What to do when someone dies.

Here is a checklist of important things to do when someone close to you dies in Texas State. This can be a very overwhelming and emotional time. It is a good idea to read this checklist before a death occurs, to plan and understand the practical steps of this difficult process.It is also helpful to keep all your important information in one location and tell someone where you keep it.



·  Call 911 right away if there is an unexpected death in your home. The medical team will help you figure out the next steps. If the deceased was receiving hospice care, call the hospice. 

·     If a death is expected to happen soon, call your doctor or your hospice to discuss what to do when or if a death happens in your home.

·     Most deaths occur in hospitals and other places such as nursing homes. Talk to the staff about their process. 

·     Contact close family and/or friends of the deceased, the deceased’s doctor (if a hospice is not involved), and the deceased’s lawyer, if any. If the deceased cared for dependents (for example, grandchildren), make arrangements immediately for their care.


  • Sec. 711.002.  DISPOSITION OF REMAINS;  DUTY TO INTER.  (a)  Except as provided by Subsection (l), unless a decedent has left directions in writing for the disposition of the decedent's remains as provided in Subsection (g), the following persons, in the priority listed, have the right to control the disposition, including cremation, of the decedent's remains, shall inter the remains, and in accordance with Subsection (a-1) are liable for the reasonable cost of interment:
  • (1)  the person designated in a written instrument signed by the decedent;
  • (2)  the decedent's surviving spouse;
  • (3)  any one of the decedent's surviving adult children;
  • (4)  either one of the decedent's surviving parents;
  • (5)  any one of the decedent's surviving adult siblings;
  • (6)  any one or more of the duly qualified executors or administrators of the decedent's estate; or
  • (7)  any adult person in the next degree of kinship in the order named by law to inherit the estate of the decedent.
  • (a-1)  If the person with the right to control the disposition of the decedent's remains fails to make final arrangements or appoint another person to make final arrangements for the disposition before the earlier of the 6th day after the date the person received notice of the decedent's death or the 10th day after the date the decedent died, the person is presumed to be unable or unwilling to control the disposition, and:
  • (1)  the person's right to control the disposition is terminated; and
  • (2)  the right to control the disposition is passed to the following persons in the following priority:
  • (A)  any other person in the same priority class under Subsection (a) as the person whose right was terminated; or
  • (B)  a person in a different priority class, in the priority listed in Subsection (a).





Find the deceased’s important papers and documents as soon as possible. If necessary, ask close family, friends, or the deceased's doctor or lawyer if they know where these important papers can be found, and the location of a bank safety deposit box, if any. 

  ·         The Will – First, find out if the deceased left a Will and/or a Trust.

If there is a Will, notify the Personal Representative named in the Will (and the Trustee, if named in a Trust) right away. The Personal Representative is responsible for taking care of the deceased’s estate and for following the terms of the Will, while the Trustee is responsible for managing the Trust. Sometimes the Personal Representative is called the “Executor” or “Executrix”.

In Washington, a valid and signed Will must be filed with the Superior Court, usually in the deceased’s county of residence, within 30 days of the death. This is an extremely important step to complete if there is a Will.

If there is a Will and/or Trust, give all of the important papers to the Personal Representative and/or Trustee as soon as possible.

If there is no valid Will, the court will administer the estate according to Texas State law.

Look for any written instructions (sometimes called a “Letter of Instruction,” “Final Instructions”, or "Disposition Authorization") for funeral or memorial service arrangements, and burial or cremation arrangements. Also look to see if the deceased named a "Designated Agent" to take care of those arrangements (sometimes this is included in the deceased's Advance Directive documents such as in their Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care, or in a Living Will). If not found, ask close friends, the deceased's doctor or the deceased’s lawyer if they know where these instructions are. Also, look for any pre-paid services, such as burial services or cremation.

  • Look for records of the deceased person’s desire to donate organs or tissue (usually noted on a Texas State driver’s license with word “Donor,” or mentioned in the deceased’s “Final Instructions”). Give this information to the deceased’s doctor or hospice immediately (or before the death, if possible).
  • If you are the named "Designated Agent" (or if none, if you are the person allowed by Texas State law to automatically be the Designated Agent), you should arrange for funeral or memorial services, and burial or cremation.

Other Items – Locate other important papers and documents as soon as possible. Here is a list of some things to look for:

Deeds, Titles, and Promissory Notes / Loans

Real Estate Property deeds (including any recent appraisals)

Mortgage documents (including promissory/loan notes)

Other Promissory or Loan notes (including loans owed to the deceased) 

Vehicle titles and registrations (car, boat, RV, etc.)

