Losing a loved one

What to do when a loved one dies

When a loved one dies, there are countless things to be done and decisions made. At a time which is emotionally raw, handling such matters can be very overwhelming and stressful.

To help make things a little easier, here’s a checklist of what to do when a loved one dies. Remember, you don’t need to do everything on your own. So, as you go through this checklist, make a note of delegating responsibilities to others – such as close relatives and friends.  In some cases, a funeral director or an executor of the will (if there is one) will take charge.

What to do first

Arrange for organ donation – Was this the deceased’s wish? If so, it’ll need to be acted upon quickly. If they died in hospital, the staff can guide you through the process. Otherwise, immediately contact the nearest hospital for help.

Get a death certificate issued and registered – Without a death certificate, you can’t make funeral arrangements. A doctor must sign and issue this certificate so that a funeral director (or the person managing the final arrangements for the deceased) can register the death with the relevant government body.

Inform immediate family – Contact family not only as a ‘need to know’, but also as support for each other; and to make important decisions and delegate tasks. Try getting together in person, over the phone or even Skype.

Collate important documents and information – To fill in forms and perform other tasks on this checklist, you will need authorised information handy. Pull together documents, such as a copy of the will, birth/death/marriage certificates and any life insurance details into a folder.

Select a funeral home  – The deceased may have one prearranged. If not, performing research and asking others who’ve had experience with this will help. Make a decision based on what feels right to you and immediate family.

Start funeral plans  – Did your loved one leave instructions or pre-plan their funeral? Get family members together and use this information to delegate tasks. If there are no premade arrangements, collaborate with immediate family on what the deceased may have wanted and what you can afford.

Organise care for pets – Were there any pets left behind? It’s also a traumatising time for them. Ask any pet-lovers in your network to foster the pet until a permanent home can be found.

Secure property – If your loved one’s home is unoccupied, make sure it’s locked up and secured. You should also do this for any vehicles. Inform the property manger or landlord if there is one, and any kindly neighbour. Redirect mail.

What to do next and beyond

Once you’ve handled the urgent matters, here are some other important ones to consider:

- Inform others (personal and professional)
– e.g. close friends, extended family, family doctor, employer, lawyer, accountant, pharmacist.
- Handle financial matters
– e.g. bank accounts, home loans, other debts, credit cards, possibility of early superannuation release.
- Get assets distributed
– contact the executor of the will to make arrangements. If there’s no will, use the formula set by law. A lawyer can help.
- Inform relevant government bodies
– e.g. tax office, Medicare, election board.
- Discontinue utility services
– e.g. water, gas, electricity, phone, mobile phone.
- Cancel subscriptions and memberships
– e.g. insurance policies, drivers licence, fitness and club memberships, newspaper and magazine subscriptions.
- Close personal email and social media accounts
– e.g. Gmail, Yahoo!, Facebook, Twitter, Google+. Each organisation has procedures in place.
- Get support
– once everything which needs to be done has been done, terrible emptiness can set in. Support is invaluable at this time. A number of government and community support services can help; e.g. Solace Australia and Losing your partner section of the MoneySmart website.

Consider reading the Department of Human Services article on what to do following a death.

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