What to do When a Death Occurs

The death of a loved one can be an overwhelming experience. In many cases, survivors are trying to cope with their grief as well as arrange a funeral service. It is enormously helpful at this difficult time to rely on the advice of a specially trained, licensed funeral director.

Most families will call on the same funeral director they've turned to in the past to help them arrange the funeral. If there is no family funeral director, it is a good idea to secure recommendations from friends or neighbors or access this Web site for names and addresses of member funeral homes located in the decedent's neighborhood.

The first step is to call the funeral home for a conference to begin the process. If a death occurs in another city, state or country away from home it is best to call your hometown funeral director to make the necessary arrangements. Before making any arrangements, determine if the deceased left any instructions about his or her funeral, or had already purchased or prepaid funeral or cemetery arrangements. Funeral arrangements made prior to death should be honored. Preplanning one's funeral is a growing trend that ensures peace of mind and relieves the individual's loved ones of a decision-making process at a stressful time.

Be sure to check to see if the deceased had any death benefits that would help cover funeral costs. Be aware that signing a contract for funeral services will make you liable for the cost of the funeral but the decedent's estate or available death benefits will usually cover final costs. It is important to always check with your family attorney.

By law, funeral directors must offer accurate price information to people making inquiries over the telephone regarding funeral costs. If you visit the funeral home, the funeral director will give you a written, itemized price list with all the specific goods and services the funeral home offers.

It is good to remember that it is entirely up to the family to make the selections that will best meet their expectations for a personalized ritual that will meet their emotional and economic needs. After the arrangements have been agreed upon, the funeral director will provide a written statement showing the total cost of each item selected.

In addition to removing the deceased from the place of death and caring for the body, the funeral director will arrange all details of the funeral service which may include:

  • contacting clergy and arranging an appropriate time and place for the services
  • writing and distributing obituaries
  • contacting the cemetery/crematory, staff, florists, fraternal organizations, memorial gift organizations
  • working cooperatively with organ donation teams
  • preparing all legal documents (death certificates, burial transit/cremation permits, medical examiner certificates, reports of death, social security and all Veterans Administration benefits, and in some instances filing insurance paperwork)
  • providing an emotionally and spiritually comforting environment for visitation and life celebration services transporting of family and friends in a funeral procession to the place of final disposition

The funeral director provides quiet support to the family during a time of great emotional stress, and attends to all aspects of the funeral service in a professional and caring way. Always remember that any questions you may have may be directed to your local funeral director.

© June 2001 / Updated June 2010

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