When a Death Occurs

Knowing what to do when someone dies can be confusing, especially at a time when emotions are running high. Here is some information that may be helpful in guiding you through the process.

When someone dies at home

When a loved one dies at home with support from hospice or palliative care services, the on-duty staff will help with the formalities, such as notifying the treating doctor. The staff from these health services will help you and even call the funeral director on your behalf to arrange the transfer of the person who died to the funeral home.

When a person dies at home without any palliative care services present, the following steps need to be taken:

  • Contact the family doctor to officially verify that death has occurred, and confirm that the doctor will be signing the medical death certificate;
  • Notify family members that are not present;
  • Contact hospice or palliative care services;
  • Contact your preferred funeral director to arrange for the transfer of the deceased person to the funeral home. Phone (06) 835-7196 if you would like to talk to us.

When someone dies in a nursing home or residential care facility

These days many people die in a nursing home environment. When this occurs, the nursing home staff takes care of the medical formalities. You will need to contact the funeral home of your choice. If you would like to speak to us, please call 06 835-7196.

When someone dies in hospital

When your loved one dies in a hospital, the following steps are taken:

  • The hospital staff will notify the treating doctor so that the medical death certificate can be completed;
  • They will notify the next of kin and family members who will need to contact the Funeral Director. The Funeral Director will arrange for the transfer of the deceased person from the hospital to the funeral home;
  • Note that if a person dies in hospital as a result of an anaesthetic, the matter may be referred to the Coroner.

When someone dies unexpectedly

Any death can be unexpected. Whether it occurs at home or in a public place, the death may be referred to the Coroner’s Office.

When the Coroner is involved

The Coroner is usually involved in the following situations:

  • If the person's death was not expected at that time by the treating doctor, it needs to be thoroughly investigated, even if the doctor has an opinion about the cause of death;
  • If death occurs as a result of an accident or injury and the cause of death seems clear, the Coroner still needs to find out what happened. For example, a car accident may have been caused by the driver having a heart attack or by a fault in the car. Identifying what contributed to the accident allows preventative measures to be recommended;
  • Deaths that occur while people are in police custody, in jail, or are involuntary patients in psychiatric institutions need to be refererred to the Coroner. This also applies to children in juvenile justice centres;
  • If the person died in a violent or unnatural way;
  • If the person died during the result of an anaesthetic;
  • If a doctor has been unable to sign a death certificate giving the cause of death;
  • The identity of the person who has died is not known.

The process

When someone dies unexpectedly as above, the police may become involved. Often an ambulance officer is the first person on the scene of a death. They may try to call the deceased’s GP, but may also require police and the Coroner’s involvement.

At this stage the police will contact the on-call funeral director to transport the deceased to the nearest hospital under the Coroner’s jurisdiction (for Hawke’s Bay, this is Hawke’s Bay Hospital. However if a post-mortem is required, the deceased will be taken to Palmerston North). The Coroner liaises between parties including police and the pathologist to establish the cause of death. Only after the Coroner has completed his or her paperwork is the body released to the family and funeral planning can begin.

You are not obliged to use the on-call funeral director who transported the person’s body to the Coroner after death. If you would like Dunstall’s involvement at this time, please contact us.

Who to notify

After a death has occurred it is important to notify the following people:

  • The next of kin and family members;
  • The family doctor – to obtain a medical death certificate and / or the cremation certificate;
  • The Solicitor or Executor of the will – to execute the contents of the will;
  • The preferred Funeral Director – to arrange for the transfer of the deceased person to the funeral home and make arrangements with you regarding the funeral.

Please contact us for advice, more information and to talk through what you need to do.