Frequently Asked Questions About Death
What Do I Do When a Death Occurs?
When a loved one passes away, the many tasks that are necessary can be very overwhelming. Below are some common questions that families have when they begin the process of arranging a funeral. If your question or concern is not addressed here, please contact the funeral home directly.
The first phone calls made upon news of a death will depend on the circumstances. When someone dies in a hospital or other medical care facility, the staff will usually take care of some of the arrangements, such as contacting your funeral home of choice and, if necessary, arranging an autopsy.
You will need to notify family, friends and clergy. It may be easier on you to make just a few phone calls to close relatives and ask them to inform specific people so the burden of spreading news does not rest entirely on you. If you are alone, don’t be afraid to ask someone to keep you company as you make the first phone calls and cope with the first hours after the death.
If a person dies at home or at work, the first call must be made to 911. Any unexpected death occurring without a physician or medical personnal present must be reported to the police and an investigation held. The coroner will examine the body then arrange for it to be transported to the morgue for autopsy (if necessary) or to the funeral home.
If your loved one was currently receiving medical care, be sure to notify the doctor. If your loved one was in hospice care, it is not necessary to call 911. You can call the hospice facility directly.
You’ll also need to notify…
- The funeral home. A funeral director can help arrange transportation of the body to the funeral home, begin collecting information for the death certificate and obituary, help you notify other parties such as Social Security, and provide grief support.
- The employer. If the deceased was working, the employer must be notified as soon as possible. Ask about any benefits the deceased was receiving or will receive, including any pay due (including vacation or sick time), disability income, etc. Ask if you or other dependents are still elegible for benefit coverage through the company. Determine whether there is a life insurance policy through the employer, who the beneficiary is, and how to file a claim.
- The life insurance company. Look through the deceased’s important papers for a life policy. Call the agent or company to determine how to file a claim. Usually the beneficiary (or the beneficiary’s guardian, if a minor) myst complete the claim forms and related paperwork. You’ll need to submit a certified death certificate and a claimant’s statement to establish proof of claim. Ask about payment options. You may have a choice between receiving a lump sum or having the company place the money in an interest-bearing account from which you can write checks.
- Other organizations. Usually the funeral home will contact Social Security and the Veterans Administration (if applicable) on your behalf. You will want to contact any unions, professional or service organizations, or fraternal organizations of which your loved one was a member. He or she may have had life insurance or other benefits through these organizations.
- The court. If you were named executor of your loved one’s will, you’ll need to file a probate case with the court. An attorney is not required, but it may help you to hire one that is experienced in probate. As executor, you’ll be responsible for carrying out your loved one’s wishes according to the will, paying creditors and balancing the estate. There is no standard time for probate, and it can be complicated and lengthy.
- The bank. If you have a joint account with the deceased, you may be able to conduct business as usual depending on how the account was opened. Otherwise, usually only the will’s executor or administrator can access the account after providing the required paperwork to the bank. You will need to contact your bank to determine their requirements.
When you first call the funeral home, you will probably answer a few general questions about funeral plans–some vital statistics about the deceased, whether there was a prearrangement or a will, the decedent’s or family’s preference for burial or cremation, and possibly your thoughts on what services you’d like to hold. Plans will be finalized when you meet with the funeral director. The following list does not include everything, but it is a general list of things you may want to bring with you to the arrangement conference.
- Vital information about the decedent–date and place of birth and death, parents’ names, names of pre-deceased relatives and survivors, Social Security number, dates of marriages/divorces
- Highest level of education
- Military information including separation or discharge papers (DD-214), if the deceased was a veteran
- Any information related to a pre-arrangement, if applicable
- Place of burial or final disposition if a cemetery plot has been purchased
- Photographs–one or two recent photographs will be used during the embalming and cosmetizing process
- Names and phone numbers of clergy or celebrants you wish to involve in the ceremonies
- Clothing, including undergarments and jewelry or glasses you would like the deceased to be viewed wearing
- Records of life insurance policies
If you are the only next-of-kin, do not feel like you need to make all the arrangements alone. Families often come to the arrangement conference in groups for moral support and to participate in the funeral experience.
If your loved one made a pre-arrangement with our funeral home, we’ll have that information on file here for you. We will use the time in the arrangement conference to go over any details that were not yet planned for.
If your loved one pre-arranged their funeral with another funeral home and you wish to transfer that arrangement to us, please let us know as soon as possible. If the funeral has been pre-paid at another funeral home, we can transfer those funds to our funeral home to make sure your loved one’s wishes are fulfilled.
If a death occurs away from home, contact us first. We will find a local funeral home near the place of death and arrange for preparation and transportation of the remains back to our funeral home on your behalf. We can also help coordinate with the other funeral home if you are planning to have a service prior to having the family member returned to your home area.
Dying intestate–dying without a will–means that a probate judge will appoint an administrator of the deceased’s estate. If you are chosen as the administrator, your responsibilities will be similar to those of an executor of a will: distributing assets, paying creditors and balancing the estate.
Many people assume that upon a person’s death, all assets will immediately go to the spouse. If there is no will, this is not always the case. Most states will divide assets between the surviving spouse and any children, regardless of the children’s ages. If there are no children, some assets may be granted to the parents of the deceased. In the case of a single person with children, the entire estate will be split among them. When a person is single with no children, the estate may be granted to the parents (or siblings, if parents are deceased).
It is important to remember that state probate laws vary, and individual situations may be taken into account in probate court when decisions are made to distribute the deceased’s assets. If you have any questions or concerns, you may want to consult an attorney that is experienced in end-of-life planning and probate.
Benefits are available to veterans whether they are interred in a national cemetery or a private cemetery. If your loved one will be laid to rest in a national cemetery, benefits include a gravesite in any national cemetery with open space, fees for opening and closing of the grave, a government headstone or marker, a flag, and a Presidential Memorial Certificate at no cost to the family. If the veteran will be buried in a private cemetery, he or she is eligible for a government headstone or marker, a flag, and a Presidential Memorial Certificate. In some circumstances, he or she may be eligible for a burial allowance. To determine exactly what benefits your loved one will receive, contact the Veterans Administration directly or visit their website here.