After a Death

DEATH IS OFTEN accompanied by a slew of practical details. Where to begin?

Look for funeral instructions. You may discover they’re in the deceased’s will or letter of last instruction.

Consider the cost. This is hardly the moment when most folks are up for comparison shopping, and yet it pays to keep your wits about you. Funeral homes often nudge families to spend more than is necessary. To read more about funeral expenses, check out the Funeral Consumers Alliance at According to the National Funeral Directors Association, the median cost of a funeral with burial is $7,848, while the median cost of a funeral with cremation is $6,971.

Order death certificates. The funeral home may ask how many copies of the death certificate you want. Don’t skimp. Depending on the complexity of the deceased’s finances, you might order 10 or more. You’ll need these certificates whenever you claim benefits or property on behalf of the deceased’s beneficiaries. It’s often cheaper and easier to order death certificates from the funeral home than to obtain them later.

Watch out for theft. Burglars occasionally target the homes of the recently deceased, so you might ask the police to keep an eye on the house. Perhaps more alarming, family members sometimes feel they’re free to grab whatever they want without asking. If the deceased had valuables of any kind, consider getting them out of the house.

Locate key papers. In particular, find the will and see who is named as executor. What about other financial or legal papers? For now, set them aside. You don’t want to throw anything away until you’re confident you have identified all assets and have the account statements you need.

Next: Settling an Estate

Previous: Elderly Relatives

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