Although it's difficult to think clearly and make decisions immediately following the death of a loved one, there are certain practical steps that should be taken as soon as possible. You must make funeral arrangements, contact the appropriate institutions (the insurance company, for example), and file the necessary legal and financial paperwork.

Finalizing Funeral Arrangements

If the deceased did not make prior arrangements, you need to select a funeral home. It's best to have a family member or a close friend—someone that isn't as emotionally vulnerable—help select the casket and other necessities, and discuss the prices and payment. Many funeral homes will allow you to delay payment with the contingency that the life insurance check is mailed directly to them. When they receive the check, they will deduct what is owed for funeral expenses and write the beneficiary a check for the balance.

Notifying Others

You will want to notify family and friends. Ask other family members for help; they may have contact information that you don’t. Look through the deceased's address book to find phone numbers for friends, family, and other important points of contact. If the deceased had a religious preference, you may want to contact his pastor, rabbi, priest or other spiritual leader.

Notify the deceased's insurance agent to begin the process of disbursing the life insurance payment. If the deceased was employed, contact his employer; if he was retired, contact Social Security and Medicare, if applicable. Call the deceased’s financial institution for instructions on how to handle payment on accounts and close out bank accounts.

Documents Needed After a Death

Having copies of important papers will help with the administrative tasks that must be handled when a loved one dies. You should look for the deceased’s will. If you can’t find it, call his attorney, if he had one. You will need multiple certified copies of the death certificate to file for insurance and other claims. Copies can usually be obtained by the funeral director, or you can get them at the local court recorder's office. Keep a copy of all the deceased’s insurance policies—life, property, health and automobile—including the policy numbers. You’ll also need copies of bank and credit statements and other records of assets and liabilities, but you can most likely take more time gathering this type of documentation; it is not urgent unless the deceased has a large or complex estate.

Any major decisions, such as moving or making large financial investments, should be delayed until about a year after the death of your loved one. By that time, the will (if applicable) should be sorted through and you’ll be less likely to make emotional decisions that you may regret later. If there is no will, assets are distributed in the probate process.