What immediate actions do we need to take after a family member dies?

The most important thing is to take care of yourself and the rest of the family as you grieve your loss.  When it comes to the business and financial affairs, generally there are not any time sensitive emergencies and there will be plenty of time to deal with these matters in the weeks to come. 


In fact, don’t be surprised if when you call us, we recommend scheduling your appointment for a week or two after the service.  Many executors and trustees will call us immediately, sometimes even the day of the deceased passing, in a panic thinking that they have to get started as quickly as possible.  This process is more of a marathon than a sprint.  Take a few days to gather yourself and spend time with family and we’ll be here when you’re ready to get started.

This is the time to be taking care of arrangements for your deceased family member.  First, honor any organ or tissue donations that your loved one may have had.  If you’re unsure whether he or she wanted to be a donor, look for a small red heart on their North Carolina driver’s license, or review his or her health care and estate planning documents for documents indicating his or her wishes.

If appropriate, request that an autopsy be performed.  Generally, if the decedent’s death may have resulted from foul play, the medical examiner will do this automatically, regardless of family consent.    If, however, the family suspects medical malpractice or other suspicious circumstances, the family may have to request an autopsy.  If this is the case, be sure to notify the deceased’s attending physician immediately, or if the body has already been transported to the funeral home, notify the funeral director as quickly as possible.

Finally, begin making the funeral arrangements for the deceased.  Again, you start by looking through his or her estate planning documents for instructions on the subject.  For example, in our office, many of our clients have a “Memorial Instructions” tab in their estate planning portfolios that includes “Instructions for Final Arrangements.” 

During the funeral planning process, be sure to consult with close family members of the deceased.  Remember that this is a of stress and grieving and everyone’s nerves are on edge and this can be a frequent source of family disagreement.