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Preparing for the Death of a Loved One

When a loved one starts approaching the end of their life, whether due to age or terminal illness, it’s challenging to prepare yourself for their death. Despite the obvious challenges, it’s both practical and necessary to allow yourself space for these feelings. It’s common to start experiencing grief ahead of the actual event of death, and your emotions can easily become overwhelming.

All you can do in this situation is understand your loved one’s end-of-life wishes, get the paperwork squared away to ensure those wishes are respected, spend as much time with them as is possible and healthy for you, and prepare for the final goodbye. This article is going to focus more on the practical aspects of preparing for the death of a loved one, but it’s important to realize that the emotional aspects (such as taking care of yourself and your mental health) are just as important in this process.

Paperwork to Consider (if Applicable to Your Situation)

  • Planning for incapacity

  • Marriage and birth certificates

  • Birth certificate of each dependent child

  • Insurance policies such as health, life, etc.

  • Deed and titles to property

  • Stock certificates

  • Bank books

  • Honorable discharge papers and/or VA claim number for a Veteran

  • Automobile title and registration papers

  • Loan and installment payment records (and/or original contracts)

  • Information on credit cards

  • Legal paperwork—wills, trusts, etc

  • Tax returns

  • If the person owns a business, pull together documentation of the business entity (such as partners, LLC paperwork, etc.)

  • Information on union membership

  • Employer contact information (this can be for pension plan, 401(k), credit union, and/or union death benefits information)

  • Funeral and burial paperwork

  • Make a list of family/friends that you want to be there or to notify after death

  • Will

The purpose of this list is not to overwhelm. Instead, it’s a tool you can use to prepare. Document preparation and gathering is a preventative measure you can take now to avoid scrambling at that extremely stressful time down the road. You can also seek help in gathering this information from other family members or close friends.

Once you have all the paperwork gathered, ensure it’s kept in a safe location that is accessible to others (in case you’re not present at the time of death).

What to Do When a Family Member Dies

This is not an exhaustive list and not everything will be applicable to your situation, but these will start the necessary conversations that will make this process smoother.

  • If the person dies in a hospital or nursing home, they will contact the mortuary or funeral home.

  • If the person was on hospice, contact the hospice.

  • If the person dies at home and it is expected, call their doctor.

  • If the person dies at home unattended or it was unexpected, call 911—be aware that the paramedics may try to resuscitate the person. It might help you to explore this issue now.

  • If the person wanted to donate their body, contact the organization to whom they wanted to donate their body/tissue.

  • Complete funeral/burial arrangements.

  • Obtain several certified copies of the death certificate (see below).

  • Notify Social Security: 1-800-772-1213 (TTY 1-800-325-0778).

  • Check with the Veterans Administration for benefits.

  • Notify the health insurance company—including MediCal and Medicare.

  • Contact the life insurance company.

  • Contact the employer (if applicable).

  • Notify the post office/voter registrar.

  • Change bank accounts.

  • Review credit cards and/or charge accounts.

  • Meet with an attorney.

  • Meet with an accountant.

  • If they owned a car, transfer the title.

  • Notify the DMV.

How to Obtain a Death Certificate in Orange County

Information on death certificates:

It is best to get several certified copies as you may need to present or distribute copies as you’re squaring away their affairs. There is a fee for each of these copies.

Here’s how to get them if the person lived in Orange County:

  • You can get immediate copies of the death certificate through the Orange County Health Care Agency (714-433-6000).

  • After 60 days, you can get copies through the Clerk-Recorder Department of Vital Records in Santa Ana (714-834-2500).

  • Copies can be obtained in person, by telephone, mail, fax, or on the internet.

  • The requester will have to sign a statement, stating that they are a person authorized to obtain the copies.

Closing Thoughts

Preparing for death may feel morbid, but it’s better to ask the questions, understand your loved one’s wishes, and gather the necessary documents to ensure those wishes are met before time runs out. It will also free up your time and energy when the time does come, preventing you from scrambling for details at that more stressful time.

If you provide regular care to your loved one, we at CRC Orange County are here for you. We invite you to check out our library of information for family caregivers by clicking here for further reading and resources. You are also welcome to give us a call at 800-543-8312 to find out more about how we can support you in your caregiving journey.


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