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Dealing with Losing a Loved One

Hugh Elliott wrote, "Death can sneak up on you like a silent kitten, surprising you with its touch and you have a right to act surprised. Other times death stomps in the front door, unwanted and unannounced, and makes it's noisy way to your seat on the sofa."

The experience of losing a loved one is different for everyone as is the way we face the very possibility of our death. We can discover great lessons such as humility, acceptance, and the power of compassion to heal old emotional scars. We can also find value in posthumously caring for others through organ and tissue donation. This section has both practical and insightful reading materials including valuable information on who to call first and how to share the sad news with family and friends.

Should you have questions about anything you find here, please call us.

Loss of a Loved One

losing a loved one fallen leavesWho Do You Call First?

When death occurs, what you do first depends on the circumstances of the death. When the death occurs in a hospital or similar care facility, the staff usually takes care of some arrangements such as contacting the funeral home you choose and, if necessary, arranging an autopsy.

However, you or a designated family member or friend will need to notify others. We recommend that you only make a few phone calls to other relatives or friends and ask them to make a phone call or two to specific people. That way, the burden of spreading the news isn't all on you.

If you are alone when death occurs, ask a friend or neighbor to keep you company while you make these calls. You will be much better able to cope with the first hours after the death.
One of you first calls should be made to a licensed funeral director. Naturally, we'd like you to call us, but whether or not you choose one of our funeral professionals to care for your loved one or select a different firm, you should know that the funeral director can:

  • Transport the body
  • Obtain a death certificate
  • Offer a cremation casket, urn and/or grave marker
  • Arrange the memorial service
  • Prepare and publish the obituary
  • Help notify the deceased's employer, attorney, insurance company, and banks
  • Offer grief support
  • Direct you to other resources

These calls are being made for two distinct reasons:

  • To notify the authorities and obtain assistance in dealing with the body
  • To notify the social circle, and gather family and friends together for support

Naturally the first of those reasons takes priority because it is your responsibility to care for your loved one. Placing their body in the care of professionals can be a relief and will give you the space to make those calls involved in the second category of outreach: the purely social notifications that will surround you with support.

Don’t Forget to Call the Employer

If your loved one was employed, you will need to call his or her employer immediately to let them know of the passing.

At a later date, you should ask about the deceased's benefits and any pay owed to them including vacation or sick time. Also ask if you or other dependents are still eligible for benefit coverage through the company and whether there is a life insurance policy, the beneficiary, and how to file a claim.

Call the Life Insurance Company

If your loved one had a life insurance policy, locate the related paperwork. Call the agent or the company and ask how to file a claim. Usually the beneficiary (or the beneficiary's guardian, if a minor) must complete the claim forms and related paperwork.

You will need to submit a certified copy of the death certificate and a claimant's statement to establish proof of claim. Remember to ask about payment options. You may have a choice between receiving a lump sum or having the insurance company place the funds in an interest-bearing account.

For more information on what's involved when death occurs, don't hesitate to contact us.

Are You the Next-of-Kin?

If the deceased has not expressed his or her wishes and designated an agent through a written document such as a Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care or a Last Will and Testament, then the chain of command, formally called the Order of Precedence, used to identify the legal next-of-kin is normally as follows:

  • Legal Spouse / Partner
  • Surviving Adult Child / Children
  • Surviving Parent
  • Surviving Adult Sibling
  • Ex-Spouse
  • Parent of Minor Child

The person designated as the next-of-kin must be present to make decisions and sign documents. If you are unclear as to who is designated as the responsible person, call us.

The Critical Importance of Designating a Representative

If your loved one has yet to specify who they wish to be in control of their arrangements, and they are clear-headed enough to do so, do your best to convince them that this is the perfect time to take care of that task. This is especially important if there are no living relatives, they think their family members will not respect their wishes, or if they are on bad terms with anyone.  

You can also suggest that they appoint a specific person who is not  the next-of-kin but is deeply trusted to make the arrangements. This can be a good way to ensure that their final wishes are carried out.

They can designate their choice by completing an Advance Health Care Directive or the easy-to-read 5 Wishes guide from Aging with Dignity. Should you have questions about doing so, call us or speak with your family attorney.

How to Tell Family Members
Share the news with kindness and follow our practical suggestions.
Writing a Will
It's estimated that over half the people in the United States and Canada fail to write a will. Not only that, they neglect to write a living will. Here's what you should know to get started.
Downloadable Grief Resources
Our grief experts have produced a collection of downloadable bereavement support resources, including grief journals for both adults and children, one-sheets on helping children and older adults through loss, and tips on scattering a loved one's ashes.