Most people don’t realize just how many questions surviving family members will need to answer following the death of a loved one. That’s why advance preparation is so important. From prearranging your funeral plan to gathering all your estate planning documents, you can lessen the burden your family will feel at a time of loss. When they are feeling numb, sad, confused, shocked, it will be a true comfort to know that everything is already organized and complete. It’s a final gift to them.
But what kinds of questions will they have to answer? Here’s a sampling of more than 130 questions that your family will need to answer (and there will likely be even more!).
Vital Statistics & Obituary Information
- What is the deceased’s full name (first, middle, last)?
- What is the deceased’s complete home address?
- What is the deceased’s telephone number?
- What is the deceased’s sex?
- What is the deceased’s race?
- What is the deceased’s date of birth?
- What is the deceased’s place of birth?
- What is the deceased’s marital status?
- If married, what is the spouse’s name?
- What is the deceased’s highest level of education completed?
- Is the deceased a veteran (if yes, see additional questions below)?
- What is the deceased’s citizenship (American, Canadian, Mexican, etc.)?
- What is the deceased’s father’s full name?
- What is the deceased’s father’s birthplace?
- What is the deceased’s mother’s full name, including maiden name?
- What is the deceased’s mother’s birthplace?
- What is the deceased’s Social Security number?
- How long did the deceased live at any current/former residence(s)?
- What was the deceased’s occupation, job title, and work history?
- How many years was the deceased employed at each job?
- What is the address of the deceased’s last workplace?
- What is the telephone number for the deceased’s last workplace?
- How long has the deceased lived in the community?
- What is the deceased’s date and place of marriage?
- Who preceded the deceased in death?
- Was the deceased involved in the community? If so, which organizations?
- Was the deceased a member of a church or religious organization? If so, which ones?
- Did the deceased have any hobbies, interests, or passions to highlight in the obituary?
- Are there any favorite family memories, life lessons, or treasured accomplishments to include in the obituary?
Veterans & Servicemembers
- What name did the deceased serve under (full name)?
- What branch did the deceased serve in?
- What is the deceased’s serial/service number?
- What was the deceased’s rank at discharge?
- What was the deceased’s date and place of enlistment?
- What was the deceased’s date and place of service?
- What type of discharge did the deceased receive?
- What was the date of discharge?
- Do you have a copy of the discharge certificate (DD 214)?
- Who will contact the Veterans Administration to report the death?
- Would you like to request military honors at the service?
- Will interment take place in a state-owned or national veterans cemetery? If yes, which one?
- Would you like to receive a presidential memorial certificate in honor of the deceased’s service?
- Would you like to request a government-issued headstone?
- Would you like to request a government-issued flag to drape over the casket or urn?
- Have you talked with the VA about the burial benefits the deceased may be eligible to receive, including monetary assistance?
- Are there any special requests or elements you’d like to include at the final tribute in honor of the veteran’s military service?
Funeral Service Information
- Did the deceased complete a prearranged funeral plan? If so, which funeral home?
- If the deceased did not prearrange funeral plans, do you have a preferred funeral home?
- Who are the primary contacts for funeral arrangements?
- Does the deceased prefer burial or cremation?
- Would you like a private ceremony (family only) or one open to the public?
- What funeral events would you like to include (funeral service, memorial service, committal service, reception, visitation, viewing, Mass, etc.)?
- Once you have determined what funeral events you’d like to include, what dates and times would you like to request for these events?
- What clothing would you like the deceased to wear at any open-casket events?
- Would you like any food served at the funeral service or a gathering afterward?
- Who will serve as pallbearers?
- Where would you like the funeral service to take place (funeral home, church, residence, organization, outdoors, etc.)?
- What type of service would the deceased prefer (religious, fraternal, military, etc.)?
- Are there any reasons to delay the service?
- Who will deliver the eulogy? Will there be other speakers?
- Would you like an open or closed casket service?
- Who would you like to officiate the service (clergy, family member, celebrant, etc.)?
- How many death certificates would you like to order (ask funeral director for best practices)?
- Would you like to include a framed portrait of the deceased at any services?
- How will you pay for the funeral expenses?
- What music would you like to include at the service? Do you want live music from a musician or vocalist?
- Do you want floral arrangements at the service or around the casket/urn?
- If so, which florist would you like to use?
- Have you written an obituary, or would you like the funeral home to do so?
