After the death

Even when death is expected, it’s common to feel upset, sad or shocked.

An expected death is not an emergency, and what you need to do depends on the circumstances.

     − Judith

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What to do after death

When the person was being cared for at home and was expected to die at home, there is no need to call an ambulance or the police. You can take some time to sit with the person. If you would prefer not to be alone, call a friend or family member. If the person dies during the night, you may choose to wait until the morning to take further action.

When you feel ready, call the person’s doctor and a funeral home. The doctor will sign a medical certificate confirming the death. This is needed to make funeral arrangements. The funeral director can register the death with the Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages, who will provide a death certificate.

If the death occurs in a palliative care unit, hospital or residential aged care facility, there’s usually no need to rush. You can have time alone with the person before the nurses explain what needs to be done. Some people want to wait until other family members or friends have had the opportunity to say goodbye.

Several organisations will need to be told of the death. The Department of Human Services has a useful checklist called What to do following a death that explains who may need to be notified. 


Funeral and religious services

Many people have no previous experience organising a funeral and little knowledge of what to do. Funerals can be an important part of the grieving process. They allow family and friends to share their grief, say goodbye and celebrate the person’s life.

The executor of the will or a family member usually arranges the funeral. Most people use a funeral director, who can organise the service, coffin, newspaper notices and flowers, and help with many of the legal responsibilities such as registering the death. However, you do not need to use a funeral director and can organise these details yourself if you prefer.

If the person has a prepaid funeral plan, it will usually include details of what they wanted and also which funeral director to use. Sometimes a person may not have prepaid their funeral plan, but may still have left written instructions or talked to you about their wishes.

If you don’t know the person’s wishes, you might need to make the decisions yourself. This can be difficult and stressful, especially as other family members may have different ideas about what should happen.

You can look for a funeral director by visiting the website of the Australian Funeral Directors Association or calling them on 1300 888 188, or by visiting the website of Funeral Directors Australia


Wills and probate

A will is a legal document stating how the deceased person’s belongings (assets or estate) are to be distributed after their death. The executor of the will is responsible for distributing the person’s assets to the people named in the will. This happens after any debts are paid.

Probate is the process of having the will validated by the courts. This has to be granted before the executor can release any of the assets.


Financial matters

You may be eligible for financial assistance after an immediate family member has died. The Department of Human Services provides a number of payments and services to the spouse, partner or children. Check to see if you’re eligible for a bereavement allowance or payment, double orphan pension, widow allowance or pension bonus bereavement payment at humanservices.gov.au.

Cancer Council has online fact sheets about what happens to the superannuation, income, assets or unpaid debts of someone who has died. For copies you can call 13 11 20, or download these fact sheets from Legal and financial issues.

Grief

Grief is a natural response to losing someone you love. It can be both a physical and emotional response. The feelings you may experience include sadness, numbness, disbelief, loneliness, and even guilt, anger, relief and acceptance. You might have trouble sleeping, cry a lot or have difficulty crying, lose your appetite, or not be interested in your usual activities.

There’s no right or wrong way to grieve, and everyone mourns in their own way and their own time. It may be according to religious or spiritual practices, but it can also be more personal. Even though your relative or friend is no longer physically present, they remain part of you and your life. This ongoing connection can be a source of comfort in your grief.

You might feel pressure from yourself or others to get over it and get on with life, but grief has no set time line. It can seem like a roller-coaster – sometimes you might feel yourself ‘coming good’ and then swiftly go downhill again for a while. The sorrow may never go away completely, but most people gradually adapt to the loss. The pain will usually become less intense as you come to terms with how your life has changed.

Sometimes, the pain does not seem to ease over time. If you’re concerned that your grief is stopping you from living your life, professional support may be helpful.

For more on this, see Grief or call 13 11 20.


Ways to remember

You may want to do something special to acknowledge and honour the life of your family member or friend after they’ve died. Some people find this helps them cope with their loss.

Here are some things that may help:

  • Frame a photo or a cherished note or other memento.
  • Cook their favourite meal on their birthday.
  • Plant a special tree or flower.
  • Light a candle.
  • Create a scholarship or annual award in their memory.
  • Place a memorial plaque in a favourite spot.
  • Make a contribution to their preferred charity or community group.
  • Create an online memorial page with photos and stories.

Click on the icon below to download a PDF booklet on facing end of life.


This information was last reviewed in January 2017
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Read more about what grief may be like after someone has died with cancer

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