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What to Do When Someone Dies

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    When someone passes away without a will, their loved ones may have to deal with the stress of organizing their affairs in addition to mourning their loss. On the other hand, if the deceased had a will, the executor has a guide for their funeral and burial wishes as well as how their estate should be distributed.

    In this article, we’ll discuss some steps to follow after a loved one has passed away, including legal, financial, and emotional considerations as well as executor duties and responsibilities.

    Key takeaways

    • A death certificate is more official than a statement of death, but a statement of death is often sufficient documentation and may be easier to acquire
    • An executor or estate administrator has many duties and responsibilities, including locating the will and handling the funeral and burial services of the deceased
    • The personal belongings of a person who has passed away cannot be distributed, sold, or disposed of before the executor or estate administrator manages and distributes them according to the will or by succession laws

    Emotional support and coping

    Losing someone close to you can be incredibly difficult, and it's perfectly normal to struggle with grief and other emotions during this time. To help, here are some things to remember during this difficult time:

    Trust the process

    Everyone deals with grief differently, and there's no right or wrong way to go through it. It’s common to feel a mix of different emotions like sadness, anger, or guilt when someone you cared about has passed on. It's important to take your time and know that it's okay to seek help if you need it.

    Know you’re not alone

    Talking to someone who understands can make a big difference. While dealing with the loss of a loved one, it may help to speak with a grief therapist or connect with others who are going through similar experiences. 

    To keep the memory of your loved one close, you can memorialize them through memory books, planting a memorial tree or garden, or honouring their memory by doing something special each year on their birthday or anniversary, like lighting a candle or doing an activity they loved.

    These simple gestures can keep their memory alive and provide a sense of comfort during tough times. Remember, not everyone processes grief the same way and you should move through it at whatever pace feels right to you. 

    What are the first things to do when someone dies?

    After the death of a loved one, there are some immediate steps to take if you are their spouse, immediate next of kin, or executor. 

    Step 1: Confirm the death

    Confirming a death in Canada requires at least one of the following documents: 

    Death Certificate: Issued by the province or territory where the death occurred, this is an official comprehensive confirmation of a person’s death. This document is filled out by an attending physician or coroner and is submitted to a funeral director with the body of the deceased. It generally contains the following details about the person’s death: 

    • Their full name
    • Their age at the time of death
    • Date of death
    • Place of death
    • Their sex
    • Their marital status at the time of death
    • Their usual place of residence at the time of death
    • Their registration number
    • Their registration date
    • The date issued

    Statement of Death: Issued by a funeral home, this document is sufficient in most situations for notifying the government of a person’s passing but is not as comprehensive as a death certificate. The funeral director will work with someone, usually a spouse or next of kin of the deceased, to document information about the person who has passed.

    Which one do I need, a death certificate or a statement of death?

    You can use either a statement of death or a death certificate as proof of death in Canada. In most cases, a statement of death works fine for notifying the federal government and is often processed faster as well.

    Step 2: Notify loved ones and others about the death

    If you are able, get in touch with the deceased’s loved ones, friends, family members, and network to notify them of their passing. This can be done through face-to-face conversations, letters, phone calls, texts, or through announcements on social media. 

    Step 3: Locate the will

    In the days after a person’s passing, their executor is responsible for locating and reading the will to find out the deceased’s funeral wishes and how they want to distribute their estate. If you are the executor and choose to take on this appointed responsibility, you are responsible for the next steps in settling the deceased’s estate. 

    If you are not the executor but you know where the will is located, you should give it to the executor so they can begin their duties. 

    If the deceased had no will, then their spouse or next of kin would generally be responsible for starting the next steps to arrange the person’s funeral or burial wishes and starting the probate process to settle the estate.

    Step 4: The executor must secure the deceased’s property and assets

    When someone passes away, their assets are either placed into their estate or immediately inherited by beneficiaries. Assets can only be automatically inherited if the original owner added joint owners or the assets allow designated beneficiaries (such as investment accounts or insurance policies). It is the executor’s responsibility to secure any assets that are part of the estate. 

