I recently attended a grief presentation where the speaker pointed out that Americans hide from death. We don’t talk about it, we don’t think about it and it’s something that happens to other people.

At Abbey Caskets, we are constantly talking with people about planning for their funerals. We have families who tell us they were so comforted by the fact that their parent, grandparent or other relative had their funerals planned and they knew exactly what they should do.

But most people who are “not old” or “not sick” don’t feel the need to be prepared or even talk about death.

So what do you do when someone dies unexpectedly? Below is a list of information you will need immediately following the death of a loved one.

Who to contact

Depending on the situation of death – sudden or long-term illness with hospice involved – you will need to contact 911, the coroner, hospice or your family physician. Keep these important numbers next to your phone or on your refrigerator for immediate access.

If the family is not present, the next of kin should be contacted. Next of kin is the person who will be making all the final decisions for the deceased. This could be a spouse, child or other relative.

Determine if the deceased is an organ donor. You can check the person’s driver’s license to see if they are an organ donor. Depending on where the death takes place, organ donation may not be an option.

If the deceased was involved in a church, notify the clergy of the death.

Contact the funeral home you will be using for any funeral arrangements

Information you will need immediately

When the coroner arrives, you will need to have some basic information available. You will also need to provide the deceased’s Social Security number and date of birth.

Depending on the type of death, there may be an investigation or autopsy that follows.

Find any paperwork about funeral planning or expenses

If you have not had any conversation about funeral planning with the person, you may be surprised if all the funeral arrangements have been made.

One challenge may be locating the paperwork. Several places to check are: a safe in their home, a safety deposit box at the bank or the local funeral home.

You should also check to see if they have an insurance policy that covers funeral expenses.

Secure any property and cancel any deliveries if the person lived alone

If the deceased lived alone, make sure to check the home for pets. You should also have someone, yourself or a relative, stay at the home, or check the home daily, to take care of mail, pets, plants or other necessities until after the funeral. Unfortunately, homes of the deceased become vulnerable to break-ins after a death notice appears in the newspaper.

Notify other relatives and friends

After the deceased has been removed from the home, the complicated task of informing other relatives and friends will take place. Be sure to have other family members help with this emotional task.

You will also want to inform the deceased’s employer, university or school if he or she was still an active employee or student. You will also want to notify your employer.

Someone should inform the deceased’s family doctor.

Contact the deceased’s church and clergy so they can inform the congregation of the death and prepare for the funeral. They may also want to arrange a time to meet with you to plan the funeral. You can also take this time to ask the clergy to go to the funeral home with you if you feel as though you will need support during the funeral planning.

Preparing to meet with the funeral home

If any funeral arrangements have been made, be sure to take the paperwork with you to the funeral home.

You will need information about the deceased for the services and obituary, such as the deceased’s full name, birthdate, age, occupation, family members, if the deceased was a veteran, organization memberships, pallbearers, church services and cemetery for interment.

You will also need to provide clothes for the deceased.

Before going to the funeral home, you may want to call different funeral homes to ask about pricing. Federal law requires that they must provide prices over the phone, if requested. You, or a relative, may even want to stop in at the funeral homes to get a general price list to look over pricing before you meet with the funeral director. This can help prevent emotional overspending.

No matter how prepared, or unprepared, you may be when someone dies, it is best to remember to take your time and ask for help if you need it.


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