Checklist to help you manage the process after a parent dies
A parent’s death is always a sad and difficult time. It doesn’t matter if it was expected or unexpected – either way, it’s emotional. It doesn’t matter how old you are; it’s never easy. It’s a big loss and it stirs up a lot memories and emotions – both current ones and ones from our childhood. And, of course, we are reminded of our own vulnerability.
While we can’t bring your parent back, we can help provide advice on how to navigate the process to make things a bit easier and smoother. Below is a checklist of steps you’ll want to take after losing a parent. For some, focusing on these tasks can help with the grief and provide a much needed respite.
15 Immediate steps to take after a parent’s death
1. Let your feelings out…then pull yourself together (just for a brief a moment)
Do not be afraid to share your feelings, no matter what they are. This is normal and it’s part of the grieving process. Losing a parent is hard, no matter what your age is and no matter what the circumstances are. It’s even hard when they were sick for a while and you were expecting this. And, it doesn’t matter if you’re male or female. We all have feelings…and we may have different feelings at different times. Expect this. It’s normal.
Let your emotions out. It will help you. And, note that you will grieve for a while. It’s natural and normal. And, the emotion will come and go many times. Over time it gets a bit easier.
Now, while it will take a long time to grieve, try to take a brief break as there are some important tasks that you will need to keep on top of. It’s a difficult time for sure, and now is the time to tap into your network of family and friends to help support you during this process.
2. Identify who needs to be notified
Let family members, their close friends, your close friends, business partners and their employer know. If there’s anyone whom your parent had some sort of responsibility to, let them know as well.
3. Determine if there are any people or pets that need assistance
Are there any kids, or a spouse, or other people they were taking care of that now need assistance or a place to stay? Are there any pets that need a new home (as well as food and water). Make sure there is an immediate plan for them, even if the long-term plan is different.
4. Identify your support network
5. Look for a Will
Determine if there is a Will and where it is. You will most likely need to contact your parent’s attorney. Find out who the executor will be. The attorney and executor will guide you through the process (or if you are the executor, the lawyer will guide you). If there is no Will, identify who will act as executor and you will take the matter to a probate court.
You can read more about this process in this blog post: How to sell a house to settle an estate. This guide is very comprehensive and explains the probate process, the process for clearing out and preparing a house for the market, choosing a realtor and tax considerations. It also links to a number of other resources that can help you through this process.
6. Freeze tangible and intangible assets; keep an inventory
Freeze the tangible and intangible assets so that nothing leaves the property. This includes any cars, artwork, jewelry, keepsakes, the house, furniture, 401K or IRAs or other retirement funds. Keep an inventory of everything so that there’s a record.
Be sure to change the locks so that you know who has access to the house (remember that your parent may have given keys to friends, neighbors, contractors and you don’t want to take any chances). All items in the house become part of the estate and need to be handled appropriately and legally.
7. Place an obituary announcement
Place an announcement or obituary in local and hometown newspapers. Let people know where the funeral and services will be (see below).
8. Plan the funeral service
Plan the funeral service (and enroll at least one family member to help). Don’t be afraid to compare prices, and request a price list that has the options itemized. Unfortunately, some funeral parlors take advantage of people in their time of need and emotional grief and offer just package prices (which may include items you don’t need or want).
There are now laws in place that state you are entitled to a la carte pricing for what a funeral home provides. You may find this article helpful: Don’t get cheated at the funeral home.
9. If you have religious traditions such as a wake or shiva.
Depending on your religious beliefs and traditions, you’ll want to set this up and let others know as well. Enroll family members and friends to help you organize this.
10. Request extra copies of the death certificate
Whatever you think you’ll need, you’ll probably need more…so add an extra 10 copies or so. You will need them for all the paper work that will come up over the next few months.
11. Consult an estate attorney (and/or a CPA)
Be sure to consult an estate attorney (as well as a CPA) so that you fully understand the legal and tax issues for managing an estate. You’ll want to fully understand the process and tax implications as it may impact whether and when you want to sell the house as well as how to manage the assets and how to file paperwork properly (and on time).
12. Identify bills and debts
Identify what debts and bills exist, so that these are managed properly. This may include the mortgage, credit cards, utilities, insurance, car insurance and other monthly expenses. And, don’t forget real estate taxes (unless this already included as part of the mortgage payment).
If there are other larger debts, these will need to eventually be settled as well. This all happens as part of the probate process, so you’ll want to get that settled quickly. Depending on the timing and transfer date, you may need to contact some places to ask for extensions. Most places are understanding, but you may need to provide a copy of the death certificate (see above as you’ll need plenty of extra copies).
13. Cancel unneeded ongoing bills
Look at the credit card statements and the mail for ongoing payments and determine which ones can be canceled (e.g. phone bills, cell phone bills, car insurance, magazine and newspaper subscriptions, etc.). Do NOT cancel the home insurance (see below).
14. Contact social media and other relevant online places
15. Change the home insurance to vacant home insurance
First, do not cancel home insurance. We all know about Murphy’s law, and in fact empty homes tend to have MORE problems than occupied homes (more break-in, more water damage, etc.) Some of this is because the homes are more vulnerable and part is because there is no one living there to problems go undetected for longer. So, do NOT let your insurance lapse. (See more here: Watch outs when maintaining a vacant home.)
Now, most people don’t realize that they need to transfer the insurance to be vacant home insurance. Unfortunately, vacant home insurance costs more (often 1.5 to 3 times the amount) because vacant homes are more prone to accidents and damage. But, if you don’t do this and you have a problem, the insurance won’t cover you. That’s because most insurance companies won’t cover a home if it’s been vacant for more than 30 days. So, if you have a flood, or a hurricane, or a fire or a break-in, you are on your own. So, call the insurance company to make sure you have the right coverage (and be sure to have it transferred to the the estate).
This is a difficult time for everyone. Allow yourself time to grieve and to breathe. The grief will come and go, and that is normal.
Enroll and enlist the help of others – now is when you need them the most. Most of your friends and family will be more than happy to help you. They may be grieving, too, so it gives them comfort to be with others feeling the same way, and it usually makes them feel better if they can help you. Do not be afraid to reach out and to accept their help. It’s a sign of strength (not weakness).
Take care of the immediate needs first and then after move on to the next phases. We have many helpful articles for you to help you in the next phase (see below) when it comes time to clean out and prepare the house for the market (if that’s what you plan to do).
Other useful articles after you’ve lost a parent:
- How to sell a house to settle an estate
- Supplies for cleaning out your parent’s home
- How to hold an estate sale – step by step
- 17+ secret hiding places for money when cleaning out your parent’s house
- Watch outs when managing a vacant home on the market
- Home maintenance checklist for vacant houses
- Can you sell a house “as is?”
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Checklist to help you manage the process after a parent dies | Next steps after a parent’s death