What Do I Do When Someone Dies?
Contact the person's doctor. A doctor must certify that death has occurred. Normally funeral
arrangements cannot be completed until the doctor has signed and issued a Death Certificate. The Funeral Director
can then take the deceased into their care.
In Australia the great majority of deaths occur in hospital or other care facilities, in which case those
authorities take care of the medical formalities.
In certain instances it may not be legally possible for the doctor to issue a Death Certificate and there is
necessity for police and coronial involvement.
We would advise that you contact the relevant authorities for full details as regulations do vary from state to
When Does the Coroner Become Involved?
If the doctor is unable to certify the cause of death it is necessary to contact the police, who
then will liaise with coronial staff. This will be necessary in such instances as:
- death other than by natural causes, including violence, accidental or unusual causes
- death whilst under anesthetic (or within 24 hours of the administration of an anesthetic)
- unexpected death
- death of a person in an institution, a prison or in police custody, drug or alcohol rehabilitation
- when the cause of death is unknown, and
- when the deceased had diagnosed dementia.
Coronial staff or a Government appointed Funeral Director will transfer the deceased to the Coroner. In the
instance of a deceased with dementia this may not be deemed necessary following police determinations.
A post mortem examination, also know as an autopsy, is a detailed examination externally, and of internal
organs, to establish the cause of death. This examination is conducted by a doctor known as a pathologist.
An approach to a Funeral Director of your choice should be made as soon as possible. The Funeral Director will
then liaise with coronial staff regarding release of the deceased into their care.
Who is Responsible for Arranging a Funeral?
In most instances, the Next of Kin is responsible for arranging the funeral of the deceased, for
example: spouse, child, parent, legal partner or sibling.
In the instance of dispute, where it is known a Will exists, the arbiter of arrangements is deemed to be the
nominated Executor. The Executor may in his/her discretion appoint a person to make necessary arrangements with a
Funeral Director. Such occasions however, are infrequent and most arrangements are made by the Next of Kin.
In some cases authorities in institutions where a person may not have any known relatives may need to make
necessary arrangements. This is usually done by the Social Worker or another authorised officer.
Which is More Popular - Burial or Cremation?
The number of people in Australia choosing to be cremated is steadily increasing. Whilst there is
some variance between states and territories, cremations now outnumber burials. Cremation funerals are much higher
in city areas where crematory facilities are available. Rural and remote regions predominate in burials.
People have a choice of either burial or cremation. In certain cultures cremation is not favoured (or may be
prohibited within the relevant faith belief). In other cultures the opposite may occur with cremation being the
custom, for example, in the Hindu tradition.
Ultimately, this decision is a matter of personal choice. Future trends may see higher instances of cremation
due to increasing limits on cemetery space within or convenient to population centres.
How Much Choice Does the Family Have in Funeral Arrangements?
The family has absolute choice with certain exceptions as in the case of Coronial investigation in
some murder cases, where permission may be given for a funeral by burial only.
A Funeral Director can volunteer options to a family but ultimately it is the family’s right to choose whatever
they wish, providing necessary legal requirements are met. There may be some variation between states and
territories within Australia, however, in most instances relevant Health Departments require the deceased to be
placed in a coffin or casket for burial or cremation. In the case of cremation the coffin or casket must be
Again in certain states funerals may be Government assisted in the event of insufficient funds. Such funerals
have limitations on choices. Advice, when necessary, should be given in the first instance by a Funeral Director,
Social Worker or relevant Government Office.
How Much Will a Funeral Cost?
The obvious and understandable question, like building a house - the answer could be almost
limitless. There are certain necessary inclusions and certifications required, some of which have fixed costs, some
of which are negotiable. The concept of cremation being much less in cost than burial may not always be the case if
the family already have a licence/lease for a grave which has allowed provision for further interments, in which
case reopening and digging fees would apply.
A specific answer cannot be given to this question because of the scope of options available. The costs of a
funeral are categorised under:
- professional service fees
- disbursements, i.e. the Funeral Director’s out of pocket expenses, and
- coffin or casket choice.
What is Embalming and When is it Required?
Essentially, Embalming is the process of replacing bodily fluids with chemical fluids for the
- preservation of the body
- infection control, and
- enhancing the presentation of the deceased.
Embalming can be minimal or unnecessary in some instances; partial for the benefit of families wishing to ‘view’
and/or when the funeral may be within a week; or full embalming as may be expected in some cultures or when the
body is to be repatriated interstate or overseas.
Is a Viewing of the Deceased Necessary?
A viewing gives loved ones the opportunity to see and spend time with the deceased prior to the
funeral. Again, in some cultures it may also occur during the funeral. An identification viewing is necessary in
coronial reported details and occurs at the Coroner's facility prior to funeral arrangements. In some states it is
also obligatory for a person who knew the deceased to view and sign an official identification form which must be
sighted and retained by the Crematorium authority prior to cremation.
In a general sense, otherwise there is not an obligation to view, however, the therapeutic benefits of a viewing
to the grieving process are well regarded and recommended. It is nonetheless a matter of personal choice and
requires sensitivity in approach, the physical environment and setting. Provided explanations are given to children
in language that they can understand, there is no reason why they should not have the opportunity to be involved -
however, allow them to decide.
Viewings can offer these chances we wish we had...’if only’, to:
- bring an end to unfinished business
- confirm the reality of death, and
- to say the "I love you", "I'm sorry", "If only" words we may wish to say.
If your questions are not answered or you would like further information, please contact
us at anytime.