- Do you want a death notice published in a newspaper?
- Would you like memorial items available at the service, such as programs, register book, and memorial/prayer cards?
- What photos or text would you like to include on any memorial items?
- What readings would you like read at the service (poems, religious texts, lyrics, etc.)?
- Do you prefer that well-wishers send flowers?
- Do you prefer that well-wishers give charitable contributions to a certain organization? If so, which organization?
- If there is a gathering or meal after the service, is catering required? If yes, which restaurant?
- Are there any personal items you’d like to display at the service or gathering to personalize the event?
- Would you like a memorial tribute video with photos/videos from the deceased’s life?
- Do you want to include a time for friends and family to share their most precious memories?
- Do you have pictures, music, or personal items you’d like to include at the visitation, service, or gathering?
- Is there a unique hobby or interest that you’d like to include at the service (firetruck, tractor, motorcycle, quilts, artwork, favorite horse, etc.)?
- Are there any favorite foods you’d like include at a gathering or reception?
- Are there any activities you’d like to include in the service (singing a favorite song, lighting candles, releasing doves, writing down memories, etc.)?
Cemetery & Committal/Graveside Service
- With burial, what kind of casket do you prefer?
- With cremation, what kind of urn do you prefer?
- What kind of headstone or monument do you prefer – plaque, upright, customized, engraved?
- What inscription would you like engraved on the headstone?
- Does the deceased own a cemetery plot? If yes, where is the deed or proof of ownership?
- What is the cemetery lot’s section, lot number, and space number?
- Do you know the cemetery name and phone number?
- If there’s no cemetery plot, where would you like the deceased to be interred?
- For cremated remains, would you prefer urn burial, scattering, columbarium niche, or something else?
- What type of outer burial container would you prefer?
- Would you like to use the funeral car to transport the family to the committal service?
- Would you like to use the flower car to transport floral arrangements to the committal service?
- What kind of cemetery property do you want (companion, individual, mausoleum, columbarium, etc.)?
- Are there any personal touches you’d like to include at a committal/graveside service (certain music, speakers, military honors, release of butterflies or doves, etc.)?
Estate Planning Assistance
- Did the deceased have a legal will? If so, where is it, and what does it say?
- Did the deceased have a power of attorney on file? If so, who is the appointed agent?
- Do you have access to all usernames and passwords needed for online accounts?
- Where is the deceased’s birth certificate?
- Is there a living trust that outlines any special wishes?
- Do you have a copy of the deceased’s marriage license?
- What is the deceased’s attorney’s name and contact information?
- Are there any current or urgent bills to pay?
- Are there any medical bills to pay?
- Do you have copies of any insurance policies (life, health, accident, property, auto, home, etc.)?
- Is all beneficiary information up to date?
- Are there any active disability claims for the deceased?
- Do you have the deceased’s banking information?
- Did the deceased have a safety deposit box? If so, do you have access to it?
- Do you have access or information on any other financial accounts in the deceased’s name?
- Do you have the correct tax identification number (if applicable)?
- Do you have the ability to cancel any direct deposit payments?
- Do you have contact information for any creditors, such as mortgages, personal loans, credit card companies, etc.?
- Do you have a copy of all property deeds?
- Do you have documentation of all vehicle titles or bills of sale?
- Do you have access to the deceased’s income tax returns?
Who to Contact After a Death
- Are there any relatives you should inform of the death?
- Are there any friends or neighbors you should inform?
- Are there any community members you should inform?
- Are there any employers or co-workers you should inform?
- Who will call the deceased’s employer (if applicable)?
- Who will inform the attorney of the death?
- Who will inform the accountant of the death?
- Who will inform the financial planner of the death?
- Who will inform the executor of the death?
- Who will inform credit card companies of the death?
- Who will call the Social Security Administration to report the death?
- Who will call the VA to report the death (if applicable)?
- Who will call any necessary insurance companies?
- Are there any religious, fraternal, or civic organizations to inform of the death?
As you can see, the list is extensive and includes a wide range of personal and financial topics. Can you imagine trying to answer all these questions in a short period of time? It’s overwhelming, but with a little preparation, you can ensure that everything is easier and smoother for those you love.
For more resources, check out:
What is Advance Funeral Planning?
What to Expect at a Preplanning Appointment
How to Make Digital Estate Planning Simple
The 5 Most Important Estate Planning Documents