What to Do if Someone Dies

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Australia’s death rate remains the same as it has always been. We get one death each. The problem is, very few of us know when our death will come. What is also certain is that we will know people who die before us.

For many of the people we know and love, death can come as a surprise. What can be even more surprising is then finding out just how busy we become tying up the loose ends of a loved one’s life. So, we thought we would give you a few pointers about what to do when someone you know passes away.

Things you Need to Do Immediately

If a death happens at home or somewhere else in the community, and it is unexpected, then you will probably have already called an ambulance. Even if you are sure that the person has already died, calling an ambulance will make the rest of the process easier. This is because the reality of someone’s death needs to be confirmed by a medical practitioner (including but usually not limited to a doctor), and an ambulance is a direct and simple way to get medical practitioners involved.

If the death was expected and happened at home, then you will need to arrange for a medical practitioner to attend to certify the death. There is usually no rush here, as one of the reasons that people choose to die at home is that their loved ones can stay with them after the moment of passing. It usually pays to let the medical practitioner know that a death is likely to happen, to ensure that they will be available and able to attend.

If the death was expected and happened in a hospital or palliative care setting, then that service will arrange for the death to be certified.

Once a death has been confirmed, one of the first things you need to do is contact a funeral director. If the death is being investigated by the Coroner, as can sometimes be the case for a sudden and unexpected death, then this step can wait while the authorities take control of the body and perform the various tasks that they need to undertake. They will then release the body to a funeral director.

If there is no coroner involvement, then the funeral director can collect the body from the place of death.

Funeral directors are not compulsory, but they are experts at what they do and so it can make many of the steps involved in actually managing your loved one’s body much easier. As the name implies, the funeral director will then assist you to arrange all elements of the funeral, including how you lay your loved one to rest. They can also assist with things like notifying the relevant state registration body.

Things to Do Quite Soon

If they have not already been notified, then the deceased person’s executor needs to be informed.

This, of course, presumes that there is a Will. If you do not have a Will… please make one immediately! Things will be made so much easier after you die if you have a valid Will in place.

If the deceased person did not have a Will, then the next of kin should probably contact a professional and get their assistance in gaining permission to manage the deceased person’s estate as if they were the executor named in the Will.

It is also time to let people know about the death. If you are a close relative or friend of the deceased, then we suggest you only directly tell those people who you think need to hear the news from you and/or that you want to talk to. Beyond these people, we think it makes sense for you to delegate ‘spreading the news’ to a few people who were not quite as close, as this will make your own grief a little easier.

Social media can be a very useful tool here. But remember, once a message goes on social media, you may start to get contacted by lots of people. If you are not ready for that, maybe record a new message on your phone assuring people that you are OK but you are having a break from talking to people. And then use the settings of your phone to only let calls through from people you actually want to talk to. (This last step might require you to engage a young person who understands your phone!)

If you are the Executor or Next of Kin

If you are the executor or next of kin, then there will usually be a lot of people you need to contact and things you need to do. The list of people to contact and work with includes, but is not limited to, things like the following:

  • The deceased’s employer;
  • The deceased’s bank/s and other financial institutions that they were associated with;
  • The deceased super fund/s;
  • Any Government agencies that they were involved with, such as the ATO, Centrelink, Veteran’s Affairs, the NDIS, Medicare, etc;
  • A life insurer/s if there is one (including automatic cover that may be held within super);
  • Utility providers;
  • Medical providers, including services such as personal alarm services, etc;
  • Landlords (or tenants if the deceased was a landlord) and manage the ending of the tenancy;
  • Accountants/financial planners and arrange for the completion of things like outstanding tax returns, etc.

There will also be various practical things that you will need to do, such as obtain probate, create at least one bank account in the name of the estate, realise and then distribute assets, sort through belongings, as well as adjust yourself to the new reality of the death of your loved one.

As the picture we used to accompany this article suggests, it really helps to be as organized as possible when someone dies. There is a lot to do! This is where we can be of assistance, as we can help you at each step of the way to complete the things you need to complete and to engage the people you need to engage.

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