When a Loved One Leaves You Without Arrangements

by Sytsema

57152360_sThe death of a family member or loved one triggers more than just grief — it launches an overwhelming list of to-dos, especially when someone dies without arrangements having been made. Suddenly, in the midst of trying to grieve, you are faced with litany of tasks that need to be completed and decisions that need to be made. At Sytsema, we know how difficult this situation is, which is why we’re here to help. Here is a guideline of what to do after a death, and remember, you can always call us for assistance at any time.


Do Immediately:

  1. Report the death to the proper authorities if it hasn’t already been done

  2. Contact immediate family members

  3. Secure property and make arrangements for care of dependents, including pets

  4. Locate important papers including financial records, a will or written instructions, insurance policies, deeds and titles, legal papers and personal information such as usernames and passwords and contact information for friends, employers, doctors, lawyers, etc.

  5. Gather key family members to talk about what your loved one would have wanted and how much you can afford. Then, contact a funeral home to help you through this process and assist you with additional decisions, such as:

    • Choosing Cremation or burial, casket or urn

    • Where the burial will take place or ashes scattered

    • Are there specific wishes or religious traditions involved?

    • Are there charities to which you’d like contributions to be given in lieu of flowers?

    • Who would you like involved in the funeral? What songs? What readings?

    • Who will be the pallbearers?

    • Will there be a post-service gathering? And so on.


Do Before the Funeral:

You can see from the list above that there is far too much for one person to try to do alone, especially when grieving. Reach out to others and enlist their help. Delegate some responsibilities or decide as a family who will do what. Have someone contact those you’d like involved in the service, ask someone else to organize the post-funeral gathering. This allows you to concentrate on some of the more personal tasks at hand, like choosing a headstone and making cemetery arrangements, preparing the obituary, deciding what you’d like included in the funeral program, and gathering pictures you’d like to share. Again, the Sytsema staff is happy to help as well, in any way we can.


Do After the Funeral:

  1. Meet with a probate attorney to help you through the legal issues that lie ahead.

  2. Notify the Social Security office and cancel driver’s license

  3. Notify mortgage companies and banks and close accounts

  4. Get multiple copies of the death certificate - you’ll typically need a certified copy for each policy held and major asset for which you need to transfer ownership. This can get expensive so it’s good to ask if a non-certified copy is permitted or if the original can be returned for additional use.

  5. Take care of unpaid bills. A personal representative will need to be approved by the court to access bank accounts if you wish to use this money. Don’t forget to check into any employer benefits that can also be collected.

  6. Contact the post office and provide a forwarding address

  7. Cancel services that are no longer needed. These may include:

    • Credit cards

    • Insurance policies

    • Cell phones

    • Internet

    • Cable

    • Subscriptions to newspapers and magazines

    • Memberships

  8. Close social media and email accounts

  9. File a final tax return

  10. Send thank you notes when you are ready


Needless to say, there is a lot involved in making end of life arrangements - much more than people are often aware. If you’ve gone through such an ordeal, you can understand why pre-planning your funeral is so beneficial to the loved ones you leave behind. Making arrangements ahead of time can help ensure all details are taken care of and remove an immense amount of stress and responsibility, allowing loved ones to grieve without burden.

You can learn more by downloading the guide below, and if you need any other help, you can count on Sytsema to be with you every step of the way.

preplanning guide