Dealing with the death of a loved one

7-July-2013 Estates By Mark Streeter

When someone you care about dies, the circumstances of their death and the ensuing funeral arrangements can be too much to bear for some.

And while this is a somewhat unsavoury topic, it is something everyone should know a little about, so that when these circumstances arise, you know what to do if you are the next of kin.

After a person dies, a doctor must issue a medical certificate detailing the cause of death. If the person dies at home, an ambulance should be called. The ambulance crew can decide if the police need to be notified.

Once a medical certificate has been issued, a funeral director can be appointed to take the deceased into their care in preparation for the funeral.

Since the majority of deaths occur in hospital or other care facilities, these medical formalities are usually managed by these facilities.

If the deceased has made a will, it is important to locate and read it as soon as possible to ensure that any final instructions or wishes are considered. The Executor to the will usually has custody of the body until it is buried or cremated and is not bound by any specific directions in the will. In most circumstances, however, the known wishes of the deceased are honoured.

If there is no will, the next of kin is responsible for the body and funeral arrangements. One thing that may need to be considered at this time is organ and/or tissue donations.



When is an autopsy required?



If the cause of death cannot be determined, the local police must be notified. They will arrange with the Coroner’s office to transfer the body to the nearest forensic mortuary.

In certain circumstances, an autopsy (post-mortem examination) may be required to help understand the cause of death. There are two types of autopsies:

  • Non coronial, which occur at the hospital
  • Coronial, which become part of the State Coroner’s review process.

A hospital autopsy may be carried out with the permission of the deceased prior to death or with the consent or request of the next of kin or Executor following death. This procedure can provide valuable information to the medical staff and family on the deceased person’s illness and death.



The Coroner may order an autopsy when:



  • the cause of death is unknown
  • the death is a result of a sudden, violent, unnatural or suspicious circumstances
  • the deceased had no medical attention in the previous six months
  • the deceased was a resident in a psychiatric hospital
  • death was an unexpected outcome of a health-related procedure
  • the deceased was in the custody of police prior to death



Right to object to an autopsy








There is a statutory right of objection to an autopsy, which is often utilised for religious reasons. For example, Judaism and Islam require that a body be buried intact and that there be a prompt burial.

Developments in technology have resulted in the use of MRI and CT scans to assist in the non-invasive establishment of the cause of death.



Registering the death with authorities

The funeral director will usually collect the information needed for registering the death with the relevant State authorities, which is required within one month of the date of death. The Department of Human Services (Federal Government) also needs to be informed of the death.

The following checklist can be used as a guide for people and organisations who may need to be contacted about the death of a loved one: Who To Notify Checklist

After the funeral, the Executor should consult a solicitor to deal with the distribution of the deceased’s assets in accordance with the will. If there is no will, the estate is shared by certain relatives as set out by law.



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Written by Mark Streeter

Mark Streeter

The Director of Streeterlaw, Mark has been practicing Law since 1994. He has attained his Masters of Law in 1999 and in 2006 was awarded his Specialist Accreditation in Commercial Litigation. Mark is a member of ARITA, a graduate of the AICD and a member of AICM. A member of STEP, Mark enjoys working in the area of Wills and Estates. In 2020 Mark is the Chair of STEP NSW.

Call us on 02 8197 0105 to book an appointment with Mark Streeter!

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