Responsibilities after someone dies that don’t need immediate attention

3 min read

One of the hardest things about dealing with the death of someone you love is that grief feels overwhelming and exhausting, and yet there is so much to do. How can you know what needs to be done right now, and what can wait?

In the first few days, while you’re in deep grief, it can feel like everything is coming at you at once. First, the questions start: about organ donation, which funeral home or crematorium to choose, what kind of service you’ll have, and who will take care of any children, pets, or other dependents in the immediate future.

And as you begin to make decisions about the funeral and other immediate arrangements, it’s easy to flash forward to all the work that lies ahead in settling your loved one’s affairs.

The growing to-do list in your mind can keep you up at night at a time when rest is so necessary. For this reason, it is important not to take on more than you have to.

Think of the grieving process and settling your loved one’s affairs as a marathon, not a sprint—so pacing yourself will help you in the long run.

While there are tasks that may need immediate attention, there are also plenty of things that can be held until later. In the first two weeks, feel free to put these five things out of your mind.

The probate process

While the probate process is important, and there will be deadlines that must be met once it begins, remember that it is also important to take the time to grieve before diving into it.

It is true that, if you are the executor of the estate, several financial and legal tasks should be initiated in the first couple of weeks. These include getting copies of the death certificate, locating the will, and taking steps to avoid identity theft, which could complicate the probate process.

But having the will validated by a probate court and going through the rest of the probate process is something to tackle later—after the initial two weeks of mourning, memorializing, and honoring your loved one’s life and legacy.

Giving yourself some space and time to feel the loss you’ve experienced and say goodbye to the person you love is a small kindness you can do for yourself right now.

Keep in mind that the probate process often takes up to 18 months, and sometimes even longer. You will get to it, and you can handle it. But there’s no need to worry about it in the first couple of weeks.

Social media accounts

It may seem odd—or downright wrong—to keep your loved one’s name and photo online, just as they were when they were alive.

But keep in mind that shutting down their digital life is a time-consuming task—and one with less urgency than reporting their death to credit agencies, financial institutions, and government agencies, for instance.

Instagram, Facebook, and all the rest can wait. What’s more, in the first week or two after a death, many people use their loved one’s accounts to post the sad news to get the word out to all of the communities of people who knew them.

The headstone and epitaph

If you’re thinking about this a lot, you’re not alone. The process of writing the obituary, and perhaps writing a eulogy, puts a lot of focus on capturing your loved one in words. Understandably, the idea of summarizing an entire life in a tiny space—to be seen by future generations—is daunting.

However, if you planning to place a headstone or plaque at your loved one’s final resting place, you have some time to think about the message that will appear on it.

Most headstones are not placed at graves until six months or more after burial, to give the ground time to settle so that the headstone is more stable.

In the meantime, if your mind is stuck in brainstorm mode and you feel yourself continually thinking about it, consider jotting down ideas into your phone or a small notebook to get them out of your head. They’ll be there for you later, when you need to decide on the perfect epitaph to honor your loved one.

Thank-you cards

For some of us, it is unthinkable to receive flowers, a plant, or another sympathy gift without sending an immediate note of thanks.

Since grief often affects us in surprising ways, you may find yourself uninterested in keeping up this habit, no matter how organized or productive you are normally. It is totally normal and healthy to focus on grieving the death of your loved one over keeping up appearances.

Keep in mind that no one expects thank-you notes from you at this time. If writing these notes gives you satisfaction, by all means, go ahead. But feel free to put this task off for a long time or even forever if it eases your burden.

Their taxes

Many of us have our own anxious feelings about the IRS, so it’s easy to dread filing someone else’s taxes. If you are the executor of the estate, this is your responsibility—but it’s also something you may not have to worry about for weeks or months, depending on how close to April 15 your loved one died. (And if it is nearing that date, filing for an extension is not difficult.)

When you do begin to prepare their taxes, you may want to consider hiring a professional. It can help you to avoid any mistakes, fees, or tax liabilities, and avoid any challenges in the future.

Before taking on taxes, probate, and the innumerable other tasks to settle your loved one’s affairs, remember to respect the shock that you’ve suffered at the death someone you love—the most wrenching experience many of us will go through.

There is no right or wrong way to grieve. And grief often affects us in ways we couldn’t have predicted. As you tackle the financial and legal steps to deal with your loved one’s estate, rushing things and moving faster than you have to may not be as helpful as you think it will.

You may be eligible for free bereavement support. Empathy can help with everything from funeral planning to estate administration, with step-by-step guidance and real-time expert support. Many people get free premium access to Empathy as a benefit with their life insurance claim. We partner with New York Life, Guardian Life Insurance Company, Bestow, Lemonade, and other leading carriers. When you make your life insurance claim, talk to your representative about whether Empathy is a benefit they offer.