What to do when someone dies
Monday 1 February 2021
Whether it’s expected or unexpected, losing a friend or relative is difficult and sometimes confusing.
Many people feel uncomfortable talking about death and dying but it is an important conversation you should have with your family and friends. Planning for death or dying will help you get the care you prefer at the end of your life and it will also reduce the stress on your family and friends.
When someone dies there are practical things that need to be looked after, like who to call, services to contact and what to do with the deceased person.
What happens when someone dies and what should you do?
What to do when someone dies at home – expected
If your friend or family member is dying, they may consider having an advance care plan. An advance care plan is a record of their decisions around medical treatment and care. It may also include things like, power of attorney, organ donation, funeral arrangements and where they would like to die.
They may decide to receive palliative care in a facility or at home. If they are being cared for at home, you will need a healthcare worker to help you. The healthcare worker could be the family doctor or someone from a palliative care team, such as a doctor, nurse or social worker.
When someone dies, and it’s expected, it’s not an emergency. Which means you don’t need to call an ambulance. You will need to call their doctor. The doctor will write a death certificate, which needs to be written within 48 hours of their death. This certificate will state the reason why the person has died.
You can spend time with your relative or friend before you need to do anything, and when you feel ready you can call the doctor or palliative care service.
What to do when someone dies at home - not expected
If someone dies in your home and it’s unexpected you should call an ambulance on 000. The paramedic will contact the doctor, who writes the death certificate. The police will need to be called if the doctor cannot determine the cause of death. This is the normal process and not something to worry about.
If the cause of death is not natural and unexpected, like an accident or violent death the police will report the death to the coroner. A coroner is a person who finds out the cause of death when it’s sudden or unusual.
A coroner will decide if they need to do an autopsy, which is an examination of the body after death. An autopsy is like a surgical operation and involves inspecting the outside of the body and sometimes the inside of the body. Often, organ tissue samples will be taken and tested. Sometimes, the results of an autopsy can take up to six weeks.
If you have concerns about an internal autopsy you should raise this with the coroner as soon as possible. The coroner will consider family requests to preserve organs and you can also discuss cultural and religious issues. Find out more about the autopsy process in Queensland here.
What to do if someone dies in an accident, an emergency or in hospital
Following an accident or emergency, the paramedics will complete a life extinct form and contact the person’s doctor to issue a cause of death certificate. The person may then be taken into the care of your chosen funeral director.
Sometimes a cause of death cannot be issued, and police are contacted, as part of the normal process. A coroner will then determine the cause of death. The coroner will release the body as soon as possible—almost always within three days of the person’s death. The person may then be taken into the care of your chosen funeral director.
If they die in a hospital you can have time alone with them before anything needs to be done. You may also like to ask other family members or friends to come and say goodbye, which is called a viewing. When you are ready the hospital staff will arrange the next steps.
After discussions with you, the person may be transferred to the mortuary or another suitable room. The person may remain at the facility until the funeral director is chosen and plans are made to move them to the funeral home. Make sure staff are aware of any end-of-life rituals, such as what needs to happen to your loved one in preparation for burial or cremation, so that arrangements can be made before your loved one is transferred.
A hospital must notify the coroner if a death is of unnatural causes or unknown, and if an investigation is necessary, they will be transferred to the nearest government mortuary.
What to do after someone has died
You will need to contact the funeral director, who will help you plan the funeral or service. A funeral director can also help with practical tasks like, transferring the deceased person to the funeral home, registering their death and applying for a death certificate.
Remember, while you need to contact a funeral director to arrange a burial or cremation, you do not need to have a formal funeral service. A funeral director can also help to arrange a funeral service and cremation/burial in line with faith group leaders. They will also discuss things like; music, decorations, flowers or symbols of the loved one’s life, cultural, religious customs and practices and returning the loved one to country.
This checklist outlines tasks and people you may need to contact after a friend or family member has died. This includes places like Centrelink or Medicare, banks and network providers, as well as other tasks like closing social media accounts and cancelling memberships or subscriptions.