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What To Do After A Loved One Dies: First Steps And An Organized Checklist

Dec 1, 2023

Are you grieving the recent death of a loved one, perhaps an immediate or extended family member or friend? We’re so sorry for your loss, and we mean that. We know what it’s like to lose loved ones. Death is really hard, emotionally speaking. It can also feel shocking to realize all of the practical steps that you have to take, almost right away; it’s not just planning a funeral that you might find yourself responsible for.

In the haze of your grief, it’s understandable to forget things and to be uncertain of what needs to happen. Our lawyers frequently help families navigate the deaths of their loved ones, and we’ve put together this checklist of things to do after a loved one dies to make the road ahead a little easier for you!

(Note that every death is different, and the way you handle your loved one’s affairs will involve many decisions and details that are specific to your family’s needs. The process may take a couple of months or up to a few years, depending on your circumstances. Not everything in this checklist will directly apply to you, but it can get you started and asking the right questions, and at least notify you of some things that may need to be on your radar.)

First Steps

  • You may have to arrange to have the body moved.

This is delicate, but if the death was unexpected or occurred at home without the presence/knowledge of medical professionals, you will need to arrange to have the body moved to a place where it can be taken care of according to your loved one’s and your family’s wishes. Normally, this happens via a funeral home, but you can also contact the BC Coroners Service and go through them.

  • Notify the family, friends, and contacts of your loved one (handle with care)

This is probably one of the first things you will need to do, and it’s one of the hardest, but it shouldn’t wait. The rest of the family will need to be told that your loved one passed. If you know of any close friends or acquaintances of your loved one, they should also be told. Their employer, if they had one, needs to be made aware.

Now, how you should tell them is up to you, but a good rule of thumb is to have sensitivity and treat them as you would want to be told as much as is reasonable. Not everyone will need to be (or able to be) told in person, or over the phone, but for some people, especially closest relatives, that might be appropriate. Even if you end up sending text or emails to some, try to keep the news off of social media until the closest relatives and friends have been notified; once it’s online, some people may find out that way – people who you intended to personally tell, and this can cause hard feelings.

  • Talk to your employer about taking some time off work.

In BC, you are legally entitled to take up to 3 days of unpaid leave to attend to your loved ones’ affairs, but seeing how extensive this checklist is, and depending on how close you were to the person who passed, you may want to speak with your employer about taking more time off.

  • Contact an estate lawyer regarding probate (either your loved one’s or one of your choosing)

Unfortunately, these rest of these steps only constitute a basic checklist of things you can begin to do immediately after someone passes away; in BC, wills have to go through a court process known as probate before any assets that they did not hold jointly can be passed to their beneficiaries (including real estate property). Probate may present many challenges, and it can become quite expensive. An estate lawyer can take care of everything for you (including many or all of the items on this list!) so you can just focus on your family. You can contact the estate lawyer your loved one worked with to create their will, but you can also contact one of your own choosing.

  • Confirm the presence or lack of a will

You will need to locate the will, if your loved one made one. This could be in their home, a safety deposit box, or with their lawyer. If the will is in a safety deposit box, you will likely need a death certificate first to access the will. If you have no idea if your loved one made a will, you should search for a wills notice with the BC Vital Statistics Agency (and you will need a death certificate or a lawyer to conduct this search) to confirm whether or not they made one!

  • Register the death and obtain a death certificate

If you work with a funeral home or lawyer, they can usually help you with this, but some representative of your loved one will need to register the death with the BC Vital Statistics Agency and order a death certificate by completing an application and paying a small fee.

  • Determine who the executor of the estate is

This should be stated in the will. If there is no will, an administrator will need to be chosen and appointed by the court. This is the person who is responsible for carrying out the will’s contents if there is one, and distributing the estate’s assets in accordance with the law.,

  • Arrange for the temporary care of minors, pets, and property.

The will should make provisions for the care of minors (if your loved one had minor children) and property, though pets often get left out! If the will is outdated, or if the guardian of the minor children cannot care for them for any reason, you will need to make sure they are at least temporarily provided for (pets especially tend to be forgotten in all the busyness of death).

Sorting through your loved one’s affairs could take a while, so – for example – if they had a pool, the pool will need to be cleaned in a few weeks, and their lawn mowed, etc. Don’t forget about utilities that will need to be paid until the property can be transferred or sold (water, electric, etc.).

  • Give notice to tenants or landlords, if applicable.

