Buying a coffin, organizing a memorial, making sense of estate taxes — these are only a few of the chores one is tasked with when a loved one dies. We’ll talk to Scott Taylor Smith, author of “When Someone Dies: The Practical Guide to the Logistics of Death,” along with trusts and estates lawyer Jim Mitchell, about death’s logistical to-dos.

Scott Taylor Smith, lawyer, venture capitalist, and author of "When Someone Dies: The Practical Guide to the Logistics of Death"
Jim Mitchell, partner at the law firm of Coblentz, Patch, Duffy & Bass in San Francisco

  • Pontifikate

    I know this seems trivial, but when my loved one dies, most likely I will be on the other coast. When that moment comes, what is the best way to get a flight quickly without being charged last-minute prices?

    • Beth Grant DeRoos

      Hope they answer your question. Not sure they do it any more but if an airline has proof you have lost a family member, they give a reduced price. The Red Cross helped a friend with this once.

      • Pontifikate

        Thanks, Beth. For a Jewish family member who has to be buried the next day or maybe the day after (no later), I don’t know what kind of proof or how quickly you can get it.

        • Mary

          Ask a rabbi.

    • Mary

      Call the airlines and explain the circumstances. They will ask you for information related to medical care (name, address, phone # of hospital, name of attending physician and/or charge nurse). You should be able to negotiate a round-trip, open-return ticket for a set price.

  • Beth Grant DeRoos

    A Mennonite friend and I have made plain pine, oak burial boxes sans nails/screws and would like to see more people doing simple burial boxes.

    Also want to see more green burial areas where just the body wrapped in cloth or in a plain wood box sans nails/screws or even sturdy cardboard, no embalming is allowed.

    Also highly recommend the book Caring For Your Own Dead. Thankfully our family property has a family burial area.

  • $2870056

    Whoa! What do you do if an elderly family member dies at home – has a doctor who will not come to pronounce, is not actively involved in a medical problem?

    Who do you call? Coroner? Mortuary?

    Can family transport a body (anywhere)?

    • Mary


  • kim shepard

    When my husband died three years ago, and he was young, only 49 and I
    was 42 at the time, and we have two kids, they were 10 and 13, it was a
    whirlwind of emotion and paperwork. Being who I am, I handled
    everything, it helped get me up in the morning and not loose my mind in
    the fact I was now a single mother. I am lucky he had life insurance,
    and a 401, and had a great paying job that his social security death
    benefits for the kids and I are over 4000 grand a month. I had three
    lawyers at one time helping me get through it all, and the best advice
    the $300 an hour one gave me was, don’t change his 401 into your name.
    Leave it in his, and because you are his widow, you can take money out,
    and get taxed, but you won’t get dinged with the early withdrawal
    penalty. Our choice as a family was that I was to be a stay at home
    mom, and because of how our finances worked at the time of his death, I
    still get to be. I will not have any savings left when the kids get out
    of high school, but I paid off our home with his insurance money so at
    least I will have that, and my kids got to have a stable home with me
    here for them and not at two jobs trying to make ends meet.

  • Steve Huggins

    I think your guest mis-spoke: 1) you do not need a casket even if you are holding a viewing; we viewed my partner’s body is a cardboard box that went straight into the cremator. 2) The “urn” supplied by the crematorium is not required to be compostable.

  • Chris

    What about inheritance tax? Is there a way to minimize the requirements, either within or not within a trust?

  • Mary

    Lots of good, sound advice in this segment. I wanted to add something I learned from experience: those Death Certificates are expensive, as well as awkward to obtain. Good News: you can actually request that the various agencies, institutions, et cetera which require presentation of theses documents RETURN them to you (include a SASE with a note. Almost all of them will do so. The really only need to see (and then copy) same. The only exceptions for me were real estate-related (mortgage-holders). Even Social Security returned the certificate. I “recycled” several of them, and in doing, saved myself a lot of money, time and effort.

  • Lisa Hammill

    My dad died December 2011. We have now filed last tax return and distributed all the assets. I just received a bill for ambulance service to transport him to a hospice home. This was a covered benefit but was denied because the claim by the transport company was too late? Am I responsible for this bill?lil
    Lisa in danville

  • William Robathan

    I’m not sure that this was articulated by your guests: If an attorney is brought in by the trustee, the beneficiary’s trust under normal circumstances will pay those trust related attorney’s fees.

  • david kanner

    please have the guest comment on the importance of the correct naming of beneficiaries on retirement accounts such as IRA’s
    and pensions.

  • Mid Fuller

    Is a trust required to file a separate trust tax return if the trust’s income is under $600 per year while the trust is in existence? And how do you end or dissolve a trust once all the assets are distributed to the beneficiaries?

  • Thomas

    My mother recently passed unexpectedly and to my surprise had multiple life insurance policies.
    How are life insurance taxes handled for beneficiaries?

  • brad

    When funding the trust:
    How do you move your deeded home with a lender into the trust? I have heard some lenders are reluctant to do this.

  • Michael Robinton

    when the remaining trustor passes away and the assets of the trust have been distributed, what forms must be filed with the IRS, State?

  • Amie

    How long is appropriate for a life insurance provider to supply the claim? I provided all necessary paperwork about 6 months ago and have heard nothing since.

  • Your speaker just mentioned that burying a body filled with formaldehyde is not very green and suggests cremation as a more sustainable alternative. I buried my mother at Fernwood cemetery in Marin, and they are a green burial service–the body cannot be preserved, it must be wrapped in biodegradable cloth (my mother was buried in a silk gown she loved) and the casket must be all biodegradable. They sell wicker coffins, which we used. Then if you want to plant any trees or plants, they need to be native to California. It seemed to me to be perfectly in keeping with her ethics and sense of religion and brings back a sense of death as part of the cycle of life as her body will biodegrade and feed the coast live oak she is next to.

  • Sarah

    A great resource for planning ahead or dealing with the logistics after a death is They have articles, tips, and checklists to help people with everything from who to call first to how to choose a casket to what the various religious traditions are. They also have resources for those looking to support someone through a loss, which is incredibly helpful for friends and family members who want to “be there” but don’t know what to do or say.

  • Denny

    wife passed 15 years ago from breast cancer at age 52. I received a small death
    benefit then from social security.

    Recently I heard of a
    way in which I am eligible at age sixty, which I will be in several
    months, to collect half of her Social Security benefit. Is this true? If this
    is so, I think that it is a little know fact and should be related to the

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