The Red Tape of Dying

tough decisionWhen we lose someone we love, we don’t often expect the administrative and logistical responsibilities associated with closing out a person’s life. I know that sounds a little cold and almost crass but often what adds to overwhelm when someone dies, is dealing with all the red tape.

If at all possible, save very big, irreversible decisions like selling your home for later when you life has stabilized a little bit more. But to get you started on things that will need to be done, we’ve put together a list of items that people commonly need to address in the wake of loss. This may not be everything you need to do, but it’s a good place to start.


  • Forward all mail to the next of kin or responsible party (you must be the “executor, guardian, authorized officer, or agent of the person for whom mail would be forwarded under this order.” Mail forwarding orders can be done online at
  • At some point, the property title should have the deceased’s name removed, but generally this isn’t absolutely necessary. At the time of the future sale of the house, the survivor selling the house will need a certified copy of the Certificate of Death for the deceased owner who is still listed on the property title.
  • Switch all property tax information to the correct person so that there are no missed payments, it can reflect on the next of kin if taxes are not paid accordingly.
  • decisions after someone diesIf the home is vacant cancel cable, phone, and electricity as needed, some contract companies may need to see a death certificate in order to void the contract.
  • You may need to talk with an estate lawyer to gain more information on property and estate laws in your state.
  • Don’t forget about other types of property or land that may be owned by the deceased.
  • If someone still lives in the home but they are not the outdoor caretaker, arrange for yard care and snow removal.
  • If the home is vacant, arrange for normal yard care and snow removal. Consider adding timer switches to a couple of lamps inside. Try to make it appear as if someone lives there in order to avoid becoming a target for theft.

Personal Items

  • When you’re ready, start looking through clothing, keepsakes, and boxes to determine what is important to keep. Even if you’re not ready to sort through every last thing or let go of any items, taking a little time and identifying and labeling the things you know are important to you can help avoid a well-meaning friend or family member from removing something that was valuable to you.
  • Many groups would be honored to have donations given to them so consider giving any clothing or furniture to different charities in your area.
  • Before donating anything, check all crevices and books for any important papers or money. Many people hide important things in nooks and crannies throughout their home.

Insurance, Banks, Annuities, Pensions

  • Last Will and Death CertificateLife insurance claims are generally easy to complete. They require a certified copy of the Death Certificate and a claim form specific to the insurance company that is signed by all of the beneficiaries. In many cases your funeral home will be able to help you with that.
  • Life insurance that was provided as a company benefit usually involves a phone call to the human resources department to initiate that claim.
  • Notify all accounts about the passing and have any mailing addresses changed to the correct person.
  • Do NOT close out any accounts until you know they will not be necessary anymore (this can take many months).
  • All survivors should update the beneficiaries of their own wills, investments, retirement accounts, insurance policies and bank accounts to be certain that the person who just died is no longer listed as a beneficiary.


  • Switch any car titles to the correct person, this will require a death certificate but most DMV’s give you the original back after they have scanned it.
  • Forward any information regarding tabs and licenses to the correct person.
  • Don’t forget about any other modes of transportation that would have a title–boats, trailers, campers, ATV’s, canoes, paddleboards, etc.

Social Security & Veterans

  • Latin descent couple paying monthly bills at home. Frustration.Contact Social Security shortly after the funeral. The funeral home has contacted them already, but you will need to inquire about any future payments, amounts, and benefits and make sure they will be directed to the correct person at the correct address.
  • Be sure to ask Social Security:
    What happens to the deceased’s next direct deposit?
    Are we eligible for any survivor benefits?
    Is the deceased eligible for the $255 burial benefit?
  • Veterans: the funeral home should have filed paperwork for you in regard to benefits, presidential memorial certificates, and more. This takes many months to process, so keep an eye on your mail to see if further action is needed.

I know this seems like a lot, but if you recall the advice from our previous overwhelm post, just make a list and do one thing…then the next. You’ll get there.

Thanks for visiting Grief Compass. We’re sorry you have to be here, but are glad we’ve found each other.

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