You may need to contact your loved one’s landlord to make arrangements for terminating their lease agreement, settling their account, and vacating the premises. If your loved one had tenants, you will need to get a copy of the lease and arrange for either continued rental payment (and the details of where that now goes) or vacating the property. You will need to be in compliance with the Residential Tenancy Act,the rental agreement and other applicable laws in these situations.

  • If your loved one had a business, matters like paying employees may need to be taken care of immediately.

Check to see that arrangements were made for your loved one’s business. They may have set up a plan that just needs to be implemented. Arrange for payroll to be run and perhaps for a temporary arrangement until it is decided (if it wasn’t previously decided by your loved one) what will happen to the business and the employees.

  • Apply for applicable financial benefits.

Look into whether you are eligible for Canada Pension Plan (CPP) Survivor and Death Benefits. The estate, a surviving spouse or eligible dependent children may be entitled to some benefits to help offset the additional costs you are incurring right now.

Additionally, if your loved one had life insurance, you need to contact the life insurance company to arrange for their benefits to be paid out (and/or to cancel payments). Keep in mind that some employer’s extended health benefit plans may contain a life insurance policy component as well, so you should contact the extended health provider to see if any such policy may exist for you.

Also look at whether your loved one had a privately funded plan or employer-sponsored plan for pension benefits, you can contact that plan’s administrator to discuss continued benefit coverage for dependents that may exist for you.

Further, if your loved one served in the military, there may be programs that provide pension and benefit assistance, as well as funeral coverage, to the family. Also check for potential benefits the family may be entitled to if the deceased had a disability.

You should also contact Service BC if your loved one was receiving the Senior’s Supplement, a housing subsidy, worker’s compensation, or other provincial government benefits.

This may be a difficult step practically – lots of speaking on the phone and finding the right people to call – but it can result in monetary aid to your family during this hard time, which might make the funeral and other expenses less of a financial burden.

  • Contact a funeral director and plan a funeral service

You can take this step in accordance with your loved one’s wishes, and with the family’s. If it was part of your loved one’s wishes to have a funeral, be cremated, be buried, have a memorial service, or something else, a funeral home can help you plan for next steps. A funeral director can also help with many of the tasks on this list; it’s a good idea to contact them early in the process. They work with grieving families every day and are familiar with what steps you need to take.

  • Decide what to do with social media accounts

Some people forget about this, but you wouldn’t want your loved one’s social media accounts (if they had them) to be hacked or misused. Transfer the passwords and secure the account as much as possible. You can deactivate the account, or you can choose to leave it for friends and family members to post and share memories. It may be a good place initially to disperse information about your loved one’s funeral service.

  • Inform the banks and opening safety deposit boxes

If the bank account was owned jointly, it can be transferred to the co-owner without the need for probate. If not, you should inform the banks, who may freeze the account until a proper representative is handling the estate, but the banks may also allow for payments towards the funerals and other early expenses. Each bank may have a different policy or procedure, but you should speak to your bank’s representatives about your options and consider opening an estate bank account.

If your loved one had a safety deposit box, speak to the bank representative about whether it may be opened to check for a will or other testamentary document too. .

  • Close credit cards and notify credit bureaus

Fraud is a real risk when someone passes away. One of your priorities should be contacting your loved one’s credit card companies to remove their name from accounts or cancel them entirely.

  • Document everything, and gather documentation

At the beginning of this process, it will be most helpful to you if you can gather all of your loved one’s important documents (passport, birth certificate, credit cards, rental agreement or deed, etc.). This will make completing the steps on this checklist much easier.

You see how many steps are on this checklist – especially because your mind and heart may be somewhere else right now, it’s easy to forget and misplace things. Because your loved one’s estate may need to go through probate before you can move on from this part of your life, and because there may be creditors that come calling or other financial or legal concerns that arise later on, it’s important to keep records of everything you do during this season. Keep receipts and physical documents in an accordion folder at home, or organize everything in your email inbox electronically so you can refer to it later if needed.

Need Assistance? Don’t Hesitate To Contact Lam Legal. 

At Lam Legal, we are estate lawyers who care. Our compassionate, empathetic BC estate lawyers can guide you through the process and ensure your inheritance, as well as your loved one’s legacy, is protected. We can simplify and expedite a resolution; we’ll handle all the paperwork so you can mourn in peace. Call today to learn how we can serve you and your family during this difficult time.