It is highly emotional to witness a loved one’s death. It can be more overwhelming when you are the closest person responsible to get your deceased loved one’s affairs in order. Below is a list of who to notify when someone dies. This list is not exhaustive. It only intends to provide education and guidance for the surviving heirs.
Declaration of Death
When a loved one dies, how to declare the person dead depends on where and how the person died. You need a declaration of death in order to report the death for purposes of getting a death certificate.
If the death occurred in the hospital or a nursing home, these institutions will have a procedure for declaring the person’s death and for reporting the death to the government. Talk to them about their process.
If the death occurred in the home, you can either call 911 or notify the police. They will have professionals who can declare the death of your loved one. You may also get a legal death pronouncement from the funeral home or cremation organization.
In New York, hospitals and police precincts report the death to the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner (OCME), the government agency with jurisdiction over deaths occurring under certain circumstances.
Once your loved one’s death has been declared and reported to the proper government agency, you may get a copy of the death certificate online from the Health Department using VitalChek, a secure third-party vendor. Get at least 10 copies of the death certificate since you will need it to transfer ownership of each major asset.
Notify the deceased’s family members, friends, doctor, and lawyer
Once the death of your loved one has been reported to the government, you should start notifying the deceased’s family members, friends, doctor, and lawyer about the death. They may be able to give you information regarding the deceased’s funeral or burial pre-paid plans, life insurance policies, financial documents, wills, trusts, and other legal papers.
Locate important legal documents
To know which persons to notify, you need to first locate the important legal documents of the deceased. What are the important legal documents?
- Legal documents
- Trust agreement
- Pre-paid funeral contracts
- Social security card
- Birth certificates of deceased, spouse, and children
- Marriage certificate
- Driver’s license
- Passport, citizenship, or immigration papers
- Properties other than financial accounts
- Real estate property deeds
- Mortgage documents
- Loan agreements
- Promissory notes
- Vehicle titles and registrations
- Financial documents
- Insurance policies
- Credit and debit cards
- Health insurance
- Property insurance
- Bank accounts
- Investment/brokerage accounts
- Stocks and bonds
- Cryptocurrency accounts
- Retirement plans
- Social security pensions
- Tax records (filed returns)
- Other investment records
- Other personal information
- Names and contact information of closest family, friends, lawyers, accountants, and doctors
- Family tree
- Usernames and passwords for online accounts and electronic devices
The best places to give you clues or to find information about the legal documents are the deceased’s mobile phone, computer, mail, and the house.
The mobile phone will usually already contain the email, social media applications, and other online accounts of the deceased. The email will give you an idea of the deceased’s online activities: bank accounts, cryptocurrency accounts, subscriptions, and the like.
Access the deceased’s computer. If the deceased was technologically savvy, he should have a folder of all important legal documents, scanned and digitized. You can also check the deceased’s email through the computer. Usually, the email will be automatically logged on with a saved password. The email may not only provide clues on online activities but will give you an idea of subscriptions to cancel.
Check the deceased’s house often for mail. Utility bills, mortgage statements, and banks will usually send monthly account statements through ordinary mail. Once you are appointed as executor or administrator, you may request the local post office to forward the email to your preferred address.
A search of the deceased’s house will likely show hard copies of important legal documents such as deeds, vehicle title registrations, the will, trust agreement, and insurance policies. If you lived with the deceased prior to his death, it will be easy to search the house. Unfortunately, if the deceased lived alone and his death was reported to the police, the police will seal the apartment or residence. In order to access it, you need to file a petition to unseal the apartment with the Surrogate’s Court, and only for the purposes of searching for the will, cemetery deed, or insurance policy. Once you get a search order, the NYPD will unseal the apartment and grant you temporary access to search it for limited purposes.
Who to notify after death
Based on the properties that you discover after your search, you may need to notify the following of someone’s death:
- Landlord, nursing home or another rental
- Any administrator of rentals will need to be notified of the deceased’s death so that the lease may be canceled.
- Social Security Administration:
- The agency needs to be informed of the deceased’s death. Any checks sent after the death must also be returned. The surviving spouse may be entitled to the deceased’s benefits.
- Banks, financial institutions, and credit card companies
- Financial institutions need to be informed of the deceased’s death so that the bank accounts may be frozen and no unauthorized withdrawals or credit card charges can be made.
- If the deceased was employed, you must notify the employer of the death.
- Other government agencies that issued IDs to the deceased
- Any government agency that issued an ID to the deceased (e., DMV for driver’s license, National Passport Center for passports) must be notified of the deceased’s death so they can cancel the ID in order to prevent identity theft.
- Insurance companies
- You’ll need to terminate insurance policies, such as home, auto, and health insurance, and request for the return of unused premium. Life insurance companies also need to be notified so proceeds may be released to the designated beneficiaries. If the designated beneficiary predeceases, the insurance proceeds will revert to the estate.
- Voter’s registration
- Contact your local state or county to know the procedure on how to remove your deceased loved one from the voting rolls.
- Social media and email companies
- You may choose to memorialize social media and delete email accounts. Email accounts are usually associated with financial accounts and may be prone to hacking so deleting it is an option once you already get all the information you need. For social media accounts, you may memorialize the online presence by contacting the social media companies and showing them a certified copy of the death certificate and proof that you are a relative.
Notifying the proper institutions about the death of a loved one may be complex and difficult with a lot of paperwork involved, but it is very important in order to prevent identity theft and to ensure the protection of your deceased loved one’s properties. If your loved one has died and you need guidance in notifying the proper agencies and institutions, we at the Law Offices of Albert Goodwin are here for you. We have offices in New York, NY, Brooklyn, NY, and Queens, NY. You can call us at 718-509-9774 or send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.