expertise of legal and financial advisors who can provide guidance and assistance in managing the estate. Remember to take care of yourself and seek emotional support during this time, as the post-funeral period can be emotionally taxing. By addressing these post-funeral tasks, you are taking the necessary steps to honor the legacy of your loved one and ensure that their estate is managed with care and in accordance with their wishes.
If you need any help in along this process please contact Memoria for support:
Phone: (929) 295-4401