First Things First: What You Can do Before You Obtain a Certified Copy of the Death Certificate
Notify your employer (and your spouse’s employer). You will need time off of work to deal with finances, make funeral arrangements, write thank you notes, not to mention time for you and your family to adjust to your new situation.
Find out what policies are in place for time off and counseling assistance. Notify the Social Security Administration. They provide a one-time payment of $255 to the surviving spouse (other benefits may be available depending on your age, or the age of your children).
If your spouse was receiving monthly social security income, payments after the month of death must be returned to SSA. You’ll need to work with them to determine what benefit can be paid to you or your family. The SSA does not need a death certificate to accept report of an individual’s death.
If SSA monthly income payments are received via direct deposit, you need to notify the bank to stop future incoming payments from being deposited. Later, you must provide a certified copy of the death certificate to distribute funds from the bank account to beneficiaries.
Do NOT advise other financial institutions of the loss of your loved one until you can furnish a certified copy of the death certificate as this might prevent you from accessing an account, even if jointly held, in the meantime.
Advise friends and family of the loss (your holiday card mailing list may give you somewhere to start).
Decide on final arrangements and if you want flowers sent (and to what address) or if you prefer that charitable donations be made (and to what charity, address, contact name) in the loved one’s name.
Alert your local police department that you request extra police patrols the day of and after the memorial ceremony.
Ask neighbors to help you be vigilant about suspicious activity in the neighborhood, or to house-sit if they are not attending the service.
Advise friends, family and your spouse’s employer of the memorial ceremony schedule to honor your loved one.
If you wish, create audio or written collateral for the memorial ceremony
Have friends mow lawns and pick up papers and mail if you’re away. It’s okay to say, “Yes, thank you” to offers of help the time being and send a thank you note later.
Take a financial snapshot of investments and bank accounts on the date of death. Price valuations can be reconstructed, but it's easier if you can print account balances and stock/bond/mutual fund values from your computer as close to the date of death as possible.
Locate any Life Insurance policies and agent names so you may contact them once you receive certified copies of the death certificate.
Locate Marriage Certificate, Social Security Card, Military Discharge papers if possible.
Review your financial obligations. What bills are due now? What’s coming up in 30-60 days? Are there any large payments looming in 30-180 days?
Are there items on lay away, or being repaired and located somewhere other than in your home?
Are there funds being held to secure a future purchase (car, home, other) that should be retrieved?
Cancel medical, dental, haircut, massage or manicure appointments your loved one had scheduled.
Spend what you need at this time, but don’t spend needlessly—money does not buy solace.