Checklist – What to Do When Someone Dies?

When a member of your family or group of friends passes away, the event can be a sad time. Grieving about the loss of a loved one can overwhelm most and cause them to forget about doing essential things. We understand that the time following the death of a family member or friend is difficult. Especially when the passing of a loved one has occurred for the first time, people can find it a stressful and emotionally distressing time. To help those who do not know what to do or would like a quick and easy information guide, we have prepared the following checklist to help you complete or coordinate the essential tasks after someone dies.

Most people don’t know where to start. This is understandable and should not be a negative reflection of your care and dedication for your loved one. An important decision that will need to be made is relevant to the treatment of the body. In particular, you, the family of the loved one and your friends will need to all consider whether your loved one should be buried or cremated. Another important consideration will be to choose the type of funeral service that will occur in Melbourne. Funeral costs will vary depending on your preferences and the wishes of the individual that has passed away.

The checklist we have prepared below contains the essential items with references to Victorian requirements. It is by no means an exhaustive list and has been prepared with the intent of being a guide only. If you need further information, please do not hesitate to contact us. You can also tweak the order of the following activities, depending on your particular circumstances, wishes of your loved one and the needs of your family and friends.

Importantly, the continuing coronavirus pandemic has changed how funerals are conducted. Please check restrictions in your State or Territory to qualify any of the items below because regulations can change by the Government of the day at any time.

Certifying the death

A death can take place anywhere. If the death occurs at home or at a non-clinical or non-hospital location, a doctor will need to certify that the individual has died and provide the necessary certification. If the death has taken place at a hospital or health clinic, the treating or support staff will assist you with the death certification process. The Medical Certificate Cause of Death must be completed within 48 hours of a person’s death. Please note that this process applies to expected deaths. An unexpected death needs to be reported to the police and coroner.

Notify family and friends

It is important that you do not neglect notifying your family and friends in a timely manner. While you might be grieving and it may be difficult to talk while you contain your emotions, failing to notify can be seen negatively by family and friends (especially when they were not present when your loved one passed away). If you do not wish to speak, prepare a short note that can be sent via email or post and make it clear that you are not able to talk at the moment due to the event that has occurred. Avoid sending phone text messages or social media messages because this may suggest you are not making yourself available to talk.

Review Advance Care Plan

Your loved one may have prepared an Advance Care Plan. Prior to their death, they may have experienced cognitive impairment or some other debilitating disability and have put together a plan to document their wishes in the event they lose cognitive capacity. The plan is an enforceable document which must be respected by health care professionals and other individuals. It is important to consult this document in addition to any other statutory and testamentary documentation.

Organ and tissue donation

While this is a topic that many people will not want to read, it is quite common for individuals who have passed away to have expressed wishes to have their organs or tissues donated for clinical care or research. For example, your loved one may have already stated their intentions in an advance care plan. If wishes have been expressed, you can register your loved one as a donor with the Australian Government’s Organ and Tissue Authority or by calling the Australian Organ Donor Register. If no intention has been recorded, this is a decision you may need to make immediately after they die.

Autopsy

An autopsy is a medical review of a body to confirm the cause of death. For expected deaths, an autopsy is usually not required. A hospital (or non-coronial) post mortem may be performed if the immediate family of the deceased person gives their consent. This may be necessary if there have been complications resulting from the nature of the clinical or hospital care received by your loved one, or if the death was unexpected or suspicious.

Death certificate

A registered doctor must sign the death certificate before funeral arrangements can be made. Once this has been signed, the funeral director can take charge of the body and start making the funeral arrangements. This includes registering the death with the Victorian Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages and sending the death certificate to the registry. Alternatively, a family member can perform the registration function if they have agreed to do this with the funeral director.

Review the Will

If your loved one had a Will, this will need to be reviewed and considered. The executor named in the Will must approach the Supreme Court of Victoria and seek probate. Where a valid will exists, the estate will usually be finalised by the executor named in the will. If there is no valid will then the deceased’s closest next of kin will usually be responsible for finalising the estate, and may be appointed administrator of the estate. Probate is a legal document that certifies that a will is valid and can be acted upon. Letters of administration are issued where the deceased has left no valid will.

Engage funeral provider

There are many funeral homes in Victoria. You can choose any funeral provider you like provided you meet their qualification criteria (e.g. if there are religious reasons). Most will follow the wishes of their loved one because their loved one may have already notified the funeral home and organised the funeral or had one prepaid. If not, you will need to make a decision. You can choose a funeral home based on your loved one’s religion, views, funeral cost or place where other family members or friends had their funeral.

Burial or cremation

You will need to decide between a burial or cremation. Both are valid forms of dealing with the body of a loved one. Decisions can be made in advance or after death. Most family and friends follow the wishes of their loved one. Religious practices, cultural norms and societal customs play a role in deciding which method will apply. Depending on your decision, you will need to either order a burial casket or cremation urn. There are many types and you can purchase whatever you like, unless your loved one pre-arranged this.

Type of funeral service

There are many types of funeral services to choose from. Some funeral providers provide complete service packages through to basic unattended packages. All packages have varying inclusions and the costs will differ. Some funeral providers also provide cost repayment plans depending on your financial circumstances. It is best to collectively agree on the type of funeral service, unless your loved one has had this pre-arranged or expressed their intentions to you before their death.

Notify others

Once the death is registered, it helps to notify others who are not immediately related or close to your loved one. These people might be work colleagues, friends from school or university, hobby or association friends, and others. You might not want to notify these types of people immediately, and prefer to wait until the critical activities have passed.

Notify organisations

When a person dies, you will need to contact various organisations to tell them what has happened. This can be overwhelming given the number of organisations you will need to contact. Most organisations will require you to provide information and supporting documents in writing. Organisations that you may need to contact (which depend on your loved one’s circumstances) include Centrelink, ATO, banks, insurance companies, investment companies, superannuation funds, health care professionals, utility providers, workplace, VicRoads, and other Government agencies and service providers.

Attend the funeral

Attend the funeral and enjoy the occasion. A funeral is a time to celebrate the life of your loved one. While the occasion can be difficult due to seeing family and friends, reflecting on your loved one’s life and thinking about them when they are gone, a funeral can also help to provide closure. You might be asked to speak at the funeral, prepare audio-visuals or contribute to the celebration. Remember to seek help from others so that the occasion is managed appropriately.

Secure assets and attend to financial matters

It is important to secure the assets of your loved one to avoid any issues. Make sure all documentation is in order and that you have notified organisations in advance to help provide payment extensions, account closure advice and other assistance. You will need to provide evidence of probate and letters of administration to progress these matters.

Make plans moving forward

Depending on the circumstances, you may have lost a parent, partner, child, relative or friend. It is important that you plan ahead to deal with your loved one not being around. For example, dealing with finances, taking children to school, attending to your surviving parent, or helping your relatives deal with their loss will need to be considered so that life returns to normality despite the loss. This can be difficult and there are many support organisations available to help you through the transition.

At Fixed Price Cremations, we understand that grief can make decision making seem more difficult than it should be. That’s why we are keeping things as simple as possible. We offer our standard unattended cremation service in Melbourne for a fixed low price of $1,695 (incl. GST). For further information, contact us on 1300 262 797.

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