Dealing with the Issues that Follow the Death of a Loved One

By 15 January 2019Wills & Estates

It is a sad but universal truth. The death of a loved one consistently ranks as the most stressful experience one can have. In many cases, the emotional devastation following the loss of a parent, child, sibling or spouse makes it nearly impossible to move forward. But in spite of our grief the fact is, we must.

With that in mind, here are some tips for handling everything that must be done after a loved one passes.

Steps to take in the immediate aftermath

The first requirement after your loved one has died is to have a doctor verify that the person is no longer alive, and issue an official document called a Medical Certificate Cause of Death.

Next, this certificate must be filed with the New South Wales Registry of Births Deaths and Marriages. This must be done within one week (seven days) after the certificate was issued. The doctor or funeral director will probably file the certificate for you. However, you can also file it if you are an executor, a close family member, or a relative.

After it receives the Medical Certificate Cause of Death and does the necessary paperwork, the Registry will issue a Death Certificate. Depending on the situation, it will be sent to the funeral director or an immediate family member.

Within this context it is important to note that a suspicious or unusual death will be handled differently. In those circumstances, or in any case with an unknown cause of death, the doctor must notify law enforcement. This initiates a coronial investigation and, in some cases, an inquest may also be held.

Making necessary notifications

For the next of kin, executor or co-executor, one of the most difficult tasks following a loved one’s death is breaking the news to family and friends. Determining who should be told will depend on your unique circumstances. In most cases, the following people are informed:

  • The deceased’s husband, wife or partner;
  • any adult children;
  • the person or people looking after the deceased person’s underage children;
  • the deceased’s mother and father;
  • other relatives;
  • close friends.

It’s understandable if you feel overwhelmed at this point. Don’t be afraid to ask another immediate family member or trusted friend to help make the necessary notifications. You can also ask the authorities for help if you don’t know how to get in touch with someone who should be contacted quickly.

In addition to telling certain people what happened, you must also inform certain organisations that your loved one has passed away. Again, the list of these organisations will depend on your situation. However, it generally includes:

  • Relevant utilities;
  • financial institutions;
  • insurance companies;
  • administrators of any online accounts (including social media accounts);
  • relevant government agencies/entities such as Centrelink and the Australian Taxation Office (ATO).

You can contact these organisations by phone or in writing. However, you should be prepared to provide copies of the Death Certificate when requested.

Making funeral arrangements

As your friends and family hear about your loss, they will probably ask about the funeral arrangements.

Then there’s the matter of who is in charge of planning the funeral. That depends on whether your loved one had a will. If so, the person or people named as executor(s) are tasked with planning the service. If not, an immediate relative such as yourself will assume this responsibility.

In any case, the person (or people) who make the arrangements are also responsible for paying the funeral director. However, you won’t have to pay out of pocket if the deceased had a relevant insurance policy (with funeral coverage) or a prepaid funeral plan.

Another important point to note here concerns funeral arrangements in the event of a coronial investigation. If this type of investigation is warranted, the body must remain in a hospital morgue until an order for burial is issued by the coroner.

The specific circumstances of the case will dictate how soon the body is released for burial or cremation. In some situations it will only be released when the investigation concludes with a determination as to the cause of death. In other circumstances, it may be released prior to completion of the coronial inquest. Either way, the funeral arrangements can’t proceed until the body is released.

Administration of the estate

Finally, if your loved one made a will, he or she designated an executor or executors to make sure that his or her wishes are carried out. In addition to handling the tasks we’ve already discussed, this person will also be tasked with administering the deceased’s estate. Among other things, this means that he or she must make sure any outstanding debts are settled and assets are distributed as instructed.

If there is no designated executor, an immediate family member usually assumes these responsibilities.

Conversely, if the deceased didn’t make a will at all, he or she is legally classified as ‘intestate’. In this situation, court intervention is inevitable. Given the potential complications in these circumstances, it is important to get proper legal advice as soon as you can.

In summary, we understand the loss of a loved one is never easy, and we are here to help. To learn more about what must be done after someone has passed, contact us today.