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Navigating a Sudden Loss: Making a Plan After the Unthinkable Happens

August 28, 2022
Loss is complicated — both emotionally and logistically. This article will walk you through what to do after a loved one passes.
Written By Daniel GoldgutAugust 28, 2022

Loss is complicated, whether you have had time to prepare or it comes as a shock.

It gets even more complicated when you try to sort through everything you now have to do — such as letting loved ones know, getting a legal pronouncement of death, closing personal accounts, and so so much more. 

This article will help guide you through all the steps you need to take, so you can focus on grieving and healing as soon as possible.

navigating a sudden loss - support

A) Immediately After

There are a few tasks that are important to do immediately after a loved one passes away:

1. Inform Loved Ones

Chances are, there are other family members and friends interested in this person’s wellbeing. You’ll want to inform those who have a relationship with the individual. You can keep it simple through a group text or email, or a phone call to anyone who would prefer to hear the news that way.

Need help with what to say? Check this resource. 

2. Locate a Will & Burial Plans

Hopefully, your loved one has a Will in place and discussions will have been had about a final resting place. These plans and documents will greatly help you plan the next few days and months.

You don’t have to execute on these right away, but finding them early will mitigate your stress down the road. 

3. Get a Legal Death Certificate

You want to get a legal death certificate after a loved one passes away. This typically outlines the details of the death that took place. 

Learn more about how to obtain a Death Certificate here

navigating a sudden loss - making plans

B) To Do 2-3 Days After

Here are some important tasks to visit shortly after their passing:

1. Make Funeral Arrangements

An important next step is making funeral arrangements. This is hopefully made easier if the deceased had plans outlined or that they discussed beforehand. 

Funeral arrangements may include, but are not limited to:

  • Selecting a funeral home
  • Choosing a service type
  • Selecting a burial container (casket, urn, etc.)
  • Purchasing a registration book

For more details on funeral arrangements, refer to this dedicated post. 

2. Forward Mail

Forwarding mail is an important step because it ensures you don’t miss any bills or important documents. To forward mail in Canada, go to your local post office and let them know you’re forwarding mail on behalf of a deceased person. You’ll need to bring a government ID, a death certificate, and proof of appointment as the legal representative for the deceased. 

3. Notify Employers (If Applicable)

Let the employer of the deceased know what has happened, so they know to expect a vacancy at work. 

4. Find Pet Care

Ensure any pets that were under the care of the deceased are being taken care of. Hopefully there was a plan in place, but if not you may have to make one. This may include taking in the pet, rehoming it, or working with a shelter. 

navigating a sudden loss - finding new pet home

C) 1-2 Weeks After

Here are some of the tasks you should be aiming to complete 1-2 weeks after your loved one’s passing. 

1. Find Executor and Take Will to Probate

You have to find the executor of the Will so you can start the process of administering the estate. The job of the executor is to ensure everything in the Will is taken care of in a way that aligns with the deceased’s wishes. The estate administration process can take some time, so it is best not to delay too much before getting the process underway. 

If you are the executor of the Will, see the full checklist of duties here

2. Close Credit Card/Bank Accounts

To avoid charges, missing payment dates, or other issues, cancel any credit cards and bank accounts in the deceased names.

Note: Bank accounts may take longer, especially if balances are being distributed within the will, so just be aware of what accounts are active. 

Once you have a copy of the death certificate, you can call customer service and let them know you are closing the accounts on behalf of a deceased relative. 

3. Cancel Accounts and Subscriptions

To avoid charges, you’ll want to cancel any accounts and subscriptions as soon as possible. This may include:

  • Home internet
  • Cell phone
  • Streaming services
  • Newspapers or magazines

4. Cancel Home, Auto and Other Insurance Policies

You want to contact insurance providers to end any coverage the deceased may have. This includes health, auto, home, travel, or more. You don’t want to risk paying premiums when the deceased isn’t actually benefiting from said coverage. 

If the deceased has life insurance, you can also reach out to that provider and start the process of claiming their life insurance (if you are the beneficiary). 

5. Deactivate Online Accounts

Deactivating online accounts is an important step in preventing identity fraud. This can include email accounts, social media accounts, or online shopping (especially if they have a card automatically on file). 

If the deceased had any wishes about how to handle social media accounts, be sure to follow those.  There’s a big difference between “deleting” an account and “memorializing” an account. 

Here’s how each social media platform memorializes their users:

navigating a sudden loss - memorializing social media accounts

D) Ongoing

It’s easy to get caught up in a to-do list when a loved one passes away — closing credit cards, executing wills, and more — and not actually take time to take care of yourself. It’s just as important to give yourself ongoing grace and space to heal as it is to take care of all the responsibilities above. 

And remember that grief is not linear. Unlike these other tasks that have to be done at certain times, the healing process is ongoing. 

Here are some resources on coping with grief to explore:

Losing a loved one is hard, and sometimes having a to-do list immediately after can seem even harder. Remember to take care of yourself as you take care of these tasks. 

Written By Daniel Goldgut
Daniel Goldgut is the CEO and Co-Founder of Epilogue. In his previous life, he was a tax and estate planning lawyer for high and ultra-high net worth clients. Now, he's on a mission to democratize estate planning for all Canadians.