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What to do after a parent dies – A complete guide with checklists


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Death of a parent is difficult, here’s a summary of what to do and when

The death of a parent can be a traumatic experience.  There is much to do in the days and months leading up to and following death.  But knowing what to do and when to do it can make all the difference in making a smooth transition for all involved.  The following information will do just that – lay out a roadmap to navigate this emotional time with and so you don’t miss something.

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What to do immediately after your parent dies.

Get a legal pronouncement of death

Once someone has been declared deceased by a coroner, medical examiner, hospice, or medical professional, the funeral director is usually called to transport the body from the home or medical facility to the funeral home.  In most cases, the funeral director will submit the pronouncement of death to the state health department for a death certificate.  Official death certificates will need to be purchased and can be obtained by the funeral director.  They in turn will bill you for the copies. 

Hopefully prior arrangements have been made with a funeral home to make this process easier.  If not, you will need to identify a funeral home as quickly as possible.

Take possession of mobile device

IMPORTANT: you will also want to know their mobile devices access code/password

Hopefully your parent provided you with the mobile device access code and all passwords that are important after death.  You may need to access bank accounts and other sensitive information that you will want to keep safe.  Very often verification codes are sent to the phone when you try to access financial information.  You may need to use the phone’s address book to contact family and friends of the death.  Access to photos and videos can be useful for a funeral or memorial service.

Inform family, friends, and employer

People want to know when someone has died.  Start to make contacts and consider asking for help if it becomes too overwhelming and time consuming.  People will understand if the news didn’t come directly from you.

Find any existing funeral or final resting place plans

Very often people will preplan and even pre-pay their funeral.  You will want to retrieve any of this information and contact the appropriate people.  Remember, just because a funeral has been prepaid, that does not mean that everything is covered so you will want to understand the fine print.  If decisions have been made about final resting place, you will want to gather this information as well.

If arrangements have not been made, there will be some work to do in identifying a burial location.

Contact Clergy about funeral arrangements

Clergy and funeral directors will help put together the funeral and arrange for printing of program, flowers, and transportation to the church and cemetery.  You may also want to make arrangements for a luncheon following the funeral.  A luncheon provides a good opportunity to talk about the deceased and share memories with family and friends.

Arrange Care for pets

If you are not able or unwilling to care for pets, you can reach out to family and friends for help.  The estate can also pay to have the pets boarded temporarily or until a new home is found.

Hold off on these, for now.

Cancelling mobile phone service

Hold off on cancelling their cell phone, you may need it to receive account verification codes that will let you access and close online accounts. This should be one of the last services to be cancelled.

Making financial decisions

Usually, it’s best to wait on making major decisions immediately after someone has died.  Give it some time as you want to try to avoid emotional decision making.  Death of a parent is a time of heightened emotions.  Adding money to the equation and chances are high you may regret decisions made during this period.  It’s the same for a surviving spouse.  Hold off on listing house and dispersing funds until the dust has settled and all involved are in a proper frame of mind.

Informing banks and other financial institutions

We are not suggesting to mislead, but, accounts could wind up frozen and funds not available at a time when they are needed.  Financial institutions can be notified in the coming weeks once you have time to deal with the paperwork and inconvenience.

Here is general list of things to hold off on:

  • Wait to cancel cell phone service
  • Don’t allow people to move into the residence, or begin to rent it
  • Don’t sell, give away or promise possessions to others
  • Don’t drive vehicles
  • Don’t inform their bank and credit cards as this can lead to account freezes that can halt things like auto-payments, direct deposits, and mortgage and rent payments.
  • Don’t inform the utility companies, doing so too soon can result in the water, electric and gas being shut off. Speak to an estate planning attorney for more information.

In the next few weeks

Contact your deceased Parent's Financial Advisor

A financial adviser can be very helpful to sort things out.  A good advisor will have a record of most assets and liabilities, as long as all data was provided to them by your parent.  Some advisors will only have information about the account in which they manage, which will not be all that helpful if you are looking for a global view of things.

Contact your deceased Parent's Estate attorney

An estate attorney is invaluable during this difficult time, helping ensure the estate is properly administered. They can help you protect the deceased’s assets while also providing clarity and guidance on things like wills, trusts and probate.

Notify the Social Security Administration of the death

In most cases the funeral director will notify social security of one’s death.  Social Security in turn will notify Medicare.  There is no prorating of social security benefits.  If a deceased person was paid benefits the month after they dies, the estate representative will have to return the money.

Also, there is a one-time $255 benefit payable to surviving spouse or children of the deceased person who was collecting social security benefits.

If the deceased had a pension, you’ll also want to inform the pension administrator at this time.

Appoint the executor of the estate

Hopefully the deceased named an executor in the will.  If so, you will need to take the will to the county clerk of courts, fill out some forms, and get appointed.  If there is no will, an executor will have to be appointed by the courts and this will delay disposition of assets and the estate settlement process.

The executor will decide if they want assistance from the estate attorney in settling the estate.  Most simple estates can be handled quite easily by the executor.  But, in more complex estates, an attorney may be needed.

Acquire death certificates

Once the executor is named one of the first items of business is to obtain death certificates.

  • Request at least 10 copies of the death certificate; you will need these to close certain accounts, file life insurance claims, register the death with government agencies, etc.
  • A funeral home can procure them for you, or you can order them from the deceased’s state’s vital statistics office

Important Insurance policies

Life insurance—If there is life insurance in force, you will want to contact the insurance company(s)  to file a claim for death benefits.

Homeowners Insurance—Find the homeowners policy and make sure you don’t allow it to lapse.

Take inventory of assets and expenses

Track down and take inventory of all assets, outstanding expenses and bills and provide them to the executor of the estate. 

Secure the estate (residence)

To secure the deceased’s estate, make sure all entries are locked and retrieve any outstanding keys. Also, make sure the home doesn’t appear to be abandoned or vacant, as this can encourage theft.

In the coming months

Sell assets

There will come a time later in process where you will want to begin to sell the deceased assets such as personal belongings, automobiles, and real estate.  Again, you will want to work with the executor in the event of these possessions were bequeathed to someone in the will.

There are services that can help sell assets such as auction houses or professionals who dispose of estate assets and can arrange sales and donations to charities.

Arrange Disbursements

Heirs do not have to wait until an estate has been settled until the executor can begin to receive money or other assets. Usually there are timed payouts.  The executor will hold back some funds for payment of expenses, taxes, and other settlement costs.  Once everything has been accounted for and paid a final settlement amount can be paid out.  Be patient as the estate settlement process can take some time.

Cancel Services

Services such as Netflix, Amazon Prime, Cable, and perhaps internet (if not needed by heirs) can be terminated.  You will want to work with the executor and keep open lines of communication on timing of these various services cancelations.  Other services included are:

  • Credit cards
  • Email accounts
  • Social media accounts (some accounts can be memorialized, as opposed to closed)
  • Driver’s License or DMV
  • Terminate insurance policies (except homeowner’s or renter’s policies until property is sold or vacated, respectively)
  • Voter registration
  • Cell phone cancelation should be one of the last things that is done in case you need to access services used by apps and require log in.

In Closing

With so much to do following the death of a parent, we hope this guide helps to alleviate stress and make the process for you, your family, and professionals not quite as daunting.  It’s an emotional time.  Take your time.  Except for the funeral, the remaining items can usually wait until you are able to attend to them. 

Please feel free to reach out to Addis Hill if you need help along the way.  We have been through this before with other clients and their families.  Lean on us.  Click here to download the guides.

Free Resource

Download Our
Family Estate Planning Kit

An image of two Estate planning guides from Addis Hill Financial Advisors



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