Where do you start when someone passes away?
Losing a loved one is one of the most difficult times in anyone’s life.
It can be overwhelming and confusing with many people not knowing what to do and where to start. Here are some steps though to make the process a little less stressful.
What happens first?
When a person dies in a hospital or nursing home, the staff will manage a lot of the formalities and can guide you on what to do next.
The first step is often transferring the body to a mortuary. If there isn’t one on site, you will want to engage a funeral director as soon as possible.
If a person has died at home a doctor will be needed to try and ascertain the cause of death and produce a doctor’s certificate (this is not a death certificate, but it will be needed for funeral arrangements). If the death was expected, you may wish to contact the deceased’s regular GP. If they don’t have a regular GP or the death was unexpected, it’s important you call the police as soon as possible.
Locate the Will
Locating the Will is an important next step, but it has nothing to do with the estate or potential money grabbing.
The Will may give directions about funeral wishes or plans and it will also nominate the Executor who has certain responsibilities when it comes to the funeral arrangements and notifications.
If you can’t locate a Will you should speak to a funeral director for advice. If you believe the person has died without a Will they are said to be Intestate and you should contact a Wills and Estate lawyer to guide you through the process. You can read our article on Intestate for more information.
A funeral director will need to be engaged as soon as possible to enable the body to be transferred.
Before choosing a funeral director, you may want to check first if the deceased has any pre-paid funeral insurance, a burial plot or other arrangements. If no arrangements or preferences were given for a funeral director, ask for recommendations from people you trust.
From the Will you may also be able to determine if there are any sickness, accident, life or other insurance policies that may cover some funeral costs.
If the deceased was a returned service person or a member of particular clubs or associations they may also be entitled to funeral benefits.
Centrelink may also provide an allowance if the deceased was receiving payments.
You will also want to identify if there are sufficient funds in the deceased’s bank account. The Executor of the Will should be able to arrange access to these funds.
Registering the death
The funeral director will usually notify the relevant births, deaths and marriages registry that a death has occurred. A death certificate should then be issued shortly after. The death certificate is needed to effectively administer the deceased’s estate. Sometimes a death certificate can’t be produced straight away. You should consult your funeral director or a Wills and Estate lawyer in this case, to determine next steps.
You can locate your local births, deaths and marriage registry office here.
Administering the estate
Administering the estate can be a complex process. However a good Wills and Estate lawyer can help simplify and streamline the process as much as possible.
The process includes the following steps:
- Conduct preliminary conference with family, legal representatives and business associates
- Advise beneficiaries and ascertain immediate needs of family
- Protect the assets
- Determine assets and debts
- Obtain Grant of Probate (if required) and attend to legal formalities
- Establish trusts
- Continued administration and asset management
- Calling in and/or transferring assets, obtain receipts and provide final statements to beneficiaries.
- Distribute estate.
Other actions to consider
Notifications – Your Estate Administration Manager or lawyer should provide advice on notifying the deceased’s key institutions, government departments and service providers. You may wish to refer to this checklist of organisations that may need notifying.
Managing mail – you may wish to remove the deceased’s name from mailing lists and stop any unsolicited mail by registering with the Association for Data-driven Marketing and Advertising (ADMA) for the ‘do not mail’ service.
Digital assets – online accounts, social media, electronic devices, and so on, need to be managed to avoid potential identity theft, enable immediate payments to be made if needed and to ensure accounts can be easily closed or memorialised. Refer to our article here on managing digital assets.
Take care of yourself – it’s important you take the time to acknowledge and manage your own grief. If you are having difficulties speak to your GP or a seek other support or assistance such as Beyond Blue or Lifeline.
Gill & Lane are very experienced at Wills and administering estates, as well as advising on complex situations.
Contact Gill & Lane Solicitors at Sandgate via GregL@gillandlane.com.au, or 3269 8111 for a free, no obligation consultation.