The First 24 hours after someone has died

When somebody dies of natural causes it is important to try to remain calm. Following the steps below will help guide you through the process of what to do in the first 24 hours after someone has died.

Notify a Doctor

Your first step is to contact the person’s doctor. Only a doctor can certify that death has occurred if it is from natural causes. The doctor will sign and issue a Medical Certificate of Cause of Death. Whilst waiting for the doctor, as well as contacting family and friends you should also contact a funeral home, like Tucker & Nankivell, who will be able to assist you in making arrangements. When the Cause of Death Certificate has been issued, the deceased can be taken into the care of the funeral home.

Legal Issues

In some circumstances it may not be legally possible for the doctor to issue a Medical Certificate of Cause of Death. In these situations it may be a necessity for the police and coroner to be involved.

If the doctor is unable to certify the cause of death it is necessary to contact the police, who will then liaise with the coroner. This may be the case if:

  • death has or is believed to have occurred in a manner other than by natural causes
  • death has occurred whilst under or within 24 hours of the administration of an anaesthetic
  • death is completely unexpected and the cause of death is unknown
  • death has occurred in an institution, prison or whilst in police custody
  • the deceased had been diagnosed with dementia.

Coronial staff or a government-appointed funeral company will normally handle the transfer of the deceased to the coroner. If the deceased had dementia the police will determine if this is required.

A post-mortem examination may be required to establish the cause of death.

Your instructed funeral director will liaise with the coroner regarding release of the deceased into their care.

Death in a Nursing Home

If the deceased was a resident of a nursing home, the staff should liaise with the doctor. It may be necessary for the coroner to become involved if there are legal reasons why the doctor cannot issue the death certificate (see above).

When you instruct a funeral director, please give them the nursing home details and they will be able to liaise directly with staff there.

Death in a Hospital

A member of the nursing team will normally inform you of a death in hospital. A nurse will also arrange for a doctor to issue the Cause of Death Certificate. Your instructed funeral director will contact the hospital to arrange release of the deceased.

You will need to collect any personal goods belonging to your loved one from the hospital yourself.

Hospital staff will need to be advised if the funeral is to be a cremation.

Registering a Death

Your funeral home will register the death. This must be done within 7 days of the funeral service being held.

Next Steps

Your next step is to make the necessary funeral arrangements.

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