    Tips for choosing an executor → 

    Legal and administrative procedures

    How to get a death certificate in Canada

    To get a death certificate, you must contact your provincial or territorial government. Find more information by following the links below:

    How to get a statement of death in Canada

    You can get a statement of death by contacting the funeral home responsible for the deceased’s affairs. 

    Which offices and agencies do you need to submit files to?

    The forms you need to complete regarding the passing of a loved one depend on the circumstances. Factors the government considers about the deceased include:

    • If they died inside or outside of Canada
    • If they had or applied for a passport or permanent resident card
    • If they lived or worked abroad at some point during their life
    • If they were unemployed
    • If they received student loans
    • If they were older than 60 or under 18 years of age
    • If they had a physical disability or mental illness
    • If they served as a member of the Canadian Armed Forces
    • If they had a gun or other firearm(s)
    • If they were a police officer, firefighter, paramedic, correctional officer, parole officer or probation officer
    • If they had life insurance
    • If they were the victim of a crime
    • If they had someone providing them with care and support
    • If they were a parent or legal guardian of a child
    • If they had a spouse or common-law partner
    • If they were a First Nations person

    The official Government of Canada website has a helpful checklist for which federal departments and agencies to notify following a person’s death.

    If you’ve been named the guardian of a loved one’s child, here's what you need to know.

    Planning the funeral or memorial service

    Making decisions about funeral and burial services, including choosing a funeral home, where to host the service, and who to invite can be overwhelming, especially in a time of mourning. 

    That’s why it’s important to make your estate plan and document your final wishes now so that your loved ones don’t have to make those decisions for you. 

    Look after your loved ones by making a will today → 

    Who is responsible for organizing the service?

    The executor should take responsibility for organizing and facilitating funeral and burial arrangements based on the final wishes of the deceased’s will. 

    If there is no appointed executor, this would be the responsibility of the estate administrator or public trustee. 

    If there is no will, then it falls to the spouse, partner, or next of kin to organize.

    How much does a funeral cost?

    In Canada, a funeral can cost between $1,000 to $20,000. The range is very broad because of factors such as seasonality, types of caskets, types of receptions, as well as additional services.

    💡 Helpful Tip Funeral and burial expenses don’t necessarily need to be paid out of the estate. You can also finance them with funeral insurance or a Canada Pension Plan death benefit. These can help to cover costs if someone dies and has no money or has no assets to finance the service.

    Handling personal belongings

    When someone passes away, their personal belongings become assets. Assets are any tangible or intangible items of value owned by the person and can include things like property, vehicles, cash, bank accounts, art, heirlooms, investments, and patents. 

    Unless they are jointly owned or have designated beneficiaries, assets will go into a person’s estate when they pass away. This means that legally, they cannot be distributed, sold, or thrown away before the executor or estate administrator manages and distributes them. 

    If someone sells or removes an asset from a person’s estate without due process, they can potentially face serious legal consequences such as fines or imprisonment.

    Managing finances and estate

    If you are the executor or estate administrator, it is your responsibility to manage and distribute the estate and all the finances that come with it. This means you will need to:

    • Cancel all credit cards and check for any insurance that might cover the remaining balances
    • Cancel all subscriptions and utilities that are not being used
    • Make a list of what the deceased owns and what they owe (debts and liabilities)
    • Review the deceased’s investment portfolio and other money matters
    • Use the Bank of Canada’s Unclaimed Balances Registry to find any forgotten bank accounts
    • Pay off all debts and resolve any outstanding claims against the estate
    • Advertise to inform creditors before distributing assets, if necessary
    • Confirm that tax returns for the last six years are completed
    • Get any overdue tax returns ready and send them, along with the Terminal T1 Tax Return and other relevant forms, to the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) within six months of the death date

    Download our full guide to settling an estate here → 

    Planning for the future

    Losing a loved one is never easy, but death is something we can all expect and can all prepare for. 

    When you make a will and estate plan, you have peace of mind knowing that when you pass away, your loved ones are protected from the grief of not knowing if your affairs are in order, what your funeral wishes are, or how your estate will be distributed. 

    Start your estate plan today → 

    For more resources on grief and bereavement, please visit:

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