What to do when someone dies

The death of a loved one is a time of great sadness and grief. Many people find it a struggle to focus on tasks like planning a funeral. Below is some information to help you manage the things that need to be done at this difficult time.

What to do first

When someone dies in a Hospital, Nursing home or care facility, staff will help you with the immediate arrangements.

When someone dies in their home and there is no doctor or other authority present, you or a relative or friend will need to call the person’s doctor. The doctor may come to the home or may explain over the phone what to do next. When appropriate, the deceased will be taken to a hospital or to a funeral home of your choosing.

The doctor who was responsible for the medical care of a person before their death, or who examines the body after death, must complete and sign a medical certificate stating the cause of death. This certificate must be issued within 48 hours after the person’s death and is usually given to the funeral director who will register the death.

When the death occurs as the result of an accident or is unexpected, Tasmania Police should be notified as well as the person’s doctor. In these cases, the Coroner may be required to investigate the cause of death.

Registering the death and obtaining the death certificate

In Tasmania, registration of a death with the Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages is compulsory and must occur within 14 days from the date of death.

Usually a funeral director will register the death following the funeral. The funeral director will need some information about the deceased to register the death, including; full name, address, date and place of death and birth, occupation, marital status, parents’ full names and occupations, maiden name and names and ages of their children.

After the death is registered, the Registry can issue a death certificate. A certified copy of the death certificate can be obtained within ten days. The executor is responsible for obtaining a copy to enable them to administer the deceased estate. Eligible applicants can apply directly at Service Tasmania for a copy.

In certain cases (car accident, suspicious death or death at home) the Coroner's Office is responsible for lodging the Death Registration Statement.

Did the deceased mention organ donation?

You may be contacted by DonateLife or hospital staff to discuss organ donation. The deceased might be registered on the Australian Organ Donor Register or might have discussed their wishes with you prior to their death. The potential for organ donation will depend on the circumstances of the death.

Advise close relatives and friends

Advising family and friends of a loved one’s death can be a difficult task. Often it helps to have a support person who can assist you with this task and advise others who might need to know of the death immediately, such as an employer. You might choose to place a death notice in the newspaper and a funeral notice including details of the funeral service.

The Will and other arrangements

The Will needs to be located as it states how the deceased person's belongings will be distributed and the person or organisation who has been named as the executor.

An executor is responsible for the administration of an estate and for carrying out the wishes set in the Will. Being an executor can be a complicated job and requires legal and financial understanding to do it successfully.  Some of the responsibilities of an executor are to obtain the death certificate, locate the original Will, advise family and friends, arrange and pay for the funeral, apply for a grant of probate and act on any special instructions from the deceased.

If the person has not left a Will, in Tasmania, the Intestacy Act 2010 formula states how the estate is distributed. In order for the estate to be administered somebody needs to apply to the Court for authority, similar to probate. This authority is called Letters of Administration and the person authorised is the administrator.

If the deceased person’s Will is with the Public Trustee, you need to contact the Public Trustee so we can provide you with the original Will. If the Public Trustee has been named as the executor we can commence our role in administering the estate.

If the named executor is unable or unwilling to take on the role of executor, their role can be relinquished to the Public Trustee.

Make the funeral arrangements

It is a good idea to have a look amongst the deceased’s belongings to see whether they left any specific directions regarding their funeral. The Public Trustee’s Personal Record book is a great place to start if they have one, as it holds important information about their wishes for when they pass away.  Often these directions are included in their Will, which sometimes isn’t located until after the funeral takes place.  The deceased may have belonged to a society or group that makes special arrangements for the funeral, such as official commemoration by the Office of the Australian War Graves, or you might like to include specific religious or cultural elements in the service.  The funeral director can assist in making these arrangements. It is wise to ask for a full written quote before confirming the funeral plans.

The deceased may be entitled to insurance or funeral benefits that assist with payment of the funeral expenses, or may have a prearranged funeral bond.  Financial institutions are permitted to release funds from the deceased’s bank account for the purpose of paying for their funeral.

Support and professional help if you need it

The most important thing to remember throughout the process of dealing with a loved one’s death is to seek support, accept help and look after yourself. Although grief is a very personal experience, it often helps to share how you feel with others.  If you are feeling overwhelmed for a long period of time or unable to cope, you might consider speaking to a professional who can help you deal with your grief. If children are affected by the person’s death, it often helps to speak with them about how they are feeling or arrange for them to speak to a professional.

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