What To Do When a Parent Dies: A Checklist

Your parents are getting older. You know that, and you’ve come to terms with it (or at least you’re trying). And once they can no longer take care of themselves, your relationship with them drastically changes, and you are obligated to step in to take care of their affairs.

Many people experience emotional trauma and financial difficulties when a parent passes away. This is why it is essential to plan what to do when a parent dies. 

This blog post will provide you with a checklist covering the primary things you need to do after your loved one has passed away.

1. Notify Family Members and Friends

It is imperative to notify family members and close friends of the passing of your parent as soon as possible.

Notifying them immediately will help you navigate the difficult time following your parent’s death. They can help you organize a funeral and take care of any necessary affairs. Friends and family can also give you the emotional support you will need while coping with your parent’s death.

They can also help you manage the legal and financial affairs left behind by your deceased parent. This will either be something as simple as contacting a power company to tell them that the parent is no longer living, filing tax returns, or another challenging task that can easily fall through the cracks.

2. Give Yourself Time To Grieve

Regardless of the nature of your relationship with your parent, it is important to give yourself time to grieve. It is perfectly natural and healthy for you to be affected emotionally – both positively and negatively – when something like this happens. As their child, you have a unique perspective of your parent. Don’t be afraid to feel sad, angry, or even guilty about what you could have done differently.

You may even want to avoid social situations to have some alone time during this time. It’s ok to take time off of work or school if you need to, and most importantly: it’s ok to cry.

And although you may feel the need to be alone to process your emotions, this is also a time to reach out to others for support. For example, ask family members and friends to provide transportation if needed, take care of  pets, clean out the deceased parents’ house, or to simply keep you company and listen. 

We have provided some links to organizations that offer free grief support for those who have lost a parent:

The Neptune Society also offers the 12 Weeks of Peace, a free online bereavement program that provides helpful resources, tips, and information for those in mourning.

3. Find a Trustworthy Funeral Service 

The death of a parent is one of the most traumatic experiences in life, whether it is an expected or sudden loss. When you are faced with this type of loss, there are many things to consider after the event has occurred.

First and foremost, it’s important to take care of yourself. Surrounding yourself with supportive friends and family can help you get through the initial shock of your loss.

When you are ready to take care of necessary arrangements, it is important to find a funeral provider. Since 1973, the Neptune Society has provided at-need services for those whose loved ones have passed away suddenly. We also offer preplanned cremation services so that you can make funeral arrangements in advance.

The Neptune Society offers the following benefits and services:

4. Make Copies of Everything

Making copies of important documents can help the process of managing your parent’s affairs after they have passed away. For example, you’ll likely need two copies of both the death certificate and the will anytime something official has to be done. 

The original documents should be stored safely by an executor or loved one until everything has been settled. But since many of these documents will contain sensitive personal information, the copies should be treated with as much care as the originals.  Many funeral homes also provide copies of death certificates and other important documents as part of their services. 

5. Contact Your Parent’s Doctor and Ask for a Copy of Their Medical Records

After a nursing home or hospice has given the deceased’s belongings back to their family, you may be granted access to all of your parent’s medical information.

Contact the office of your parent’s primary doctor or other medical services they used before they passed away, as they may possess vital health records that can be useful during this process. You must contact them regarding this issue, in case the records are misplaced. 

6. Obtain Copies of Death Certificates 

If you’re in charge of the affairs of a loved one who has died, you’ll need death certificates. It is recommended to obtain at least ten copies of a loved one’s death certificate if you are in charge of handling their affairs. 

Death certificates are required if you need to claim your parent’s property or benefits, such as:

  • Life insurance benefits
  • Social security benefits
  • Bank and retirement accounts
  • Veteran benefits

How to Get a Death Certificate 

The funeral home, cremation organization, or another party will prepare and file the death certificate. Preparing the certificate involves gathering personal information from family members and obtaining the signature of a doctor, medical examiner, or coroner. Depending on state law, the process will be completed within a timeframe of three to ten days.

What Information is Included in a Death Certificate?

A death certificate provides vital information about the deceased person. This information includes:

  • Full name
  • Current address
  • Full or partial social security number
  • Birthdate and place of birth
  • Father’s name and place of birth
  • Mother’s name and place of birth
  • Education
  • Marital status and name of their surviving spouse
  • Veteran discharge number or claim number
  • Cause of death
  • The date the death occurred
  • The area the death occurred
  • The time the death occurred

If your parent was a veteran, you also need to locate their DD-214 if they wished to be buried at a national cemetery. For more information on claiming veteran burial benefits, please read our article Military Discharge Form DD214: How to Claim Veterans Benefits.

7. Collect Any Life Insurance Policies or Other Assets Held by the Deceased

Contact the Social Security Administration in the event of your parent’s death to collect any remaining social security benefits. You can also contact creditors that may have life insurance policies in place to pay off balances owed.

It is crucial to identify any life insurance policy your parent might have had, typically through work or purchased on their own. Once you locate this life insurance policy, contact the life insurance company and begin the claims process.

Possible death benefits include life insurance policies, 401(k)s, or pensions from a former employer. Navigating life insurance benefits and annuities can be very complicated. Therefore, before proceeding with a life insurance claim, it is recommended to seek the advice of a life insurance professional.

How to Prevent Identity Theft

If anyone recently asked for information or identification of you or your parents (online, by phone, email, or in-person), they may be attempting to commit identity theft.

