COVER STORY: Things to Know about the Business of Dying
Have you ever thought about what happens just before and just after a loved one dies? Yes, there’s the funeral. And there may be probate. But that’s not all.
As death looms, you’re faced with the prospect of losing someone you love. When death finally comes, there’s the grief—and the overwhelming responsibility of closing out your loved one’s life. There’s a lot of ground to cover and many of the tasks require attention to detail, adding stress to what is already an emotional time.
In the weeks before death, hospice care can make a real difference in your loved one’s final days of life. The focus shifts from length of life to quality of life. Hospice care also helps the family know what to expect when the loved one dies.
When death occurs, certain things need to be done right away. One is arranging for organ and body donation. It may be the last detail you want to think about, but if your loved one wanted to donate, arrangements need to be made almost immediately.
Funeral preparations are another priority. Traditional funerals and cremation remain popular choices, but natural burial, a traditional process that avoids embalming the body or the use of chemicals, plastics or concrete, is an alternative that’s receiving more attention. And, if your loved one was a veteran, contact the VA to inquire about special arrangements for the funeral.
During the days leading up to the funeral, you may feel like you’re walking around in a fog. That’s normal. It’s usually a good idea to spend these days creating a fitting tribute to your loved one’s life. After the funeral, there’s lots more to be done, including settling the loved one’s estate and seeing to non-probate-related loose ends. Here are a few:
- Secure property. Lock up the person's home and vehicle, and make sure they’re secure. Have someone care for pets until a permanent arrangement is made.
- Get duplicate death certificates. You may need a dozen certified death records to complete upcoming tasks.
- Stop by the post office to forward the loved one’s mail. This will prevent accumulating mail from attracting attention.
- Notify the Social Security office. If your loved one was receiving benefits, they must be stopped because overpayments will require complicated repayment.
- Stop Medicare. If your loved one received Medicare, Social Security will inform the program of the death. If the deceased had been enrolled in Medicare Prescription Drug Coverage (Part D), Medicare Advantage plan or had a Medigap policy, contact these plans at the phone numbers provided on each plan membership card to cancel the insurance.
- Notify life insurance companies, and terminate other insurance policies such as homeowner's, and automobile insurance.
- Close credit card accounts. For each account, call the customer service phone number on the credit card, monthly statement or issuer's website.
- Notify credit reporting agencies. Believe it or not, some crooks read the obituaries and target those accounts for identity theft. Provide copies of the death certificate to the three major firms — Equifax, Experian and TransUnion — as soon as possible so the account is flagged.
- Cancel your loved one’s driver's license. Clearing the driver's license record will remove your loved one’s name from the DMV rolls which will help prevent identity theft.
- If possible, collect usernames and passwords for as many online accounts as possible, including media services such as Pandora, Spotify, SiriusSM, Hulu, and Netflix.
- Cancel email, social media, and website accounts. This will help you avoid fraud or identity theft. And don’t forget to turn off Facebook’s birthday reminders. It’s always awkward when a birthday reminder pops up for a person who’s no longer with us.
- Cancel memberships in organizations. Reach out to sororities, fraternities, professional organizations, etc., your loved one belonged to and find out how to handle his/her membership status.
- Notify the election board. According to a 2012 Pew Center report, almost 2 million people on voter registration rolls are dead.
- Cancel magazine subscriptions, stop automatic online service renewals, and end automatic prescription refills. An online service called ‘Trim’ can help you identify automated payments coming out of a bank account. Trim goes into your loved one’s account and identifies all the recurring expenses. Access it at asktrim.com.
What’s the best way to handle the business of dying? It’s entirely up to you. Fortunately, you have options. You can power through on your own, delegate some or all of the tasks to trusted family members, or hire a concierge-type business to tie up loose ends. Ultimately, one of the best things you can do is to talk to your loved one about these matters in advance so that no one has to guess what your preferences might have been.