I have to organise the affairs of someone who has just died. What do I do first?
The funeral director registers the death. This enables a death certificate to be created. Information about getting a death certificate is available from the Registry of Births Deaths and Marriages.
The deceased may have paid for their funeral in advance. Otherwise they may have had private health, sickness, accident or life insurance policies that may help with paying funeral expenses.
There may be organisations you may have to notify, for example, Centrelink, banks and utilities. Services Australia has a suggested list of people and organisations to notify following a death.
Who is responsible for deciding between burial and cremation?
Normally, the executor of the deceased's will (or personal representative if there is no will) has the right to decide on the funeral arrangements as they think best. This is usually done based on what they knew about the wishes of the deceased, if it is practical to do so.
There are two restrictions that will stop an executor or personal representative being able to have the deceased cremated:
- if the deceased has left written instructions (including in a will) that their body is not to be cremated, or
- if there are no written instructions from the deceased, but cremation is opposed by the deceased's spouse, de facto partner or senior next of kin.
If the deceased is not buried where they were cremated, who do the ashes go to?
If the deceased is not buried where they were cremated, the ashes are given to the person who applied for the permit to allow cremation.
What if there is a dispute about where the deceased should be buried?
If the deceased person has made a will and named an executor, the executor has the right to arrange for burial of the deceased's body. If the deceased has died without a will, the usual approach is that the person entitled to a grant of administration is usually the person responsible for the burial of the body. This means the person who has the authority to deal with the deceased's estate or property.
If there is a dispute about burial, you should try negotiation or mediation to resolve it. You may need to get a court order stopping the burial until the dispute has been resolved. If the dispute can't be resolved and you do not agree with where the body is to be buried, you may have to take action in the Supreme Court. The court will then decide what should happen about burial.
You should get legal advice before taking legal action.
What if there is not enough money in the deceased person's estate to pay for a funeral?
Sometimes, the deceased person may not have left enough money to cover the cost of a funeral and the family cannot afford to pay. You may be able to get financial help for the cost of a funeral and other death related expenses through the Department of Communities' Bereavement Assistance Program.
It may also be possible to apply for certain payments or allowances through Services Australia.
Funeral assistance for some victims of homicide in Western Australia
The Homicide Funeral Assistance Scheme lets some people apply for help with funeral costs where the cause of a person’s death is related to homicide within Western Australia. To find out who can apply and for more information about the scheme including frequently asked questions visit the Homicide Funeral Assistance Scheme website. You can also download an application form on this website.
Services Australia - What to do following a death
Information on some of the first steps you will need to take, who to notify, financial assistance from Centrelink, and other support services that may be available.
Department of Justice - Aboriginal Mediation Service
Dispute resolution services to Aboriginal people and Torres Strait Islanders, including funeral and burial disputes.
Department of Justice - You can find out how to register a death and apply for a death certificate at this website. You can also make an online application at this link.
Reviewed: 7 June 2022