No matter how much you plan, the time right after someone dies can be completely confusing. Here’s what you need to do, and what you can put off.

Immediately after death

  • Obtain a death certificate. Get extras to close bank accounts, claim life insurance, and more. If the funeral home gives you an expensive price for each, you can order them directly from the county where your loved one died for less. (but it may take more time to get the certificates that way).
  • Secure their house if they lived alone (remember, sometimes the first person to the house with a U-Haul gets most of the stuff). Make sure that the pipes won’t freeze and that critters won’t get in.
  • Deal with the funeral and burial.

After that: Curl up into a ball for two to three weeks with a Netflix subscription and your favorite snacks (we’re partial to Twizzlers). Everything else can wait a while.

Once you emerge

  • Go through the house and look for documents, wills, trusts, and account statements, if your family member didn’t already show you where to find everything.
  • Collect assets. If they have a life insurance policy, contact the company for the payout. Begin the process of closing bank accounts and figure out what you’ll do with the house.
  • Contact the accountant and lawyer to help you determine what goes where and how it should go there. Rules for where assets go are different depending on whether they have beneficiaries; are held in trust; or are held jointly, like a house. If your family member had an accountant and lawyer, reach out to them. Otherwise, you’ll need to find new ones for advice – if it’s a simple estate, you might only need an hour of their time to ask questions.
  • Close accounts, including social media, email, utilities, bills and credit cards. Make sure to cancel the driver’s license as well.
  • Make sure your loved one took their IRA minimum distributions the year they died, or else there is a 50% excise tax on the failed distribution (not required in 2020).
  • File a final income tax return during the tax season.
  • File for the $225 Social Security death benefit if there is a spouse.

Keep in mind that this is in no way a comprehensive list (and we’ve left a bunch of stuff off of the list). Be sure to consult an attorney so that you don’t miss anything.