The days after someone dies are a confusing blend of raw emotion and grueling paperwork. That seems to get even more true the closer they are to you–especially if it’s your parent, child or sibling.

This is a time when your brain reverts back to basics, reacting on an emotional “fight-or-flight” level. And yet, people expect you to process important documents and make critical estate decisions–actions that require careful thought and often tough decision-making.

This step-by-step checklist will help you deal with the death of someone close to you and their estate. Some of the items will likely grow into their own checklists but don’t worry about that yet. Just work your way down this preliminary checklist to help keep your brain on track.

Download our Checklist: What to Do After a Death

10 Steps To Take When Someone Dies In The Family

1. Who needs to be notified? 

Family members, business partners, employer - anyone to whom the deceased person had some type of responsibility.

Are there any pets, children, a spouse, parents who are elderly, or disabled dependents who need immediate assistance?

See more details on who to notify and how to go about it here.

2. Stop to inventory the tangible and intangible assets so nothing “walks away”

Jewelry, keepsakes, cars, houses, even a 401k or other retirement funds...It’s important to list as many things as you can in writing so there is a recorded checklist of all assets after someone dies.

Also, consider changing their home locks so you know who has access to the estate.

Relatives not cooperating? Click here to read about what to do.

3. Look for a will and other legal documents for probate

If the will does not stipulate (or if there is no will), you’ll need to identify who will act as executor or administrator of the estate.

Other documents you’ll want to look for include things like a family trust.

4. Submit an announcement or obituary

It’s common to place an announcement or obituary in local and hometown newspapers. You should be able to contact your local newspaper, news station, or other relevant organization to get more details.

5. Plan the funeral service

Don’t be afraid to shop on price because they vary widely! Request a price list from all service providers, and ask that they break out individual costs for “packages.”

You have the right to a la carte pricing for everything a funeral home provides - it’s the law, actually!

6. Order multiple copies of the death certificate

Request extra copies of the death certificate, and however many you think you need, add at least 5 or 10 copies for backup.

These are necessary in order to properly close accounts, claim benefits, or to settle estate claims.

7. Seek out a specialist

Talk to a probate expert to identify legal and tax issues for the estate.

8. Identify what bills and debts exist

Utilities, credit cards, insurance, mortgages, and other monthly bills need to be paid or contacted about extensions. 

Larger debts will eventually need to be settled. Check credit card statements for ongoing monthly charges (like software subscriptions) that need to be notified or canceled.

9. Close personal accounts

Contact social media, dating sites, email providers and cellphone companies to shut down digital accounts.

Google the deceased’s name to check their digital footprint - you may find additional accounts, organizations or people to notify.

10. Build a support system

Choose the best go-to people around you for emotional and logistical assistance.

Build a strong team for getting things done, and for making sure you get the support you need after someone in your family dies, especially if it was your parent.

Navigating Complexities After Death

The days ahead will be a whirlwind of emotions and complicated logistics.

Print out a copy of this list to take along and keep you on track. This will help you navigate what to do after someone dies in a way that allows you to grieve, and still take care of responsibilities. If you're also facing the challenge of what to do with a house and belongings, click here to learn more about our Estate Liquidation Services.

Learn More About Estate Liquidation


At Wayforth we work with families in transition. We can empty an entire house within days, sorting what items to keep, sell, donate, and discard. Our employees pack and move everything, then prepare the house for sale. Call us for a free consultation.

Our advice is based on our experience cleaning out and settling estates for our clients. Each project is different, and each state's laws are different. We always recommend that you consult personally with experts about your particular situation before making any important decisions.