We seldom incorporate deaths in our plan when we pan out the curves of our lives. That is why when death happens near us, we find ourselves almost clueless.
Can we have a definitive to-do checklist of things that needs our attention after someone dies? Can we negotiate in a better way with the processes during that overwhelming and emotionally distressing time?
It is normal to keep, manage and support the matters related to the departed soul. And the convention is to collect and save the legacy of the person who left us. This is to ensure that the life passed away was not just a dot in the universe and time. It is a part of a continuing human memory, now preserved in the people and things. Without memory what we are? Nothing.
But we see confusion and chaos when someone in close relatives or friends dies. This confusion arises due to the suddenness of the strike of death compounded by the neurophysiological changes in the people associated with that person.
We cannot blame death. We can only plan in a better way for the day when it knocks on our doors.
As we start moving forward in time from the event of death, the emotional tide goes down and we start to realize and celebrate the life that once was. Simultaneously, we encounter the questions related to the legacy of the person. They emerge in the form of the documents and assets left behind. Mostly, these matters are overlooked when the person is alive and healthy.
What to do with the assets and how to manage them? What needs to be done immediately and what is required in a phased manner? These questions are crucial, but the answers depend mostly upon our geography, i.e. where we live in this world. Although, feelings and concerns are same anywhere everywhere.
I would like you to suggest a checklist of those concerns. This checklist has several aspects of managing the death affairs apart from the deceased’s post-death rites and rituals.
Every death is governed by some legal and digital entities. That’s why each end of life needs to be seen in a twofold way; closing of a chapter of this legality and opening of a chapter of the legacy.
Because all these aspects cannot be segregated in a timeline manner, I have divided these two aspects of the multi-fold issues under three broad components. You will realize that every step you take or the choice you make during the management of a death affair will impact deeply upon concerned people’s lives that you probably cannot foresee at that time. This is why these steps must be well thought in advance, especially in the cases where family is large and scattered in different geographies.
So, here are the channels and stages; you will have to pass through. I have tried to count each point that demands a response from the near and dear ones.
1- After Death Steps
If Death is Expected — Call your doctor or hospice agency.
If a Death is Unexpected — Inform the authorities/police. They will help you figure out the next steps.
If a Death Happens at Home and is Normal — Plan the funeral.
If a Death Happens at the Hospital — Talk to the hospital staff about the process. Then only proceed to the funeral.
Inform the Family — Contact close family and friends of the deceased if they are not there.
Look for — The papers/persons, if the deceased named someone or left instructions for the arrangements for a funeral.
Contact — Lawyer, power of attorney, accountant, doctor or professionals dealing with the deceased.
Search- Records of the deceased’s desire to donate organs/tissue, if yes, pass this information ASAP on to the doctor.
Notification of Death — Inform the local civic authority or the department of health about the person’s death.
Collect Death Certificate — Order at least five certified copies. Remember, this certificate is needed for the transfer of ownership of the assets and property.
Notify — Deceased’s landlord, rental agency or office.
2- Collect and Safeguard the Documents
Find and Collect — All the documents left by the deceased as soon as the funeral ends. Ask close family, friends or the lawyer if they know about it.
Safety Deposit Box — Check who is the legal heir for the opening of the safety box. Banks can seal those in some of the cases. Important documents such as a Will and “Final Instructions” letter might be in the safe box. If no one is available for that, check it with concerned civil authorities.
Find out the Will — Notify the executor named in the Will immediately. The executor will take care of following the terms of the Will.
If There is No Effective Will — If it merely does not exist, not correctly signed or lost, the local country laws will govern the assets and property transfer claims.
Check for — Deeds, Titles and Promissory Notes, Loan documents, Insurance Policies, Financial Accounts
Collect — Legal Papers, Identity records like birth and marriage certificates, citizenship or immigration papers, passport, driving license, service papers and other national identities
Personal Documents/Information — Passcodes to access computers, emails and social media accounts, financial records, cell phones
3- Informing People, Agencies, Organizations, Communities & Government
Inform Government Authorities — Social and civic authorities, agencies, departments where the person was a member
Bank Accounts — Legal heir to inform the bank and follow the process further. If you held a joint bank account with the deceased, notify the bank or financial institutions or credit card companies. In most cases, a power of attorney will end with the death unless listed in the deceased’s Will or expressly recorded.
Utility Bills — Prepare a list of all, if unpaid, hand over to the person who is authorized after the deceased.
Taking Care of the Assets & Pets — Legal heir to take care of the deceased’s home, property and pets
Email Accounts — Keep all email accounts open until every government or private correspondence (including bank statements, etc.) is completed. Banks, social media, digital platforms might only be accessible through email accounts. Also, username and password of online accounts will only work when you have the email access.
Insurance Claims — Contact all insurance companies listed or maintained by the deceased in his/her records.
Pensions and Benefits — Contact the deceased’s employer or agency if you are the beneficiary and ask about death benefits, annuity or retirement plans. Everything related to life and health insurance deceased had. Ask for compensation benefits if an injury or illness caused the death.
These three heads are the fundamental structure of the information you may require in case of a loved one’s death.
I understand, this transition creates more complicated psychological and emotional issues. Suppose you are an immediate relative, your responsibility increases. If you are just one of the beneficiaries, you should know what is happening. And if you happen to be a person managing on a close relative’s behalf, you must need all this information for your family who is suffering the loss.
When and How to Prepare the List
Preparing this list is possible, effortlessly when you are trailing for impending death, anticipating the announcement. Although that’s also the time, no one wants to talk about this. Whether this seems awkward, but it should be initiated by the first circle relatives of the person on death bed. If agree, this information can also be uploaded into a sheet on Google Drive and shared with those who should have this for being on the same page. In any case, you will need to keep your checklist workable, information ready and in one place for any eventuality.
If a death happens unexpectedly and you don’t have time, you will have to race to complete this to-do list.
And I will request you to please don’t underestimate the power of this list. If you are a person related to the deceased, you will need to follow up with these tasks in the near future. If you have all the required information within your reach, death management could be a less uneven or rough affair.