01 Oct 2022

A practical step-by-step guide to dealing with the death of a loved one

It can be a deeply distressing time

What to do if you're present at the death of a loved one

What to do if you're present at the death of a loved one

Whether a death is anticipated or unexpected, it is a very difficult time for those close to the deceased.

It is also a time when many decisions need to be taken, often very soon after the death, and this can cause considerable stress.

Our practical guide, below, gives you a quick step-by-step overview of the sorts of things you may need to deal with.

Not all of the points on this list will apply to your particular situation, but many will. If the deceased left specific instructions regarding preferences for funeral and burial arrangements, with a list of people to be notified, your job is that much easier. If not, you’ll need to consult other family members and look for address or phonebooks that can help you with your task.

First things first

Contact the next of kin, especially those abroad who may have to book flights.

If a doctor is not present, contact the doctor in order to obtain a death certificate. The doctor will decide if a coroner needs to be called. In the case of sudden or unusual death, do not move anything until an official pronouncement of death has been made by the doctor.

If the deceased held an organ donor card, inform the doctor of this immediately.

Locate the person’s burial instructions and last wishes, if these exist.

If the death occurs at home, you may also need to contact a member of the Garda Síochána.. They will decide if a coroner needs to be called.

Notify others of the death; close friends, relatives, neighbours, employer and work colleagues.

Others to notify in the days following the death include: state authorities e.g. if the deceased was in receipt of a pension or other form of social security payment or health service; Insurance agencies and financial institutions; the deceased’s solicitor

Most people in Ireland contact a funeral director for help with funeral arrangements.

If it was the deceased’s wishes to be buried, find out if a burial plot exists and determine its exact location. If you are using a local funeral director, they may help you with this.

Agree the following with the family

Will there be a wake? If yes, where will this be held?

Will the body be on view (open or closed coffin)?

Are mourners welcome or is it “house private”, for family only (mention in death notice)

Location, date and time for the services.

Content for the death notice.

Decide on coffin for a burial.

If opting for cremation, determine if you want ashes scattered or in a container.

Do you want flowers or charitable donations (mention in death notice).

Decide on prayers, readings, offerings, music and structure of the service.

Decide on who should be involved in the service and remember to ask them in good time.

Make provision for refreshments after the service. Book the venue and arrange caterers.

You may need to cancel some, or all, of the following:

Standing orders

Newspapers & other journal subscriptions

Milk deliveries

Coal deliveries

Telephone and broadband internet connection

Mobile phone

Bin collection


TV & radio licence

Postal services (or have them re-directed)

If the deceased was religious, call the appropriate religious advisor for guidance.

If the deceased wanted a non-religious ceremony, call the Humanist Association of Ireland for guidance.

Arrange for someone trustworthy to look after the house while you and the family attend the funeral. This is an important measure, to guard against burglary.

Avail of help that others may offer in sincerity and remember to keep a note of who to thank. Jobs that may need to be done include:

Cleaning the house

Looking after the children

Looking after an elderly person

Watering plants at the deceased's home

Taking care of the deceased’s pet

Documents to locate (or order):

Death certificate – get this from the attending doctor

Any documents about prepaid funeral arrangements, burial plots or burial wishes



Life insurance policies

Pension-retirement benefits and plans

Investment accounts

Business and partnership arrangements

Credit-card statements

Bank statements

Cheque books

Other evidence of assets and liabilities

Marriage and birth certificates

Nuptial agreements

Divorce documentation

Notes receivable

Documents of business ownership or business interest

Stocks, shares, bonds, annuities

Any title deeds for assets, such as land, vehicles or houses

Any leases

Health insurance (to claim for the deceased's final illness)

Any unpaid bills, notes payable or creditors

Safe deposit agreements and keys

Last tax returns

Make an inventory of household goods, personal belongings, valuables etc, so that they can be accounted for and properly distributed.

Who deals with settling the estate?

If the deceased had a will, it should specify who is to serve as the executor or personal representative. The person named is responsible for making sure creditors are paid, assets are distributed and estate tax returns are filed.

This is usually the person who will investigate what benefits or insurance proceeds, if any, are owed to the heirs.

If the deceased died without a will (intestate), the law typically indicates who’s in charge: usually a surviving spouse, if there is one, or an adult child or parent. A court hearing will be held to appoint someone, and there could be a disagreement if more than one person wants the role.

If the deceased had financial advisors, such as accountants, solicitors, real estate agents, insurance agents, you should contact them and ask if any matters need to be taken care of immediately.

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