What to Do When a Parent Dies: Advice & Information

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National Free Planning Kit

October 18, 2017

Bench in front of headstones in cemeteryImage Source: Pixabay

Anyone who has lost a parent knows it’s an overwhelming experience laden with grief and pain. There’s also a certain degree of stress involved, especially when you’re wondering what to do next.

To minimize family stress when a parent dies, it’s a good idea to have a checklist to guide you through your responsibilities during the first 48 hours after their passing. From contacting the proper authorities to arranging a funeral, there are many things to do.

Keep in mind that it’s better to share these responsibilities with others, if possible. Consider the following checklist tasks not only for yourself to complete, but for you to delegate, as well.  

What To Do Immediately After a Parent’s Death

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When a parent passes away, certain practical matters should be taken care of as soon as possible:  

1. Contact the proper authorities to get a death certificate. Someone will need to officially notify the right people about your loved one’s passing. Only certain people are authorized to declare death.   

  • If they died at home under hospice care, call the hospice agency, which will handle things from there.  
  • If they died in a hospital, nursing home, or hospice facility, an onsite person will contact the authorities to obtain a death certificate.  
  • If they died at home but not under hospice care, you will have to call 911. They will take the person to a hospital, where a doctor makes the pronouncement.  
  • Whatever the case, also notify the family doctor.  

2. Find out about organ donation. If your parent was an organ donor, arrangement should be made immediately upon death. If you’re not sure about your parent’s wishes in this regard, check their driver’s license. A healthcare proxy is another good place to look. Contact a hospital, tell them your needs, and they will guide you. This also applies in situations where the deceased wished to donate their body to science.  

3. Arrange for funeral preparations. Once organ donation is settled, and if there is no need for an autopsy, a funeral home or crematorium will need to come and transport the body from the morgue.   

  • If your parent had a prepaid burial plan in place, you simply need to call the mortuary, and they will handle everything from this point forward.  
  • If no funeral arrangements were made, you and your family should get together and choose a funeral home, select between burial and cremation, decide on a budget, and find and arrange for a burial spot. When choosing burial products for the service, you’ll likely want everyone on hand for the decision-making process. That will provide your best opportunity to end up with a fitting service which suits everyone’s needs.  

For families whose loved one did not have any pre-planned funeral arrangements, financial considerations could come into play at this stage. If that’s the case for you and your family, you may want to skip ahead to the section entitled In the Weeks Ahead. It deals with settlement of accounts and other financial matters.

What To Do Within a Few Days of a Parent’s Death

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Once the immediate concerns have been handled, here’s what to do within a few days of a parent’s death.

  1. Notify other family members. This is often a task that can be delegated. It also can be amplified by asking the first group of people you contact to then notify others.   
  2. Call your parent’s employer. If your parent was still working, find out about benefits and whether a paycheck is due. 
  3. Take care of their home. Your parent’s home, car, and pets will need to be cared for during the next few days. Make sure things are locked up and ask the police or property manager to keep an eye on things, if you are not in the immediate area. For pets, find a neighbor, friend, or family member to temporarily take them home until a permanent solution can be found. Someone close by also could take care of any mail that builds up, take out the garbage, or water plants.
  4. Contact the life insurance company. If your parent had a life insurance policy, you will need to contact the policy holder to begin the process of submitting the death certificate, receiving policy payout information, and if necessary, allocating money for funeral and burial expenses. Be aware that, if your parent’s spouse is alive, you may not receive the full policy payout, even if you are the sole beneficiary.   

What to Do In the Weeks After a Parent’s Death

Below are additional important tasks to consider in the days and weeks immediately following the funeral.

  1. Notify Social Security. If arrangements were made through a funeral home, they typically notify the SSA for you. Otherwise, it’s up to you to contact your local Social Security office to report your loved one’s death. Social Security benefits will cease, but surviving spouses and dependents may be eligible for increased personal benefits or even a one-time survivor benefit.
  2. Obtain copies of the death certificate. For some of the subsequent tasks, you’ll need a copy of the death certificate. Again, your funeral director can help you. Otherwise, contact the vital statistics office in the state where your loved one died. City hall and other records offices will have copies, too. Certified copies will cost up to $20, but you won’t need a certified copy for every upcoming task.
  3. Cancel Insurance. Once you’ve contacted the SSA, they will notify Medicare of the death. Canceling Medicare Prescription Drug Coverage (Part D), Medigap, or their Advantage plan can be done by calling the numbers on the membership card. You also should cancel any health insurance offered by your loved one’s employer. Life insurance and homeowner’s and auto insurance should be canceled, too.
  4. Meet with the family attorney. To settle the will, families typically hire a probate attorney. He or she will begin by taking an inventory of your parent’s assets. Gather financial information about your parent’s debts and important bills so they can be settled. Involve your family attorney, if you have one.
  5. Handle other assets. If your parent had a financial adviser, contact them to find out about other assets your parent may have held. Beneficiaries should already be set up for any funds they may have held. The executor of the will should be included, too. Finally, talk to whomever normally prepares your parent’s taxes, and your attorney should be involved with filing the estate return.
  6. Manage credit accounts. Close credit card accounts and notify the big three credit reporting agencies of your parent’s death. Identity theft can occur, and thieves can open fraudulent accounts, so check the credit history a month or two later, as well.
  7. Cancel driver’s license and voter registration. This also can help prevent identity theft.   

Looking Ahead

Support during your time of bereavement is important, especially since this checklist is only the beginning. There are still important matters to see about, such as writing an obituary, settling financial obligations like cable and phone bills, and probating the will. It’s never easy, but knowing what to do when a parent dies can help minimize stress for everyone involved.

You may even feel that talking to someone about your grief can help. A friend who’s been through the loss of a parent can lend support, give advice, or simply lend an ear. There are also numerous grief groups and social media boards for exactly this reason. Finally, remember that nobody should have to go through this alone—delegate the tasks you’ve read about here and always accept help when it’s offered. 

Should You Consider Planning Your Own Funeral?

You may notice that much of the stress involved with the passing of a parent revolves around making funeral and burial arrangements. What would your parent have wanted? How much should you spend to honor their legacy? To help their loved ones during this time, many people are planning their funerals in advance, to save money and ensure their final wishes are honored. By being proactive, you can save your children and family members from having to figure out what to do when you pass. In fact, planning your funeral now will help in taking care of many of the tasks we listed above. Find out more by downloading a free burial guide right now.