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What Documents Do I Need to Arrange a Funeral?

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romain-dancre-doplSDELX7E-unsplashLosing a loved one is already a stressful time, and it’s up to the surviving family members to make final arrangements—on top of dealing with grief.  

When it comes to planning a funeral, it’s difficult to consider where to even begin, especially while experiencing a wide range of emotions. While there’s no easy way to begin planning final arrangements, knowing what documents you’ll need can help you ease the burden and follow your loved one’s final wishes.

Below is a list of documents you’ll need to collect—take note that some documents might not apply to your loved one.

1. Birth Certificate and Social Security Card

You’ll need to find or request a copy of your loved one’s original birth certificate and Social Security card. If you can’t find the original certificate, you can order one in Ohio here. If you do not have documents, please be able to verify Social Security number and birth certificate information.

2. Marriage/Divorce Certificates

You’ll need copies of marriage and/or divorce records, with any amendments, in order to process your loved one’s financials. If you can’t locate the original certificates, you’ll have to contact the Bureau of Vital Statics office in the state where the marriage or divorce took place.

3. Cemetery Deed or Proof of Ownership

Find out if your loved one purchased a cemetery plot before passing and locate the proof of ownership. Your funeral director can call the cemetery for information regarding ownership. This will ensure your loved one is laid to rest in the location of their choice. If a monument of headstone has already been purchased the funeral home can help you complete the engraving or assist in purchasing a new headstone.

4. Funeral Prearrangement Papers

If your loved one documented their final wishes by preplanning, you’ll want to bring any applicable paperwork or policies. The funeral home where they preplanned will also have this information on file. Prearrangement documents will include important information about your loved one’s final wishes, like their preference on final disposition (burial or cremation), their final resting place (a cemetery, scattering location, etc.) service preferences (funeral, memorial, gathering) and more.

In addition to or in place of preplanning arrangements, locate an appointment of representation form. This document defines who has legal authority to plan final arrangements and what funds they should use to do so.

5. List of Funeral Insurance Policies

The funeral director will help you obtain claim forms from your loved one’s insurance agent or the company’s website. If you’re unsure if your loved one had any insurance policies, find out by checking old bills and mail, conducting an online search or calling the Insurance Commissioner in your state. This applies to life insurance policies, as well.

>>>Related resource: Does Life Insurance Cover Funeral Costs?

6. Military Discharge Papers

If your loved one served in the military, you’ll need a copy of their discharge certificate, also known as DD-214, in order to attain veteran benefits. In addition, in some cases, you can receive financial assistance for the funeral or other financial benefits, but in order to do so, the funeral home will have to notify the Veterans Administration and supply a number of documents.

7. Supplemental Information

If you’d like to include an obituary in your local newspaper or personalize services with photos, bring photos of your loved one, as well as a description and list of names of relatives.

>>>Related resource: How to Write An Obituary for a Loved One in Three Steps

8. Death Certificate

In order to obtain a death certificate, you’ll need to fill out a blank copy of an Ohio death certificate, which your funeral director will help you fill out. Information you’ll need to fill out the certificate include:

  • Legal name (first, middle and last)
  • Sex
  • Age
  • Race
  • Social Security number
  • Date and place of birth
  • Date and place of death
  • Most up-to-date address
  • Marital status at the time of death
  • Surviving spouse’s name if applicable (note, if surviving spouse is a wife, the maiden name must be provided)
  • Family history (mother and father’s names, mother’s maiden name)
  • Occupation and type of industry in which your loved one worked
  • Military involvement (branch, type of discharge, dates served) or copy of DD214
  • Name of doctor
  • Informant name, relationship and address

Once the death certificate is filled out, you’ll give it to your funeral or cremation provider, who will coordinate with a certified physician to complete the “cause of death” section. Once signed by the certifying physician the funeral home will file with the local health department. Your funeral director will help you determine how many certified copies you will need.

>>> We offer an in-depth look a filling out a death certificate in this resource.

Other Documents and Information You’ll Need When a Loved One Passes

The following list includes additional documents that are helpful in the coming days and weeks after a death. While these are not always necessary to plan final arrangements, many of these will come in handy as you organize your loved one’s estate, notify financial institutions and begin to sort through their belongings.

  • Copy of the will and/or revocable living trust: A will or testament is a legal document that expresses a person's wishes as to how their property will be distributed and used after their death. A living trust is a legal document created during an individual's lifetime where a designated person, the trustee, is given responsibility for managing that individual's assets for the benefit of the eventual beneficiary.
  • Account statements: Once you gather statements for the last few months for bank accounts, brokerage accounts and retirement accounts—including IRAs, 401ks and annuities—you’ll need to inform those accounts about your loved one’s passing and transfer or close them.
  • Beneficiary designations: Find out beneficiary designations for life insurance, retirement accounts, payable on death accounts and transfer on death accounts, so the funds are distributed appropriately. Assets with a beneficiary designation are payable on death to the individual(s).
  • Deeds for real estate: This will allow you to determine who owns what and to ensure the property goes to the correct beneficiary.
  • Automobile and boat titles and bills of sale: In order to transfer a title in Ohio, the beneficiary will need to bring the original Ohio title, certified copy of the death certificate, application(s) for Certificate of Title to a Motor Vehicle (Form BMV 3774), a government-issued driver’s license or identification card, and payment for titles fees to your local BMV office.
  • Stock and bond certificates: For bonds and stocks, you’ll need the original certificates to transfer legal title. If you’re a surviving joint owner, the stocks will immediately transfer to you.
  • Copies or originals of leases: You’ll need copies or originals of apartment, home and automobile leases and determine how they’ll be handled going forward.
  • Copes of income tax returns: Obtain copies of federal and state incomes tax returns for the past three years, as well as federal and state gift tax returns. Remember to also file final income tax returns of the deceased.
  • Copies of bills: Gather copies of utility bills, cell phone bills, credit card bills, mortgages and personal loans (including personal loans, line of credit, mortgages and promissory notes), real estate tax bills, storage unit bills, medical bills and the funeral bill. Also remember to pay any outstanding bills and cancel any digital accounts (think: streaming services like Netflix, or other entertainment accounts).

Learn How You Can Gather and Organize These Documents for Your Loved Ones

Losing a loved one is incredibly difficult, and the stress of planning a funeral can easily magnify that grief for you and other family members. But there is a way you can organize these types of documents for your loved ones and also put your final wishes in writing, long before you pass.

Preplanning your or a loved one’s funeral in advance can provide peace of mind during those tough times. Download our Seniors’ Guide to Funeral Arrangements to help ensure your final wishes be met and ease the burden of funeral planning for your loved ones.

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Robert Solich
Robert Solich
Thirty years of experience helping people on the hardest day of their lives, and one of Busch's longest-standing staff members. Bob provides valuable guidance to families with his expertise and compassion. He serves on two non-profit boards in the greater Cleveland area, promoting healthcare and the arts. Proudly serving Busch families since 1983.

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