This was one of the hardest summers of my life. I thought nothing could beat 2020, the year of Covid. I was wrong.

In the spring, my dad was diagnosed with lung cancer. He was almost 89 but in pretty good health. To say we were shocked is an understatement. Dad hadn’t smoked since 1963, the year after I was born.

His situation progressed really quickly. Too quickly.

Can you ever be prepared for a parent’s death?

Besides grieving a wonderful, amazing, loving father, my sister, brother, and I found ourselves in a new world – taking care of an estate. I want to share some of the things we learned because (a) some are things you need to do now to take care of your family, and (b) some are things you might have to deal with after the death of loved one.

I want to help you plan ahead and know what to do in the event of a loved one’s death.

Please note that these are military veteran specific, but many of these steps apply for anyone who is handling a loved one’s death.

American flags on headstones at a cemetery

Funeral Plans

My dad was at home on hospice when he died. My sister and I were staying at his house, so when I found dad, we called my brother who lived nearby. Our next call was to the hospice care, who contacted the funeral home to get his body.

Dad had helped us on this because he’d made prepaid funeral plans long before. This was a huge benefit for us for two simple reasons”

  1. We knew who to call right away.
  2. We didn’t have to pay for anything right then.

It was all set up for the funeral home, to include my dad’s wishes and the location of his interment. Having this knowledge right at our fingertips made things so much easier. It’s extremely hard to make decisions in those first days of grief. If you’ve gone through this, you know.

*Tip: Prepaid and preregistration with a cemetery will take tons of stress off the family. You can preregister for a VA cemetery burial here.

Phone Calls

We are still making phone calls! Some of the most important ones to make right away are DFAS, DEERS, VA, and Social Security.

We contacted Tricare, Express Scripts, and the local pharmacy he used. You also need to look into contacting the DMV. Call the corresponding agents about life insurance policies and bank accounts. And don’t forget the doctor to cancel any outstanding appointments.

While you’re on the phone, change the mailing address to the executor’s address or open a Post Office box. You’ll want to have all the mail forwarded and/or cancelled if no one else lives at that address.

I thought DFAS, DEERS, or the VA would communicate with each other, but they don’t. It’s much better to make the calls and not assume. The best numbers to call, per our experience:

  • DFAS – 800-321-1080. If there is a surviving spouse, you can check into SBP.
  • Social Security – 800-772-1213
  • VA – 800-827-1000 – the VA has a lot of services; you can check into DIC. The VA also provides the flag for burial services (the funeral home provided the flag for my dad).
  • DEERS – 800-538-9552

*Tip: Make a list of people and places to call complete with phone numbers. This will help your family!

two people writing on paperwork on a table
Photo by Romain Dancre on Unsplash

Information and Paperwork

You will need the original and copies of the death certificate; I would recommend getting 5-10 copies at first. Some places will take copies, some only want the original. If there is a will, make copies and keep the original. This is another document that agencies will want to see or have a copy. We had to have dad’s birthdate and death date, plus his social security number. We also needed a copy of his DD214 or Certificate of Release or Discharge form for several things.

Is there an executor of the will/estate? Executors have a lot to do (ask my sister), and they need all this paperwork.

*Tip: Make sure to have a good copier with a scanner. Trust me on this!

Important Things You Can Do Now

Think about the expenses you may incur during this time, even if there is a will and funds for this. When my dad passed, his bank accounts were frozen. The beneficiary for his accounts was his wife, who had recently died. No other beneficiaries listed meant the account went to the estate and in his state, that means the will has to be probated before the estate can be accessed.

We had no idea! We’d had expenses come up that we had to put on our credit cards. Ensure that these are updated accordingly when life changes happen.

Even though dad wanted to be cremated and interred at a national VA cemetery, we had a celebration of life for him. We had to pay to rent a space and provide refreshments. Other expenses include keeping his house and utilities paid while his estate is in probate and listing his obituary in the local paper. These things can get expensive!

To prevent this, you can list more than one beneficiary on your bank accounts, or you can add someone to your account. My husband was on his mom’s account, and that really helped when she died last year.

Set up a will and name an executor. I can’t stress this enough. Especially if you have kids. In my family, all of us are grown, but having that will with things spelled out easily really helps. 

Assign an executor to your estate, and make sure your executor knows about it!

*Tip: In Gretchen’s My “In Case I Die” Binder: Important (and Neurotic) Info, she explains how to make a binder with all kinds of information!

I know I’m so blessed to have my dad for almost 59 years, but I sure do miss him.

I have a counselor now to help with the grief. I’m trying to do all the right things to take care of myself. Sometimes it’s hard though, and my feelings leak down my cheeks.

family with older father and grown children Jen Dodrill and her father

The things I’ve learned and shared on here I will be putting in place. Our will is probably 30 years old! And I want to add beneficiaries to my accounts. I also plan to make a binder like Gretchen’s to get all my paperwork ready. My kids don’t want to talk about it, but I will write down what I want for when I’m gone.

But my biggest takeaway from this summer is this: love your people and spend time with them.

I had lots of time with my dad the last couple months of his life, but I wish I’d been more intentional before this. I’m making changes in my relationships now with my family and friends. I want to make sure that my family and I are prepared for death, even if it is uncomfortable.

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Jen Dodrill is a Navy brat from a long line of Navy brats. Born in Virginia, she moved to the Florida panhandle in 6th grade. After vowing to never date a Navy guy, she moved to Nashville, TN where she met and fell in love with Eddie who was - you guessed it - in the delayed-entry-program for the Navy. They met in June, married the following February, and over 35 years later are still sweethearts. They moved back to West Tennessee in 2008 after his retirement. Jen stayed home to raise their 5 kids, and she homeschooled the youngest three. The “baby” graduated in 2020, but Jen refuses to bow to empty-nest syndrome! She teaches Oral Communication as an adjunct instructor for Dyersburg State Community College and blogs at Jen Dodrill History at Home. Jen also writes curriculum under History at Home at TeachersPayTeachers and Boom Learning! When she’s not working, she’s spending time with her kids and adorable granddaughters. You can find her on Instagram, Facebook, and her favorite place – Pinterest! You can also visit her site "History at Home" at


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