Membership certificates

Insurance Policies

ife insurance (including premium payment records)

Accidental life insurance

Veterans’ insurance

Employers or pension insurance

Funeral insurance (or other death-related benefit plans)

Mortgage and/or credit insurance

Credit card insurance (for balances)

Health insurance (including Medicare or Medicaid, “Medigap” insurance, private health insurance, dental, and Long Term Care insurance) 

Property insurance (homeowners/renters insurance, car insurance, etc.)

Workers’ compensation insurance (and payment records)

Financial Accounts - Including most recent statements for all accounts and the list of Beneficiaries, if any. 

Bank accounts - checking, savings, CD’s, etc.

Investment/brokerage accounts, IRA’s, 401-K’s, etc.

Stocks and bonds


Credit and debit card accounts

User names and passwords for any online accounts

List of safety deposit boxes, where to find keys, and names of authorized users

Other Financial Records

urvivor annuity benefit papers

Employer/retirement benefit (pension) plans, pension/profit-sharing plans, etc.

Veterans’ benefit records

Disability payment documents (State, Veterans’, etc.) 

Income statements for the current year (Social Security, pension, IRA's, annuities, employment, and other income records)

IRS income tax returns (for the current and previous year)

IRS gift tax returns (for all years)

Property tax records and statements

Business interests held, financial statements and agreements, contracts, etc.

Loan papers

Other - investment records, etc.

egal Papers

Will and/or Trusts

Deceased’s Final Instructions, Disposition Authorization, and/or Designated Agent forms (sometimes included in an Advance Directive such as a Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care, or in a Living Will)

Pre-paid funeral contracts

Organ/tissue donation record

Social Security card (or number) 

Birth certificates (of all family members)

Marriage license or certificate

Military service papers, including discharge records (DD214)

Domestic Partnership Registration

Court documents for adoptions and divorce (including any property settlement agreements, name changes, prenuptial agreements, etc.)

Community Property Agreements

Driver’s license

Passport, citizenship, immigration and/or alien registration papers

Personal Information

Names and contact information of closest family and friends

Names and contact information of all lawyers, accountants, doctors, etc.

Family Tree, if available (especially if there is no Will)

User names and passwords for online accounts (including email accounts, financial records, social media accounts, etc.)

Passwords to access computers, cell phones, and other electronic devices


3. Practical steps & information

·         Make a list of regular bills to have as a reminder. Be sure to note if any are on automatic payment plans and note when payments are due.
·         Give all unpaid bills to the Personal Representative (if any) to be paid. Some examples of bills to locate:

o    Utility bills (electric, heating, telephone and/or cable TV, internet, cell phones, water/sewer/garbage, etc.)

o    Long term debts (home mortgages, bank line of credit, car loans, etc.)

o    Rental payments (home, apartment, assisted living, or nursing home, etc.) 

o    Credit card bills

o    Insurance bills (health, Long Term Care, homeowner's, car, life insurance, etc.)

o    Property tax bills (if paid separately and not included in home mortgage) 

·         Access to bank accounts: If you are a co-signer or have a joint account with the deceased, you should be able to use some of the money in the account to pay the regular bills of the deceased. Keep detailed records of all the bills you pay and any withdrawals of cash from the account.

If there are no joint owners or co-signers, you cannot access the deceased's bank account until a Personal Representative is approved by a court process. Then, the Personal Representative usually is able to access the accounts to pay bills, etc. 
·         Power of Attorney: If you were the holder of a Power of Attorney (sometimes called an “attorney-in-fact” or the “agent”) for the deceased, your authority to act under the Power of Attorney ends at the time of death. The only exception to this is if you were also listed in the Power of Attorney as the deceased's "Designated Agent" for after-death arrangements. In this case, you will have the authority to make funeral or memorial arrangements as well as burial or cremation arrangements.

·         Check and take care of the deceased’s home, property, and pets, if necessary. Put valuables (cash, jewelry, collectible items) in a safe place. Be sure the house is locked, if no one is home.
·         Contact the Post Office (listed in the telephone directory as United States Postal Service) with forwarding information, if necessary. Stop all deliveries of unneeded newspapers, home care services (such as meal delivery or nursing services), and cancel any appointments for doctors, dentists, etc.
·         Cancel services that are no longer needed (such as cell phones, internet, or cable TV). Do not cancel utilities, as they may still be needed.