Where Do I Start?

The Catholic Burial Plan and

Catholic Cemeteries of Northeast Kansas

“Where do I Start” When Someone Dies

What to do when someone dies 

❖  Whether you received a 2 am phone call with news of an unexpected death or shared your loved one’s final moments of a long illness, your initial reaction to the death was likely shock. It doesn’t seem to matter how prepared we are – or aren’t – a loved one’s death often leaves us feeling numb and bewildered. If you’re responsible for making the funeral arrangements or executing the will, shock and grief can be immobilizing. Even simple decisions can be difficult, if not overwhelming.

Making the first phone calls

❖  What to do first depends on the circumstances of the death. When someone dies in a hospital or similar care facility, the staff will usually take care of some arrangements, such as contacting the cemetery/funeral home you choose, and if necessary, arranging an autopsy. You will need to notify family, friends and the parish. Many parishes today sponsor Bereavement Ministries that provide liturgical guidance to help with planning an appropriate funeral Mass. It may be easier on you to make a few phone calls to other relatives or friends and ask each of them to make a phone call or two to specific people, so the burden of spreading the news isn’t all on you. If you are alone, ask someone to keep you company while you make these calls and try to cope with the first hours after the death.

When someone dies at home or at work

❖  If a person dies at home or at work, first call 911 or the emergency phone number in your area. Any death occurring without a physician or medical personnel in attendance must be reported to the police and an investigation held. After the coroner’s examination, the body will either be transported to the morgue for autopsy or to the funeral home of your choice, depending on the circumstances of death.

❖  If your loved one was under medical care, be sure to notify the doctor. If you don’t know the doctor’s name, look for prescription bottles or medical bills. If the person was under the care of a hospice program, call the hospice organization instead of 911.

Call the Cemetery

❖  Let the cemetery know of the death and what funeral home you will be using.

❖  If cemetery arrangements have not been pre-planned, selection of desired burial, entombment or inurnment must occur. It is advisable to make cemetery arrangements before visiting the funeral home, as those choices may determine less costly services needed from the funeral home (i.e.; choosing mausoleum entombment may be less costly overall, including the need for a considerably less costly casket, or urn….especially if one is included with a niche purchase).

Call the funeral director

❖  Whatever the circumstances of death, one of your first calls after the cemetery, should be to a licensed funeral director. He/she can help you:

✓ Transport the body

✓ Obtain a death certificate

✓ Select a casket or an urn (unless already pre-arranged through the cemetery)

✓ Arrange the Vigil, Funeral Mass, and Committal service.

✓ Prepare the obituary

✓ Help you notify the deceased’s employer, attorney, insurance company and banks

✓ Offer grief support or direct you to other resources

❖ Look for instructions which the Decedent may have left regarding preferences for funeral and burial arrangements. Determine if the Decedent wanted special arrangements for a funeral, such as military honor guards. Much of this could be handled prior to death, with thoughtful pre-arrangements handled by your Catholic Burial Plan pre-planning specialist. Our Memorial Estate Planning Guide, once properly completed, can document all of these preferences.

Call the employer

❖  If your loved one was working, you’ll need to call his or her employer immediately. Ask about the deceased’s benefits and any pay due, including vacation or sick time, disability income, etc. Ask if you or other dependents are still eligible for benefit coverage through the company. Ask whether there is a life insurance policy through the employer, who the beneficiary is and how to file a claim.

Call the life insurance company

❖  Look through the deceased’s paperwork for the life insurance policy. 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’ll need to submit 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 and having the insurance company place the money in an interest-bearing account from which you can write checks.

Call Social Security and other organizations

❖  Notify Social Security of the death. If your loved one was covered, the spouse or dependents may be eligible for certain payments or benefits. Also call any unions, professional or service organizations your loved one belonged to. He or she may have had life insurance or other benefits through these organizations.

Gather important papers

❖  Of course the first thing you may be looking for when someone dies is the will or trust. But remember to gather other important papers, such as deeds, business agreements, tax returns, bank accounts, earnings statements, birth and marriage certificates, military discharge papers, Social Security number, vehicle registration, loan payment books, bills, and any other important papers pertaining to your loved one’s affairs. You’ll need these to file a final tax return and settle the estate; you may want to consult an accountant.

