First aid page
One cannot train for the real scenario. A death often occurs suddenly and unexpectedly and one has to face the tasks at hand during this difficult time in life, feeling helpless and alone. I would like to give you a First-Aid-List, so that you can plan a bit ahead and know what tasks need to be done and in what order.
It is very important to know that you are in fact not alone and you do not have to do everything on your own. There are many trained experts who can take a piece of your burden off your shoulders and offer their help and advice. I highly recommend asking people for their help before the feeling of “I cannot do this anymore” gets too big and threatens to pull you down.
1. Select an Undertaker
Undertakers are usually run as a family business and oftentimes they operate over many generations. Maybe you know of an undertaker, who worked for your family some time before? Ideally, they would have their old documents still at hand or they know your family personally. If you need to select a new undertaker, it makes things easier to have the funeral home in close proximity, for planning the funeral and bringing over the clothes for the deceased, etc.
The undertaker will bring the body of the deceased to the funeral home and prepare it for the funeral; The deceased’s body will be washed, made-up and clothed. It is important to know that in Germany, you are also allowed to do these task at home and by yourself, if you want to say goodbye to your dear departed and wash and cloth them yourself. Speak with your undertaker about your wishes – sometimes it can be helpful and give you peace to see your deceased loved-one once more, to be able to touch them and to say goodbye in a very personal and quiet way. Many cultures do death watches, neighbours and friends will come to the house of the deceased and say goodbye. The body will never be left alone and people will be able to give each other strength and support.
Whatever you decide- listen to your heart and do what is the best for you, not for someone else.
2. Inspect the deceased’s home and rescue their pets
The most important thing is to check if there are pets left at the deceased’s home. Make sure they are being taken care of. If you do not know where to place the pet and if you cannot take them into your own homes, ask the local shelter: Most offer an emergency admission for a couple of days. They might also know of people who can take them in for a short time while a new home is being searched for. Or maybe there is a neighbour or a relative who can take care of the animal. You can also check online for animal sitters- these are people who will come into the home of another person to take care of their pets while their owners are on holiday. This helps the pet, since they do not have to leave their accustomed home just yet, and they will be taken care of several times a day, depending on your agreement with the sitter.
3. Water the plants and tidy out the fridge
Check if all plants have enough water– when in doubt, pour them a bit more. Maybe you can ask neighbours, if they want to take in the plants?
Then you should check the fridge – take out all perishables (i.e. vegetables, fruit, cheese and meat, open cans and prepared food) and either take them home or throw them out. Don’t forget to check the larder for onions, potatoes and the like and also to check if there are fruit trays in the living room or the kitchen counter. Fruit flies can develop very quickly and to get rid of them is exhausting. If you have the time, clean out the fridge completely, then you can unplug it and save energy costs (only do so if you are not planning on having a (post-funeral) wake in the home of the deceased- in that case, keep it operational, as you will still need it). If you unplug the fridge, make sure to put in some big towels to soak up the excess moisture that will condense and keep the fridge’s doors open so that no nasty smells or mould can develop.
4. Speaking with the undertaker
When speaking with the undertaker, the following will be clarified:
- Which coffin and what kind of décor do you prefer?
- Do you prefer a burial, a cremetion, or a burial at sea?
- Plan the funeral service: Which music will be played (favourite songs of the deceased)? Will there be speeches and if so, who will speak (a priest or pastor, a family member or a professional speaker for funerals)? Which kind of flowers do you wish and what to print onto the ribbons of the flower arrangements? Will the service be open to the public or only for close relatives and friends? Will you put up pictures of the deceased and if so, which ones and how big should they be printed and in which picture frame presented? (It may be that the funeral director cannot offer all these services and you will need to print pictures and seek for a professional speaker yourselves)
- Plan the death-notice in the paper: Shall it be a religious one or an informal one, which words will you use to say goodbye, which people to name, will you put a famous or religious quote in one corner of the notice, do you wish to use a symbol or even a picture of the deceased, which paper or papers should print the notice?
- Buy/rent the burial ground or make a date for the urn’s (sea) burial or the burial at a forest cemetery. There are also other options available – the ashes can serve as nourishment for a small tree which you can plant in your garden and there seem to be possibilities to cremate your deceased outside of Germany and get back their ashes in urns that can be placed in your garden where the rain will wash-out the ashes over time. Ask your funeral director or check online for options if you are not happy with the classical burials offered in Germany.
- “Funeral Feast” or funeral party: Do you want to have the post-funeral get-together at the deceased’s home? There are advantages: People can say goodbye and remember a person in the departed’s very own home in a very personal way. This way some costs may be avoided – rental of room, and food and drinks can be organised personally.
The disadvantage is that you will have to tidy up and clean the home of your deceased. This can of course be delegated to a cleaning service or a room decorator, you will not have to do this alone. For the feast you can order cake at a local bakery or you can have a catering service deliver finger food and drinks.
If you decide on having the feast or party at a restaurant or a café, I suggest using a place nearby the cemetery. They will have a lot of experiences with such get-togethers and be able to offer a special service, probably with the right decoration and in a room absent from the normal “day crowd”.
