What You Need To Do The First Hours After Their Death

I know this is NOT fun to talk about, but so important. People are never prepared for this. I learned these things from talking with my mortician friend and from experience (things that were done or should have been done after my husband’s death. Luckily my mortician, my family or the media did most of these for me.) **Remember the hours right after death are highly emotional- probably the hardest hours in the family’s lives, so please be patient, loving and compassionate.


These are items that should be done by somebody. Please communicate who is doing what. Some things may not apply- so just check it right off the list!

__ Place “OFF LIMITS” notes on the master bedroom, office, bathroom, car, etc, so nobody touches these spaces. (Personal spaces of the one who has passed)

***DO NOT clean or move anything that the deceased may have been using lately. These items are EXTREMELY important to the surviving spouse and family. I know friends and family want to help by cleaning-– such as doing laundry, but those items that would be cleaned are the last items the deceased touched and they will want it left that way for some time while they are grieving. This may sound weird until it happens to you, but their smell is left on the sheets. Their toothbrush is exactly where they left it. Their garbage is the last thing they went through. Please do not touch anything for the first few weeks or until you have asked the surviving spouse. I cannot stress this one enough. **See personal story at bottom of the list.

__ Contact immediate family.

__ Contact extended family, friends, and neighbors.

__ If a doctor is not present, notify the deceased’s doctor or county coroner so you can obtain a death certificate (order 10). They may help you with the next two items:

__ Arrange for organ donation if desired.

__ Arrange for an autopsy if needed.

__ Contact a mortician or funeral home. They may help you with the next two items:

__ Arrange for transportation of the body.

__ Arrange for funeral and burial.

__ Find care for dependents and pets as needed.

__ Check emails and phone contacts for info.

__ Contact employer. Ask about benefits.

__ Contact military or groups belonged to.

__ Secure property such as home and auto.

__ Look for instructions the person may have left for burial preferences. ** Do not move anything important.

__ Have someone keep an eye on the person’s home. Answer the phone, collect mail, water plants, throw out food.

__ Have someone at the home during the viewing and funeral.

__ Contact the post office and forward mail so the mail does not accumulate if the deceased was living alone to avoid fraud. **The mail will inform you of creditors, subscriptions, accounts, and other things you may have not thought that you need to take care of.


I have heard many sad stories over the years of things moved, given away, cleaned, or taken and nobody would have any idea of the pain unless you’ve walked this path- so this is just for your awareness…

Personal story:

My neighbor was killed in a car accident. Some of his children were hurt and in the hospital as well. Of course, his wife was at the hospital for a few days to stay with the healing children. A few neighbors thought they were being helpful and cleaned her entire home- washed the sheets, cleaned the bathroom, office, etc. When she returned home she couldn’t wait to sleep where she could smell him, wear a shirt he had just worn or hold something he had held before he passed away. But all of it had been cleaned or moved and his scent was gone. She sobbed and told me how sad she was. For years!

leave flowers on bed

I wouldn’t touch ANYTHING in the master suite- but you could leave a book or gift for them. (One tip: books were hard for me to read because I couldn’t concentrate for months… Ok years!)

5 years later my husband suddenly passed away and I remembered what she told me and I asked my mom to please put notes on all of the rooms I did not want anyone to enter. Many neighbors and friends came over to help and I know they just want to do something- anything to lift your burden. I know it sounds weird, but just ASK before moving anything.  I did have a note on the office door to leave everything as Jay left it, but someone still took his garbage out. Sounds crazy, but in that garbage were the testing strips he had just used because he was diabetic and other personal notes he had just thrown away.

When grieving you grab onto anything personal to help ease the extreme pain.

Please note that everyone grieves very differently, so communication is key! Some people may love the well-meaning cleaning crew. I loved it in all areas except the master bed and bath, the office, and his car.


~Create ONE place to keep important documents (insurance papers, birth certificates, titles, etc)

~Create ONE place for mail/info the widow needs to look through herself.

~Write down who is doing what on this list. Thank you -having help is so appreciated!

what you need to do the first hours after death