When a Loved One is Gone, What’s Next?

There is no exact way to prepare for the unexpected death of someone you love and care for.  The period surrounding the lost a loved one is one of the most stressful periods that one may face.  Take time to grieve. I cannot stress this enough, ensuring that your mental and physical wellbeing are intact is essential to getting through this phase.  Trying to figure out what steps must be taken next in handling your affairs will be difficult.  Preparing for a passing beforehand, makes it easier to focus on the important tasks ahead.  Here is a checklist of some of more important considerations:

  • Notify Immediate Family.
  • Collecting mail and important Utility bills
  • Locating important items such as keys, insurance policies, claims forms, addresses for magazine subscriptions, etc.
  • Planning the wake, funeral, and/or memorial services
  • Organizing food for family and friends after the services
  • Obtaining the Death Certificate
  • Notifying their Employer
  • Notifying the Office of Social Security
  • Notifying their Guardian or their Power of Attorney

There are a few things that you can put in place right now that will aid in this transitional period.  As morbid as it sounds, planning your funeral ahead of time is one way to ease the stress of your loved ones when you’re gone.  You can start contacting funeral homes and start making arrangements for your burial and final preparations.  Most funeral homes are happy to answer questions and give you options on different services. 

If you lost a significant other or a partner you may already have certain mechanisms in place that alleviate certain issues.  You may have had a joint bank account with the decedent and now you’re listed as a “surviving owner.” In this case, you would need to provide a death certificate to the bank so that you can now take ownership.  Similarly, if you held joint interest in property that included “the right of survivorship”, then ownership of that property will automatically pass to you as the survivor.

Your loved one may have been preparing for a situation like this and has an estate plan in place.  If there is a Will, “the law requires that it be filed with the Probate Court in the County where the decedent lived. The Clerk will provide the executor or executrix of the Will with the necessary paperwork.”*   If there is no Will, you may have to go through some formal administration process in the same Probate Court.  Any “remaining assets and properties can be disbursed through the administration of the estate.”*  Once a probate process is initiated, don’t forget to notify all creditors that your loved one may have had.  Remember it’s the estate, not YOU that is liable for any debts.

As hard as it may be, as soon as possible start sorting and disposing of your loved one’s personal Items and clothing.   Taking too long to go through this process, “may seriously delay the ending of the grieving process, acting as a very painful and constant reminder of the person’s death. Only a few items should be retained as mementos.”*  However, “remember that no items should be moved, sold, given away or otherwise disposed of if they have been identified in the person’s Will as items to be distributed as a part of the estate. Only the legal beneficiary of those items is entitled to make the decision as to their disposal.”*

Losing a loved one is hard, seek help when necessary to ensure that your mind, body, and soul will be ready to face this new chapter in your life. (A Checklist of What To Do When A Loved One Dies, Georgia Department of Human Resources, Division of Aging Services)*