Executing the will

❖  If you were named the executor of your loved one’s will, you’ve got more work to do. First, you’ll need to file a probate case with the court. Although an attorney isn’t required in most states, you’ll probably want to hire one who is experienced in probate. You may choose to hire the lawyer who prepared the will, but that isn’t necessary.

❖  Depending on the specifics of the estate, probate can be complicated and lengthy. As executor, you’ll be responsible for carrying out your loved one’s wishes according to the will, paying creditors and balancing the estate. There’s no standard amount of time a probate lasts, but some states are initiating laws to expedite the process.

Dying intestate – without a will

❖  If someone dies without a will – dying intestate – the court will appoint an administrator. If you are appointed administrator, your responsibilities will be similar to those of an executor: distributing assets, paying creditors and balancing the estate.

Accessing bank accounts

❖  If you have a joint account with the deceased, you may be able to conduct business as usual, depending upon how the account was opened. Otherwise, normally only the will’s executor or administrator can access the account after providing the required paperwork to the bank. Call or visit the bank to find out what is required.

Finding help

❖  Wrapping up your loved one’s affairs can be tedious and stressful. Find guidance you can trust to help you work out the details, such as an accountant, attorney, grief counselor and/or clergy to help you manage the financial, legal and emotional issues a death can bring.

❖  After finding help, all of this information can be recorded ahead of time in your Memorial Estate Planning Guide provided by your representative counselor from Catholic Cemeteries of Northeast Kansas.


🗹    Date

☐________ If a doctor is not present, notify a doctor or coroner in order to obtain a

death certificate.

☐________ If the death occurs at home, you may need to contact the local police or


☐________ If the Decedent wished, a donation of body parts and tissue should be


☐________ Notify family and friends. You may want to consider having family

members contact others to save yourself some time on the phone during a

stressful period.

☐________ Look for instructions which the Decedent may have left regarding

pre-arrangements for cemetery and funeral needs.

☐________ Determine if the Decedent belonged to a burial or memorial society that

may make special arrangements for the funeral, such as military honor


☐________ Contact the cemetery concerning burial, entombment or cremation options.

☐________ Contact a funeral home concerning funeral arrangements.

☐________ Contact the Social Security Administration and any other government

agencies or benefit programs that may be making payments to the

Decedent. (Note that the payment for the month of death will not be made

by the Social Security Administration and others.)

☐________ Review the Decedent’s financial affairs and look for any estate planning

documents, such as wills and trusts, along with any other relevant

documents, including:

⬩    Cemetery, burial, and funeral plans

⬩    Safe deposit agreements and keys

⬩    Nuptial agreements

⬩    Life insurance policies

⬩    Existence of trust

⬩    Pension-retirement benefits

⬩    Old tax returns

⬩    Prior gift tax returns

⬩    Marriage, birth, and death certificates

⬩    Divorce documentation/Annulment documentation

⬩    Computer records regarding books of a business or personal assets

⬩    Bank statements, checkbooks, similar documents

⬩    Notes receivable

⬩    Titles to motor vehicles

⬩    Leases

⬩    Securities and lists of securities

⬩    Any documentation of business ownership or business interest

⬩    Health insurance to make claims for final illness

⬩    Unpaid bills

🗹    Date

☐________ If there is a will, take the will to the appropriate county or city office to have

it accepted for probate.

☐________ Administering the will: If the will is properly drawn, it will name a

Personal Representative (also known as Executor or Executrix). The

Personal Representative, who can be an individual, a group of individuals,

or, one or more institutions, or a combination of the aforementioned, will

be responsible for the administration of the estate of the Decedent.

☐________ If there is no will and there are sufficient assets to probate (typically, at least

$50,000), then the court will appoint an administrator and the assets of the

Decedent will be distributed according to state law. This situation is

referred to by some as having the state write a will for you. All states have

a set of laws relating to intestate succession (transfer of property after

dying without a will), and the states decide who gets which assets if

someone dies without a will.

☐________ If you are the Personal Representative or Successor Trustee of a Trust, try to

make a list of the assets owned by the Decedent or the Trust, in order that

they can be administered and distributed according to the wishes of the


☐________ Open a bank account for the estate of the Decedent. This should be done

early on and all receipts and disbursements should be recorded in that

bank account, in order to account properly for the assets of the Decedent

and expenses of administration.

