Responsibilities After Death

The time immediately following the death of a loved one can be overwhelming and complicated by a seemingly endless number of tasks. For many, this period of grief can be an emotional mixture of shock, pain and uncertainty about what life will be like without their loved one. When someone dies, having a checklist to follow can provide a sense of control and structure through this difficult time.

It is important to remember that this is only a guide and does not replace the advice and counsel of an attorney.

At the time of your loved one’s death, a Hospice Team member will make a home visit and assist you with mortuary planning if no previous plans have been made. You will also need to notify others of the death. If your loved one left specific funeral and burial instructions with a list of people to be notified, your job is that much easier. If not, consult with other family members and look for address books that can help you with your task.

  • The Hospice Team member will contact the mortuary that you have selected. Mortuaries will help with all arrangements for the burial or cremation.
  • For assistance with burial or cremation costs, you can contact the San Bernardino Public Guardian, 909 387-2536, for San Bernardino County and Riverside County Indigent Programs. Call 951 443-2300 for Riverside County.
  • If your loved one has made the decision for a body donation program, the Hospice Team member will assist with that process. There are two local programs in Southern California:
  • If your loved one was a Veteran, you may qualify for assistance with the funeral, burial plot or other benefits. For information on benefits call the San Bernardino County Veterans Services: 909-382-3290, or Riverside County: 951-955-3060, the Department of Veteran Affairs: 800-827-1000 or visit their website. The local VA cemetery is Riverside National Cemetery located in Riverside, CA.
  • It is traditional to put together an obituary to run in the local newspaper, although this is not required. The funeral director can help with this task, or you can call the local newspaper and ask about its procedures for printing obituaries.
  • Obtain multiple copies of the Death Certificate. Your funeral director will assist you in determining how many death certificates you will need, based on the complexity of your loved one’s financial and legal affairs. You can obtain additional copies at a later date by contacting:

Once the immediate needs are addressed, don’t feel rushed. The grief process takes time. It is an emotional, physical, mental and spiritual journey. Grief is unique for each individual. Time and support facilitate a healthy grieving process, allowing an opportunity to mourn the loss. Once you are ready to address the financial aspects following your loss, a number of people and organizations need to be informed besides family and friends. This finalizes your loved one’s affairs and ensures that you get the help you need.

This list serves as a guide for who needs to be contacted during the first few months after the death of your loved one. However, this is only a guide. Since each individual’s affairs vary, you may need to seek legal counsel to satisfy all their financial and legal obligations.

  • Employer or Union
  • Bank(s)
  • Social Security Administration
  • Insurance company
  • Veteran’s Administration
  • DMV
  • Credit card companies
  • Title holder to the mortgage(s)

Here are some of the details that will need to be addressed. Try to gather as many important documents as necessary. Keep them organized and centrally located.

If your loved one was working, contact the employer for information on pension plans and union death benefits

Determine whether the estate is entitled to any unpaid salary, unsettled expenses, accrued vacation pay or bonuses. You will need a certified copy of the death certificate to complete all claims.

Arrange to change any joint bank accounts into one name

If your loved one’s estate is in trust, check with the Trust Department or Customer Service at the bank. If the account was not a joint account, you will need a certified copy of the death certificate to close the account. Only the beneficiary of the account or next of kin can complete this task.

Notify the Social Security Administration

Call 800-772-1213 as soon as possible. Some mortuaries will handle this for you. If your loved one was receiving Social Security benefits you must return the benefit received for the month of death or any later months. Overpayments will result in a difficult process of repayment. A surviving spouse may be eligible for a one-time death benefit and increased benefits. Also, check for benefits that any minor children may be entitled to receive.

Contact the life insurance company for all life insurance policies

You will need to provide the policy number, a certified copy of the death certificate and fill out claim forms. If your loved one is listed as the beneficiary on any other policies, arrange to have the name removed. If you know that that your loved one had a life insurance policy but you are unable to locate it, contact the American Council of Life Insurers, which offers guidance in tracing missing policies.

Call the health insurance company

Call regarding terminating coverage for your loved one while continuing coverage for others covered through the policy. Continued coverage is not always an option and usually is only offered for 60 days. If you are receiving Medicare, you may want to consult with the Health Insurance Counseling and Advocacy Program (HICAP) sponsored in part by Council on Aging-San Bernardino and Riverside Counties; call 909-256-8369 or visit their website to see how this may affect you.

If your loved one was a Veteran, you may be able to get assistance with the funeral, burial plot or other benefits

For information on benefits, call the San Bernardino County Veterans Services: 909-382-3290, Riverside County: 951-955-3060, or the Department of Veteran Affairs: 800-827-1000 or visit their website.

If your loved one owned a car

After 40 days, the automobile title can be changed into the beneficiary's name through the DMV, or if the estate is probated, through Probate Court. It is always better to have an appointment prior to going to the DMV. Appointments can be made by calling 800-777-0133.

Contact credit card companies

Most companies will want you to return the credit cards along with a certified copy of the death certificate. You can also discuss with them retaining use of the card.

You may need to re-title the home

You can do this by completing a change of ownership form with the county assessor's office. If the property is in San Bernardino County, they can be reached at 909-387-8307 and at their website. For Riverside County, 951-955-6200 or visit their website. This form is to be filed by the legal representative within 150 days of the death or at the time of inventory and appraisal if the estate is probated.

The information in this guide is not intended to replace the advice and counsel of an attorney. For further advice or assistance, you may want to contact a private attorney who specializes in estate planning and probate. If you don’t already have an attorney, you can obtain one by contacting the San Bernardino County Bar Association’s referral service: 909-945-2980, or Riverside County Bar Association referral service: 951-682-1015 or 800-317-1377.