What to Do Immediately After the Death of a Loved One

April 5, 2022 | Jennifer Harrington

Typically, there is no need to contact lawyer immediately after the passing of a loved one.[i] Instead, this is the time to focus on family needs and the disposition of the body. This checklist explains what should be done in the first weeks following a death until the death certificate is issued.

Funeral/Disposition of Remains

  • Look for records of the decedent’s desire to donate organs or tissue.[ii]
  • Check for a record of a prepaid burial contract.[iii]
  • Check for a document identifying who should make decisions about the disposition of the body (often called a declaration of designee for final disposition).[iv] If there is no such document, then state law controls who will make these decisions.[v]
  • Review estate planning documents to see if there are any specific wishes about a funeral, burial, cremation, etc. [vi]

Protect the Decedent’s Identity

  • Check that the funeral home will notify the Social Security Administration. If not, notify SSA of the death by calling 1-800-772-1213.
  • Call the decedent’s banks and inform them of the death.
  • Check the internet to ensure there are no unauthorized crowdfunding campaigns in the name of the decedent.[viii]
  • Place decedent on the Deceased Do-Not-Contact List to remove individual from marketing campaigns.[ix]

Gather Documents

  • Find any estate planning documents.[x] Hopefully, directions were given by the decedent about where to locate the important documents.
  • Check with the county clerk of court to see if a will was filed for safekeeping prior to death.[xi]
  • Access to the safe deposit box will depend on the estate planning documents.[xii] If no documents are available, then the bank may open the box 30 days after the death.[xiii]


  • Collect all mail addressed to the decedent.
  • Create a system to ensure proper receipt of all mail and documentation about the decedent’s affairs.[xv]

Death Certificate

  • The funeral home will be tasked with obtaining and filing the death certificate.[xvi]
  • More than one certified death certificate should be obtained. Some institutions will not accept a copy.[xvii]

Asset Protection

  • If no one is living on the decedent’s property, lock the residence and locate all known keys.[xviii]
  • Locate all vehicles and their keys. Ensure that only authorized individuals are able to use the vehicles.[xix]
  • Cancel services, subscriptions, and memberships that are no longer needed. Common examples include streaming services, cable or satellite TV, internet, cell phone, service club memberships, gym memberships, and newspaper or magazine subscriptions.
  • If there is real estate, transfer the basic utility accounts. Do not cancel utility accounts.[xx]
The Center for Agricultural Law and Taxation is a partner of the National Agricultural Law Center (NALC) at the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture, which serves as the nation’s leading source of agricultural and food law research and information. This material is provided as part of that partnership and is based upon work supported by the National Agricultural Library, Agricultural Research Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture.

[i] If the decedent was involved in a lawsuit, please contact the decedent’s lawyer within a few days after the passing.

[ii] Iowa Code § 142C.3.

[iii] Iowa Code Chapter 523A.

[iv] Iowa Code Chapter 144C. May be labeled “funeral directive” or “disposition of remains directive.”

[v] Iowa Code § 144C.5; Kirksey v. Jernigan, 45 So.2d 188, 189 (Fla.1950).  

[vi] Validity and Effect of Testamentary Direction as to Disposition of Testator's Body, 7 A.L.R.3d 747 (1966); Enforcement of Preference Expressed by Decedent as to Disposition of his Body After Death, 54 A.L.R.3d 1037 (1973).  

[vii] Protecting the Deceased from Identity Theft!, IA Dep. Of Justice, https://www.iowaattorneygeneral.gov/media/cms/Protecting_The_Deceased_716FA84103728.pdf (last accessed 02/24/2022).

[viii] As Funeral Crowdfunding Grows, So Do the Risks, New York Times, pub. 06/07/2018; https://www.nytimes.com/2018/06/05/business/funerals-crowdsourcing-crowdfunding-scams.html?smid=url-share (last accessed 02/24/2022).

[ix] Deceased Do No Contact Registration, Data & Marketing Assoc., https://www.ims-dm.com/cgi/ddnc.php (last accessed 02/24/2022).

[x] Iowa Code § 633A.2103; Iowa R. Evid. 5.901 and 5.902.

[xi] Iowa Code § 633.286; § 633.288.

[xii] Iowa Code § 524.810A(1).

[xiii] Iowa Code § 524.810A(3).

[xv] FAQ. IA Office of the State Med. Examiner. https://iosme.iowa.gov/faq/what-do-i-do-next-when-loved-one-dies (last accessed 03/08/2022).

[xvi] Iowa Code §144.27(1).

[xvii] Insurance Information Institute. https://www.iii.org/article/how-do-i-file-life-insurance-claim (last accessed 03/14/2022).

[xviii] Iowa Code § 633.351.

[xix] Depriest v. Greeson, 213 So.3d 1022, 1023-25 (Fla. App. 2017).

[xx] Leave the Utilities Connected if you Move While Willing Your Home. The Balance, pub. 02/27/2022. https://www.thebalance.com/utilities-and-selling-a-home-1799073 (last accessed 03/14/2022).