☐________ Probate is a process similar to that of accounting. The Personal

Representative is responsible for collecting the assets and reporting to the

court as to the amount of assets in the estate of the Decedent. If the

Decedent left no will, the process of administration is essentially the same,

except that state law determines to whom the assets are distributed. If

everything is done correctly, eventually, after the Personal Representative

has accounted for and distributed the assets, the Personal Representative is


☐________ Make an inventory of household goods, personal belongings and the like, in

order that they can be accounted for and properly distributed.

☐________ Look for insurance policies or annuities which may continue for other

family members and other assets. Contact the Insurer with respect to any

current policies or annuities.

☐________ Try to assemble the deeds of the Decedent to see what real estate, if any, is

owned by the Decedent. If real estate is owned in more than one state,

special proceedings, called “ancillary administrations,” may be needed in

each state.

☐________ Determine if the Decedent owned any securities, stocks, bonds, mutual

funds, etc.

☐________ Retirement Plans, IRA accounts and similar retirement benefits involve

important choices which need to be made by certain beneficiaries,

particularly in regard to IRA accounts under recent IRA regulations. If

there are annuities, pension and profit sharing plans and interest of that

type, they may provide for joint payment to a surviving spouse or others.

☐________ If the Decedent controlled or was a principal person in a business, it may be

necessary to check to see if there are Buy-Sell Agreements under which the

interest of the Decedent would be purchased by the business entity or other

business owners.

☐________ If, after the appointment of a Personal Representative, a bank account or

safe deposit box is found, then the assets in the bank account or safe

deposit box need to be distributed according to the wishes of the Decedent.

☐________ If the Decedent was indebted to anyone, then the creditor needs to be paid.

If the creditors are not paid and they make a claim against the estate after

all of the assets are distributed, the Personal Representative may be in

trouble and held personally liable for the debt.

☐________ As part of the probate process, all family members within a certain degree

of kinship must be contacted, whether or not they receive assets from the

estate of the Decedent.

☐________ In handling the affairs of the Decedent, do not be quick to make

distributions to family members or friends of the Decedent. Important

choices need to be made concerning such distributions and, of course, they

need to be in compliance with the will or other instructions left by the

Decedent, not to mention any applicable tax laws.

☐________ The income taxes of the Decedent for the year of death need to be filed, and

any tax due must be paid. If there is a surviving spouse, the surviving

spouse and Decedent can file a joint return for the year of death.

☐________ If there is a trust, particularly a Revocable Living Trust, it will become

irrevocable at the time of death, if not before. A separate tax return, Form

1041, Fiduciary Income Tax Return, needs to be filed for the Trust or the

estate of the Decedent if income is received by the estate of a trust.

☐________ If there are minor children and the will provides for a guardian, then the

guardian needs to be informed and the children need to be placed in the

care of the guardian. If there are minor children and no guardian is

appointed, or if there is no will, then the court must appoint a guardian.

☐________ If there is real estate that is insured, the Personal Representative should

make sure that the insurance policies on the properties of the Decedent are


☐________ Be deliberate and do not be hasty with decisions or distributions. The death

of someone, particularly a family member or friend, is stressful and often if

there are children of the Decedent around during the course of the final

illness, there may be disputes regarding the treatment or other problems

related to declining physical or mental abilities of the parent. Stated

differently, it is a time of frazzled nerves and irritable people, so be very

careful not to create schisms which can last for a very long time.

☐________ Watch out for people who prey upon families of Decedents. There are

people who look for death notices and make unfounded claims against the

Decedent. Some may also attempt to burglarize the home during the

funeral service. Be cautious about such matters; have someone stay at the

home during the funeral service and do not easily accept the claims of

unknown individuals that lack documentation.

☐________ If there is a surviving spouse, make sure veteran’s benefits or other “joint

and survivor” benefits are collected by the surviving spouse.

While this list is rather extensive, no list can be 100% complete, so there is bound to be some situation that has been overlooked or not adequately treated. This list is intended to be used as a resource only for Catholic Burial Plan families. A much more comprehensive list is available from Catholic Cemeteries of Northeast Kansas. Contact:

Catholic Cemeteries of Northeast Kansas at 913-371-4040 or www.cathcemks.org for more on this insight on how to receive your personal copy of this comprehensive list.