Always be cautious when giving out personal information. Keep an eye on all bank accounts and credit cards for unauthorized charges, and monitor credit reports for suspicious new lines of credit under your parent’s name. If you suspect that your parent’s identity has been stolen, call the Social Security Administration at 800-772-1213 immediately. 

For more information on how to protect your loved one’s identity after they pass away, please visit idwatchdog.com

8. Close Bank Accounts 

Once you have located your parent’s bank account, notify the bank that the owner has passed away. You may need to present a death certificate or similar documentation to prove association to the bank account owner.

Once you have located your parent’s bank account, close it as soon as possible. You might also cancel video streaming, newspaper delivery, and magazine subscriptions. If your parents had a safe deposit box, contact the bank where it is located and ask whether you need the authorization to access its contents.

You will likely need documentation that confirms your association with one or both of your parents to gain access. Depending on how long ago your parent opened the account, it might be necessary to provide a death certificate, power of attorney, or court records. If valuables are inside the safe deposit box, you may want to speak with an estate lawyer to discuss your rights and how best to proceed.

9. Cancel Credit Cards

Canceling a credit card when processing a death can be overwhelming. You may even forget about closing these accounts or just not think it is that important. However, if your parent was the only one working and died suddenly without life insurance to pay off any unpaid debts, unpaid bills on credit cards could be stuck in their name for several years before being resolved.

Make sure these accounts get closed the same day as the death so you can move on with more pressing matters before attending to things such as canceling a credit card. You want to cancel these ASAP and remove any temptation for someone to interfere with their finances after they have passed away, and remove any unnecessary stress from your plate while processing a loss of a loved one.

10. Transfer Titles to Any Property or Vehicles 

When a parent dies, it’s easy to forget about estate planning or think you can leave it later. But if your parents owned property with someone else – like a spouse, partner, sibling, or child – then estate planning becomes complicated. 

To make sure all their estate assets are transferred smoothly and according to their wishes after they die, please review the following checklist:

1. Find your parent’s title to any property they own. This can be a house, condo, burial plot, vehicle(s), or anything else that has an owner and an address where the asset is located.

2. Pull a credit report for your parent’s name and address. If the home is co-owned, you also need to pull a credit report for any additional owner(s) who will keep ownership of the property after your parent dies.

3. Make sure there are no court orders against transferring the title of any assets that were jointly owned.

4. Contact any joint tenants who will not receive full ownership of the asset after your parent dies due to outstanding debt or dispute between joint owners.

5. If your parent had a bank account, make sure all outstanding checks have cleared, and any automatic deposits or withdrawals stopped before transferring it or closing it out.

Documents Required to Transfer Ownership of Property

Whether it’s a vehicle or real estate property, you’ll need to transfer the legal ownership of your parent’s estate assets. You can do so by visiting your local DMV or County Recorder’s Office with the following documents:

  • Death certificate(s)
  •  A completed Transfer on Death – Designation of Beneficiary (or TOD -DB) for securities (stocks, bonds, and mutual funds), if applicable
  • The most recent version of the estate plan (the will)
  • Legal estate planning documents include trusts, powers of attorney, and living wills. This protects both your parent’s estate assets and their wishes for end-of-life care. You can find more information about estate planning tools here: Wills & Trusts: Frequently Asked Questions About Common Estate Planning Tools.

11. Notify Lenders

If your parents held mortgages, auto loans, or had credit cards with balances, you’ll need to let the financial institution know of their passing.

The following actions may help financial institutions with this process:

  • Update beneficiary designations to ensure that they reflect who is entitled to inherit the account, including whether your parents have set up trusts for their children.
  • Obtain a copy of the death certificate.
  • Contact your parents’ creditors to advise them of your parent’s death and ask for written confirmation that it does not matter if you are contacted because the account is owned by another party (such as an estate or child).
  • Collect any available information about debts owed, such as monthly statements or payment records

12. Stop Any Automatic Withdrawals

Anytime your parents pay bills automatically through online accounts like PayPal, please cancel those transactions. Bills go unpaid, and overdraft fees accrue if this is not done correctly. You also can contact utility companies and any other service provider that they paid regularly (like AAA, insurance companies for cars and home coverage, etc.) to stop billing as well.

13. Distribute Remaining Assets According to Your Loved One’s Will or Estate Plan

The probate process can be complex, especially if your loved one did not leave a will stating where or how they want their assets to be distributed. Preplanning final arrangements can help create a smoother probate process and save you the stress of dealing with probate court.

If there is no will, you must distribute assets following state law. It is recommended to create a living will, so that your parent’s final wishes can be finalized before their passing.

If you have any questions about what to do when a parent dies, please consult an attorney who specializes in estate planning. They can help guide you through this process. 

Need Help Planning a Funeral Service? Contact The Neptune Society

It is not uncommon for people to feel lost and overwhelmed when they lose a parent, especially if the death was sudden. It can be even more challenging to deal with when you are faced with legal and financial issues following their passing. 

The Neptune Society has provided affordable preplanned and at-need cremation services for millions of families across the nation. If you are interested in learning more about our funeral home services, please don’t hesitate to call us today.


The Neptune Society is the nation’s oldest and largest provider of affordable cremation services. Whether you have an immediate need or want to plan cremation services in advance, we are always available to assist you and your family.

Call 1-800-NEPTUNE (800-637-8863) today or contact us online to learn more.