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New Zealand - Death


When a death is reported then there may first be an inquiry, inquest and post mortem. This will depend a great deal on the circumstances surrounding the death and it is at the discretion of the coroner which steps are carried out. A formal identification of the deceased will need to be carried out. If a medical professional was present at the time of death then they may carry out the identification. Otherwise it is a member of the family or a close friend who will identify the deceased. It is normal for the person doing the identifying to be asked to sign a witness statement to confirm the details that they have given to the authorities. Identification needs to be carried out as quickly as possible otherwise procedures such as inquests and funeral arrangements can be delayed.

All deaths in New Zealand must be registered with the Births, Marriages and Deaths department within 3 days of the funeral. The department does not make any charge for registering a death. It is not always the family that needs to register a death. If the family chooses to place the arrangements in the hands of a funeral director then he/she can forward the details to the department for registration. In some cases it is also usual for the coroner’s office to pass the details on to the department for the death registration. If it is the intention to hold an inquiry into the death then the coroner will give an interim cause of death and will state that it is subject to the findings of the future inquiry. When the cause of death is finally confirmed this information will automatically be passed to the department to be added to the record.

It does not have to be a funeral director who has to arrange a funeral, any member of the family or a friend is able to make the arrangements, however, it is often a good idea to use a funeral director as they can take care of all the procedures and ensure that everything runs smoothly. Before a funeral can be arranged there must be a death certificate signed by a doctor and the coroner must authorise the release of the body so that funeral arrangements can be made. If it is the intention to have a cremation a ‘Permission to Cremate’ form is required. There is no legal requirement for a ceremony or service to be held before the burial or cremation.

Burials and cremations can only be held on approved premises. You must have permission from the local council before holding a cremation or burial. If you have a cremation then wish to scatter ashes you need to get permission for scattering in most areas. The first point of consultation should be with the local council to ensure that it will be permitted and that it can be carried out respectfully and with a minimum of disruption to the public.

For registering the death you will need to complete a ‘Notification to Register’ form. This will have a series of questions about the person who has died, their family, how the funeral has been or is to be held and also about the person who is making the notification. The form will have information on the cause of death which should also be completed.

It is not essential to have the death certificate but this can be ordered when the death is registered. There will be a fee for the death certificate. Further copies can be ordered if required. This may be needed for different government departments such as the tax office and pensions, as well as banks and solicitors.

In New Zealand it is possible to have your own customs and beliefs taken into consideration when planning and carrying out a funeral and this can be discussed with the funeral directors when the funeral is planned. There are few customs which are particular to New Zealand, but customs from other cultures are catered for. The Maori culture has a number of rituals connected with death, one of which is the unveiling of the headstone. This is seen as part of the grieving process and usually takes place any time between 1 year and 5 years after the burial.

Useful Resources

Births, Deaths, and Marriages
PO Box 10-526
Wellington 6143
Tel: 0800 22 52 52
www.dia.govt.nz


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