If you offer coffee and cake or rather go for finger food or sandwiches is completely up to you. If you are not sure, check the time of the feast: Sandwiches and finger food in the morning and midday, coffee and cake in the afternoon. The funeral director will be able to give you advice, or probably even organise this event – ask him about their services.
5. Will you accept or deny the inheritance
Think about accepting or denying the inheritance. If a person has collected many debts in their life, you will have to pay them off if you accept the inheritance. If you do not want to do this, you can deny inheritance and not accept. You will have 6 weeks’ time to deny inheritance – starting the day you got to know about the inheritance (in case you are a direct relative this has happened when you took notice of the person’s passing). Please note that all heirs will have to deny or accept inheritance – according to their order in the legal succession. If the six weeks have passed, the inheritance will automatically be considered “accepted”. Please consult a lawyer or notary; the information here is not considered legal advice but just a preliminary information.
6. Apply for a certificate of inheritance
In Germany, it may be necessary to apply for a certificate of inheritance. This might be necessary to close bank accounts or sell shares or depots or if you have inherited land and the land title register needs to be amended. If the deceased has left a will, it may be sufficient for the land title registry, but this needs to be clarified with them. You need to contact the local court (i.e., district court) or your lawyer or notary can do this for you and apply for the certificate. You will need the following documents: your passport, death certificate of the deceased, their last will or testamentary contract (if available) or alternatively your birth certificate or your marriage certificate to show your legal succession. If you are divorced you will need the divorce certificate, too. You will need to estimate the value of the inheritance and possible debts of the deceased as close to the real value as possible.
It is important to know that after you have applied for the certificate of inheritance, you won’t be able to reject the inheritance, so it is necessary to know if the deceased was in debt or leaves valuables. Please always ask your lawyer or notary for the correct approach (and if you are living in Baden-Wurttemberg, please check thoroughly, since a different approach than in other federal states applies); this is just meant as a preliminary information so you know what comes next- this is no binding legal advice!
7. Secure Valuables
If the home of the deceased is left uninhabited, all valuables should be secured (like money, jewellery, etc.) and brought to a safe place. It seems to be too obvious to mention, but: Burglaries can happen in known uninhabited homes.
8. Headstone and maintenance of the burial site (not necessary in case of anonymous burials or burials at sea or in a cemetery forest)
It takes some time for the soil to settle after a burial. Additional soil will need to be added to the site after a while. Now you can decide how the site should look like, which plants to add and if you wish to take care of the site yourself or give the maintenance task to a service provider (i.e., a cemetery gardener). The decision which kind of headstone you want to place on the site and who will create it will need to be taken, too. Select a stonemason who can fulfil your wishes – he will meet with you to understand your ideas and send you a written offer.
9. Online Memorial Page
Some Newspapers offer online memorial pages for those deceased, whose death notices they printed. These pages will oftentimes be viewed by people reading the online-paper, but also people who search for the deceased online. Maybe you want to share the link with family and friends- every visitor can light a virtual candle for the deceased (very nice for the annual anniversary of death or the birthday of the deceased) or add pictures or even videos or anecdotes… The site will be kept online for many years and can be a good opportunity to connect with others mourning for the deceased.
10. Plan-in time for yourself
Please keep in mind your own well-being during these hard times and don’t forget to do something good for you, too. People tend to want to be always perfect and we sometimes do not recognize that we are acting too fast and burn the candles from both ends. A day of grief can be as exhausting as a marathon. You need to rest and please do not forget to eat, to drink (a lot of water and not just coffee) and to take deep breaths – you might fall ill otherwise.
Ask for help and support – even if it is just temporary, e.g. children’s day care or a help for your own household. Have the store deliver goods to your home so that you can save the time to go shopping and also keep from ordering pizza every night because the fridge is simply empty…
11. Where to leave all the inherited items?
If you have inherited a house or an apartment, you probably would like to rent it out to a tenant or sell it to a new owner as soon as possible. But before you can do so, you will need to clear out the household and decide on how to do it. You can go and select the items that are of emotional value and which you want to keep. Afterwards a declutterer or household clearer can help and clear out everything that is of no emotional value to you.
If, on the other hand, you are attached to most things in the deceased’s home and would like to say goodbye to everything in your own time, you will probably not give the task to a professional household clearer but will take on the task yourself. If you notice that this task gets too big or you cannot do this on your own, if your energy levels are dropping, you could ask a professional Estate and Inheritance Support for assistance. They will help you screen the inheritance and decide what to do with the single items. While employing the help of an empathetic third party, your view will get clearer and the next steps will be easier again.
You can also ask a professional clean-up service for help or at the end of the process a cleaning service or workmen to renovate the house. All of these services gear into each other.
Should you need help to decide, which services to employ, please write me an email: firstname.lastname@example.org. We will clarify your needs and manage the challenges together, so that a spirited farewell & new beginnings are possible.
Please contact me:
An der Christuskirche 17
+49 (0)176- 690 13 242