When Someone Dies

Normally, we are the paper people and team builders, but recently the following question has been raised as clients, family members and friends have passed away.

What needs to be done at the time of death of a parent, family member, friend, or other person for whom one has responsibility?

We have been asked to make a list of the sequence of events that are likely to occur or must be done in the first few days. If the deceased was Jewish and somewhat observant, the events, according to Jewish Law, will have to occur faster. There is no one way, or right way, because there are so many circumstances - dependent on people's varied cultures, religions, beliefs, and desires. Nonetheless, we thought we would provide some general guidelines for the first days.

CALL A DOCTOR - The doctor is needed to establish the date and time of death and, where possible, the cause. If the person dies in the hospital, the in-hospital doctor automatically does this.

If the doctor who is responsible (whether in the hospital or in hospice) suspects the cause of death was other than natural, the doctor is obligated to report it and the police and the medical examiner are called.

If the doctor will not come to the home, 911 must be called and the police and medical examiner will be dispatched. If there is no suspicion that the deceased died of other than natural causes, the body may still be released to the funeral home. Otherwise, an authorized person will have to go to the medical examiner's office to fill out papers and identify the body.

INFORM PEOPLE - (actually simultaneously with contacting the doctor) - inform immediate family as well as legal representatives, executors or trustees, according to the will. People who acted previously as representatives through a Health Care Proxy or a Power of Attorney are no longer legally responsible for the deceased.

NOTIFY THE FUNERAL HOME - Contact a funeral home. You will need to give instructions on where to pick up the body as well as schedule a time to go to the funeral home and make arrangements following the last wishes of the deceased person. Find the last will and testament and check to see if there are funeral or burial instructions. Look for any other kinds of instructions, such as religious preferences. Hopefully, the person spoke with someone and made clear what his or her wishes were.

NOTIFY THE CLERGY - especially if the clergy is to be present at a service scheduled in the next few days.

MEETING AT THE FUNERAL HOME - Never go alone, even if you are calm and know exactly what you want. Having a supportive person along makes the process easier. Discuss with the funeral parlor the type of service if any, the burial, and anything necessary to proceed to an actual funeral, if there is going to be one. Will it be public or private? How large do you expect it to be and who will preside? Will there be a memorial service at some other time or place? Arrange for death certificates.

DEATH CERTIFICATE - The funeral parlor handles getting death certificates. At least a dozen copies are needed depending upon legal, financial and institutional needs for proof of death. Tell the funeral parlor and they will obtain the number you request for a nominal fee per copy. It is best to get too many than too few as reordering them later will be more costly and will take much longer to get. Be prepared with accurate information for the death certificate, beyond the time, date, and place of death which will be provided by the doctor. Some information that may be required: the full name of the deceased, social security number, date of birth, usual occupation (prior to retirement), whether served in the Armed Forces, marital status at the time of death, surviving spouse's/partner's name, father's name, mother's maiden name. The name, relationship and address of the person providing the information will be listed on death certificate.

OBITUARY - Usually obituaries are only written about prominent people and are free of any costs. Before approaching your local paper, think about answers to the following: What are the essential details? Are there noteworthy achievements that would inspire the newspaper to write an article? If your local papers decide not to write an obituary, you can buy a paid notice which will vary in price depending on how many words are used. Most people don't realize the difference between an obituary and paid notice.

NOTIFYING FAMILY AND FRIENDS - This will naturally be occurring almost immediately and between other tasks. If it is up to you to inform family and friends, make a list with telephone numbers and think about what you are going to say before you call. It can be a precious opportunity to share feelings for a few moments. If you are a parent and have to break the news to your children, even adult children, you may need to help them cope with the death. It is not unusual for the surviving parent to feel so bereaved that it is difficult for them to handle everything themselves. It is usually wise to ask for help from family members or someone close to the family.

ARRANGING THE SERVICE - If a service is desired, speak with your rabbi or clergy person, discuss scripture readings, prayers, hymns, whether to have a eulogy or not, a service bulletin or not, and choose the people you want to participate.

HANDLING THE PAPERWORK - The good news is that most of the following doesn't have to be done right away. Focus first on contacting family and friends about the death and making funeral arrangements. Soon, however, you will need to start finding and organizing documents.

Professional Assistance – If the estate is of any size at all, you will probably need the assistance of an attorney to guide you in obtaining the necessary court papers, such as Letters Testamentary, which give you the authority to access and close accounts. An accountant will prepare income tax statements, and financial advisors and insurance agents will guide you as to which matters need to be addressed immediately.

Papers – Gather all legal, financial, and personal documents and organize them as best you can. Don’t forget computer files. Sometimes instructions are stored there.

Social Security – If the deceased person is of an age that they receive retirement benefits, you will have to inform Social Security of the passing. The funeral parlor may take care of this for you, but you need to provide the Social Security number of the deceased. Depending upon the circumstances, spouse’s benefits may kick in and there may be a change in Social Security income for the surviving spouse.

Employer –  Notify the employer if the deceased person was employed, which will start the process of collecting company-provided life insurance, vacation benefits, or unpaid salary.

Official Notifications

Make a list with the account numbers and contact information of all:

  • bank accounts
  • life insurance policies
  • health insurance policies
  • long-term care and other insurance policies
  • clubs
  • professional groups
  • religious organizations where the deceased was a member

Notify all organizations, find out the requirements for each, keeping good notes of person contacted, actions taken, forms filed, tasks completed.

Bill Paying – If you are the executor or trustee, you will be able to finalize the monthly financial tasks. You may already know the bills that need to be paid and services terminated. But there may be unexpected one-time-only charges for which you will need to keep your eye open. If you, or someone else is listed on a checking account as joint tenant, then that person can continue to use the account. Generally speaking, however, you will not be able to pay debts, open safe deposit boxes, or remove property until the court allows it.

June 2010 - FEATURE
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