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What to Do When a Loved One Dies

This checklist could help you cope with practical tasks during an emotional time

When a loved one dies, you might face the overwhelming responsibility of closing out the person's life. There are many things to attend to, from providing a proper tribute to closing bank accounts to canceling a gym membership. And many of the tasks require attention to detail — adding stress to what is already a pretty emotional time.

See also: Will you leave a fair will for your children?

AARP recommends a checklist of things to do when a loved one dies- a woman sits alone in a lawn chair next to an empty chair

AARP recommends a checklist of things to do when a loved one dies. — Ocean/Corbis

To cope, cut yourself some slack: Don't try to handle everything yourself if you don't have to.

"This burden shouldn't be placed on one individual," says Sally Hurme, an AARP elder law attorney and author of The ABA Checklist for Family Heirs. "When people ask what they can do to help, take advantage of the offer. Delegate."

To do so, you need to have a full, clear picture of what needs to be done. Here's an ordered checklist to make your task easier. As you review what's in store, consider which undertakings you can hand off and who can best handle them.

To Do Immediately

Arrange for organ donation. It may be the last detail you want to think about, but arrangements need to be made "almost immediately at death so the organs can be harvested as promptly as possible," Hurme says. Not certain about the person's wishes? Two sources to check: the driver's license and an advance health care directive, such as a living will or health care proxy. If the answer is "yes," the hospital where the person died will have a coordinator to guide you through the process. If your loved one died outside of a hospital — that includes in hospice or a nursing home — contact the nearest hospital. Staff will be on hand to answer questions about what's next. There is no cost.

Contact immediate family. Of course you want to update key family members. Bringing them together in person, by phone or electronically (via mass email, Skype or Facebook Family page), is an opportunity not only to comfort one another but also to share information about important decisions that must be made — some of them immediately. Do any of you, for example, know of an arrangement for the funeral or other source for burial wishes?

Follow body bequeathal instructions. If the person made arrangements to donate his or her body to a medical school, the family must respect those wishes. An advance directive, living will or health proxy may guide you to a particular institution. If the person hasn't made arrangements, the next of kin can donate the body, but the decision needs to be made as early as possible.

Consider funeral preparations. If possible, bring together key family members for an early conversation. This is especially helpful if the deceased left no advance instructions or possibly made an unreasonable request. Factors to consider:

  • What did the deceased want?
  • What can you afford?
  • What's realistic?
  • What will help the family most?

Next: Choose a funeral home. »

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