Learn the steps you need to take when someone dies in the USA. 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 USA, 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 or old age, 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 official forms which are needed to produce a death certificate.
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. You can read more about how to handle an unexpected death.
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. You can read about how to order extra death certificates.
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 then given to you as ashes), 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
When someone dies, it is hard to focus on what you need to do. It is good to have a list to things you will need to do soon:
- 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
Legal Voice in the state of Washington published a checklist of what to do after a death occurs that may be useful in any state to help you make your own list.
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.
IMPORTANT: Understand the risks and rules about emergency travel before you leave. Please read what the US Customs and Immigration Services (USCIS) says about emergency travel. 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
Read the official USCIS information about travel documents.