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Australia - Death

There are a number of procedures that must be followed when a person dies in Australia and there are several sections of legislation which deal with the aftermath of a loss. There are acts which cover organ donation, investigation into deaths, burials and registrations. Each state in Australia has its own regulations but these do not vary a great deal. The legislation is not really for the grieving relatives to worry about, applying mainly to the funeral directors, but it is possible to conduct a funeral yourself if you do not mind dealing with the authorities without the support of a funeral director.

Under Australian law it is the next of kin or the executor who is responsible for arranging a funeral. There is no legal obligation for a funeral to be arranged according to the wishes of the deceased if set out in a will, although if a person has specifically requested that they are not cremated then this cannot be done.

A certificate must be issued by a medical officer which confirms that the person has died and to give details of the cause of death. It is preferable that the medical officer who provides the certificate is the same doctor who had seen the deceased most recently, although this is not always possible. If a cause of death is not easily determined or is thought to be suspicious in some way then the death has to be referred to the coroner. The police must also be notified and they will arrange for the body to be taken for forensic investigation.

In the event that a person dies at home an ambulance should be called. The ambulance staff will determine that the person is dead. Any sign of life and they will be taken to the hospital, but if the death is confirmed then the body remains in the house and the doctor should be called so that the required medical certificate can be issued within 24 hours. If the intention is for the deceased to be cremated a certificate should be issued for this too. If a person should die while in the care of a nursing home then the staff there will deal with the formalities for you.

All deaths need to be registered and each state has their own registry procedures. All towns will have an office where you can go to register the death. This can be done by the funeral director or a relative. The form required is the Death Information Form which will need to be completed with a number of personal details about the deceased, including family details. The funeral home or crematorium conducting the funeral will also need to complete a section which gives details of the disposal of the body, so this registration does not necessarily need to be done prior to the funeral.

When you call the funeral director you will find that they are on call round the clock. They will make arrangements for the body of the deceased to be moved to the funeral home and will talk you through the funeral process. A funeral does not have to be a religious funeral and you can opt for a service in a church, synagogue or other religious centre, in the chapel of the funeral home, at the crematorium or at the graveside. Other outdoor locations are permitted in some states and your funeral home will be able to advise you on what is permitted. It is now common to simply have one service, but for many years it was common to have a service at the graveside and another venue such as a church.

Your funeral director will also be able to advise you on a number of things that will need to be done following the death. You will need to notify all the relevant authorities such as the social security department, banks and other institutions in order to make it easier to wind up the affairs of the deceased. You will need important documentation to hand while you are dealing with these affairs, such as the will, birth certificate, marriage certificate, any insurance documentation and bank account information. There is usually a checklist which is provided by the funeral director to help you through this stage.

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