Practical Tasks Following Death

After the death of a loved one, there are many practical tasks that will need your attention. This is a challenging and exhausting time, and it is a good idea to enlist the help of a family member or friend.

Who to Notify

Below is a list of people and groups to notify after the death of your loved one. You will likely need to provide death certificates to some of them. If your spouse has passed away, you may also need copies of your marriage certificate.

The best way to obtain a death certificate is through the funeral home; they can also advise you on how many you may need, as copies generally aren't accepted. It will take the funeral home one to two weeks to prepare and process death certificates.

It is helpful to bring the following information with you when you visit the funeral home:

  • Name of the deceased
  • Date and place of birth
  • Social security number
  • Father's full name and place of birth
  • Mother's full name and place of birth

Please notify the following:

Those involved in funeral arrangements:

  • Funeral director of funeral home (to arrange services)
  • Church, temple, mosque or place of worship (to arrange services)
  • Cemetery or memorial park
  • Organist, singer, pallbearers

Relatives and friends

Banks or credit unions

Joint accounts are automatically closed after the joint account holder notifies the bank of the death. Request that your bank release the funds to you. You should immediately establish a new account to handle funds received after the death.

If a safety deposit box was rented in the name of the deceased only, you will need a court order to open it.

Insurance companies (health, life, auto)

If the funds are not already committed to a financial plan, request payment for only the amount you will need in the next two months. Leave decisions about investments for a later, less harried time. Call the companies for forms.

Social Security, veteran's benefits, pension/association programs

The death benefits that are part of these plans should be applied for promptly. See the "Death Benefits" section below for more information.

Probate court

In most states, wills must be filed within 10 days or, if there is no will, this act must be disclosed. Probate procedures may be a complex matter, depending on the size of the estate and claims against it. The advice of a family lawyer or wise friend who has been through the process is invaluable. If the surviving spouse can be appointed administrator of the estate, this arrangement often saves money.

Be aware that the court generally does not permit probate to be concluded in less than a year, so some resources may be tied up for at least that long.

If you need legal assistance, contact the County Bar Association Lawyer Referral Service at (415) 989-1616) or visit the American Bar Association website.

Hospitalization/Major medical insurance

Spouses of the deceased must either convert to an individual medical insurance plan or purchase their own personal policy.

Unions, fraternal organizations, alumni associations, professional societies and other organizations

Newspapers for obituary, if desired

Credit card companies

Cancel credit cards that are only in the name of the deceased.

Automotive groups

Transfer the titles of any cars that were in the name of the deceased. Contact the Department of Motor Vehicles for details. Notify auto insurance companies.

Compiling Important Documents

While settling affairs for your loved one, it is helpful to have some of these documents on hand:

  • Social security card
  • Citizenship documents
  • Will or living trust
  • Insurance policies
  • Deeds to properties
  • Titles to automobiles, boats or RVs
  • Bank books
  • Stock, bond or mutual fund statements
  • IRA, 401(k) or pension plan information
  • Income tax returns
  • Disability claims

Death Benefits

Social Security offers death benefits to a surviving spouse, or, if there is no surviving spouse, an eligible child. Certain family members may also be eligible for benefits. The death benefit is a one-time sum of $255.

Death benefits may also include Veterans Administration, insurance, employee pension and union or fraternal organization benefits.

Other Practical Tasks


If you included the deceased in your will, you will want to update it.

Income tax

Income taxes still need to be filed for the deceased for that year. Taxes are due on the normal filing date, but you can request an extension. If the deceased was your spouse, you can still file jointly. If you have dependent children, you can file a joint return for two more years.

Federal estate tax return (IRS Form 706)

Check with the IRS, a tax consultant or online to see if you will need to file for a federal estate tax return. If you do need to file for this, you should do it within nine months of the death.

More Information


Reviewed by health care specialists at UCSF Medical Center.

This information is for educational purposes only and is not intended to replace the advice of your doctor or health care provider. We encourage you to discuss with your doctor any questions or concerns you may have.