What to do when a loved one is imminent or has died


  1. Choose a funeral home.  You can even do paperwork ahead of time while you are thinking clearly and have the help of the imminent loved one.  This would include the Washington State Death Worksheet (information from which the county will make your certified death certificates) and a cremation authorization form if cremation is desired.
  2. Check to make sure your loved one has not pre-arranged and paid for the service of their choice.  If they have, contact the chosen funeral home and let them know your loved one is imminent.
  3. If you are DPOA or POA, these go away at the time of death, unless the paperwork specifically allows you to choose disposition for the deceased.  In some situations, it may be important for the POA/DPOA to have paperwork done ahead of the passing to save the need to locate estranged family members.  In Washington State, cremation requires all (or a majority) of the children, parents, or siblings to give consent if they are, in fact, the next of kin.
  4. If cremation is the choice and your loved one has not signed a cremation authorization by self, the responsibility will fall 1) to designated person, (supported by will or paperwork), 2) to spouse,3)to children4) to parents and 5) to nearest relative or most responsible person.
  5. You may want to consider contacting your doctor about hospice care who helps the family through the dying process and would be the one to contact the funeral home at the time of passing.  If you do not desire to have hospice care, contact your doctor to see what you will need to do when the passing occurs.
  6. Gather important papers, or know where you can find them.  Has your loved one asked to be a donor?  Have social security information available as well as information from birth certificate.  If your loved one is a veteran, locate the DD214.  This is necessary for placement in a national cemetery, for honors, or other veteran questions and concerns.

At time of death

  1. If the death occurs in the home and hospice has not been involved or the doctor has not told you to call him or her at the time of passing, you will need to call a first responder.  If you have been with hospice, they will call the funeral home, or if death has occurred in a facility, the facility will call the funeral home of your choosing.
  2. Take some time for yourself.  Rest if you are in need.  Contact family members or friends who will be with you.
  3. The funeral home will contact you with help in completing the desired arrangements.  They will notify social security and work with you to get the needed information and forms.  They will contact the doctor for his cause of death and get the necessary approvals from county and state.
  4. Cremation or burial cannot take place until the certificate of death has been legally signed by the county and approved in EDRS (electronic death registration system).
  5. Make arrangements with friends to watch over your home while you are attending a service or burial, if that was part of the deceased’s desires.

After the services are completed

  1. You will need a certified death certificate for entities that will be paying money to the estate.  These could include; life/death insurance, annuities, stocks and bonds or veteran’s survivor policies and benefits/pensions from the place of employment.  You generally need a certified copy for transferring assets; such as vehicles, bank accounts, deeds or titles.    Certified copies are expensive and they are available at a later date if you need more.  You should always ask if a photocopy will be sufficient.  Photocopies are fine for cancelling memberships and turning off services.
  2. Social security checks that come to the deceased may need to be returned.  Do not cash a social security check issued to the deceased.  The bank can return it per your instructions.  Social security will then reissue, if appropriate.  Social security pays a one-time spousal benefit of $255.00.  If minors or disabled family members have been receiving social security under the deceased’s name, you will have to inquire directly to social security about those benefits.  The same would apply for veteran benefits.  Contact the veteran’s affairs directly.
  3. Some estates are small and handled easily by the family.  In larger estates, working with the deceased’s legal representatives and accountants will be necessary.
  4. Be sure to cancel credit cards and driver’s licenses.  These are areas that are prone to stolen identity.  You can notify the voting precinct.
  5. If an autopsy was performed to determine the cause of death, a cause of death may take up to 90 days to be established.  If you need a death certificate before that time, you can obtain one that has “pending” listed, but most entities that will be possibly paying out funds will want a full cause of death listed on the death certificate.
  6. If you dispute the cause of death that the doctor has written, the funeral home cannot change it for you.  The doctor is the only one who can make changes and you must contact him directly.
  7. Seek help from professionals if you have a hard time with the loss of your loved one.  Grieving is important and everyone handles their loss differently.  Be with people who can help you in adjusting to your loss.

Ordering Death Certificates

Death Certificates will be prepared for you by the County Public Health Department. You may order Death Certificates for any county at the nearest Public Health office to you. Original printed copies of a Death Certificate cost $20 each.  Once reviewing that all the information on the death certificate is correct we do recommend at least a few copies of the death certificate.

For additional information regarding the procurement of Death Certificates, please contact your respective county’s Public Health office via one of the options listed below:

Pierce County Public Health

3629 South D Street
Tacoma, WA 98418

King County Public Health

401 5th Avenue
Suite #1300
Seattle, WA 98104

Snohomish County Public Health

3020 Rucker Avenue
Suite #306
Everett, WA 98201

Skagit County Public Health

700 S 2nd Street
Suite #301
Mt. Vernon, WA 98273

Kitsap County Public Health

345 6th Street
Suite #300
Bremerton, WA 98337

Other helpful contacts

Department of Veteran’s Affairs 1-800-827-1000
Social Security Administration 1-800-772-1213
Washington State Department of Veteran Affairs 1-800-562-2308
Crime Victims Compensation 1-800-762-3716 (if death was the result of a crime)