What to do when someone dies

candle - when someone dies

Learn the steps you need to take when someone dies in the United States. Find out what to do if you wish to leave because a member of your family dies or is dying in another country.

In the United States, most people die in a hospital or nursing home. The nurses and doctors will know what to do when someone dies.  They will ask questions to guide you and help you make decisions. Americans may say “passed away” or “passed” instead of “died.”  They may use the words “the deceased” or “your loved one”  or “remains” when they talk about the body.

When someone dies at home

If someone dies at home from illness, you may have a hospice or medical worker to help you. You do not need to do anything until you are ready. You can take the time you need for any religious ceremony, custom or preparations. The medical workers can make the official death pronouncement and fill in the forms.

When someone dies suddenly

If a person dies suddenly, you will need to call 911 to report that there has been a death. A police officer or emergency worker will come. They will tell the medical examiner. A medical examiner is someone who looks at the body and figures out or confirms how the person died.

Getting a death certificate

The medical examiner will start a death certificate to register the death. The death certificate will take a week or more to come. Many officials will ask you for a copy of death certificate. You will probably need 10 copies of the death certificate.

Funerals and cremation

A dead body must go to a funeral home to be prepared for burial. Funeral homes are very expensive. If the body is to be cremated (burned with the ashes given to you), you do not need to pay for a funeral home. When someone dies, the body can go straight from the hospital or your home to a crematorium.

You do not need to buy an expensive casket (box for burial). There are simple wooden and cardboard caskets that are suitable for cremation and for burial. You may do your own funeral ceremonies or choose a religious service.

Things you will need to do when someone dies:

  • Tell the employer
  • Get copies of the death certificate
  • Contact any government departments who gave benefits, such as Social Security
  • Tell insurance companies: health and life insurance companies, car and house insurance
  • Contact any bank where there were accounts
  • Make a list of bills that need to paid and cancel any services (such as phone) not being used
  • Cancel credit cards so payments do not continue for services and other monthly payments

Learn more

What if someone dies in another country?

You probably have family members in other countries. When someone dies or is dying in another country, you may want to travel outside of the United States. This is IMPORTANT: Understand the risks and rules about emergency travel before you leave.

If you are in any doubt, speak to someone at USCIS  before you go.

You may not be allowed back in without the right documents. USCIS issues four types of travel documents:

  • Advance parole
  • Refugee travel document
  • Re-entry permit
  • Carrier documentation

Learn more

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