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We aimed to describe the hierarchical structure of Instrumental Activities of Daily Living (IADL) and basic Activities of Daily Living (ADL) and trajectories of dependency before death in an elderly population using item response theory methodology. Data were obtained from a population-based French cohort study, the Personnes Agées QUID (PAQUID) Study, of persons aged ≥65 years at baseline in 1988 who were recruited from 75 randomly selected areas in Gironde and Dordogne. We evaluated IADL and ADL data collected at home every 2–3 years over a 24-year period (1988–2012) for 3,238 deceased participants (43.9% men). We used a longitudinal item response theory model to investigate the item sequence of 11 IADL and ADL combined into a single scale and functional trajectories adjusted for education, sex, and age at death. The findings confirmed the earliest losses in IADL (shopping, transporting, finances) at the partial limitation level, and then an overlapping of concomitant IADL and ADL, with bathing and dressing being the earliest ADL losses, and finally total losses for toileting, continence, eating, and transferring. Functional trajectories were sex-specific, with a benefit of high education that persisted until death in men but was only transient in women. An in-depth understanding of this sequence provides an early warning of functional decline for better adaptation of medical and social care in the elderly.