The circumstances immediately following the passing of someone is surreal. Time moves differently and where it’s the first time you’ve lost someone, a fear of the unknown sets in.
One of the biggest unknowns for people experiencing the loss of a loved one the first time is knowing what happens next.
Below is a brief summary about the ways a person’s death is recorded and what happens to their remains. Please note, this is written in the context of the laws of Queensland, however most states have largely similar requirements when talking ‘macro’ considerations.
The information below might not be for everyone, especially for those that have recently lost someone. Please use discretion when deciding to read this. If you’re struggling with the loss of a loved one, please reach out to support services available to you.
registering the death of a loved one
When someone dies, the death must be registered [whether it be with the relevant state or another state connected to the deceased]. The person responsible for registering deaths is generally called the ‘Registrar’.
Spouses and relatives have an obligation under the relevant law to apply to have the death of their loved one registered. Where this is not done, the Registrar can order another party to apply [for example, the medical facility where the person passed away].
There are broadly three ways the death can be reported to the Births, Deaths and Marriages register:
- by a doctor;
- by the Coroner or the Court;
- by another party [e.g. a funeral director, police officer].
report by Doctor
A doctor can report a death using the relevant form (currently Form 9) where they:
- attended the deceased person while they were still alive;
- examined the deceased person’s body; or
- reviewed information about the medical history and the circumstances of death of the deceased person.
There are various publications issued to help guide doctors on how to fill this form out.
The form is then given to the person who is arranging for the disposal of the deceased’s body (usually a funeral director) or an original must be provided to the Registrar.
It is important to note however that doctors cannot make this certification where:
- The death is a ‘reportable death’; or
- A coroner is investigating the death.
A ‘reportable death’ is, generally speaking, where there is something that doesn’t add up or may create liability for a third party for the death. These include:
- it is not known who the person is;
- the death was a violent or otherwise unnatural death;
- the death happened in suspicious circumstances;
- the death was a health care related death;
- the death was a death in care;
- the death was a death in custody;
- the death happened in the course of or as a result of police operations.
In such circumstances, the Doctor must report the death to the coroner using the correct form (currently a Form 1A).
A relative can consult police where a cause of death certificate was issued, but they believe an autopsy should be performed. Police are then required to report this to the Coroner.
A Coroner has relevant powers regarding determining cause of deaths. They can issue an order requiring an autopsy where a death is reported to them.
There are requirements in the legislation for a coroner when ordering an autopsy. These can include the coroner considering cultural traditions or spiritual beliefs.
Often police and agents of the coroner’s office attend the autopsy to oversee what occurs.
Generally speaking, an autopsy will occur on the next working day after a body has been taken to the mortuary.
Parties such as funeral directors and cemeteries/crematoriums independently have obligations in relation to reporting. For example, they must provide notice to the Registrar when they are removing the body of a deceased person outside Queensland.
Most funeral directors will organise for transportation of the body of the deceased and the registration of a death on behalf of the family [where a cause of death certificate is issued by a doctor].
Police also have requirements around reporting deaths. Their actions are very dependent on the circumstances as summarized in procedure manuals.
Officers are to treat all deaths as major investigations until enquiries indicate strongly that there are no suspicious circumstances. The forms Officers must submit and the steps they must take depend on whether the doctor issues a cause of death certificate or is required to report the death to the coroner (as set out above).
Broadly speaking, where a doctor will not issue a cause of death certificate, officers are required to:
- record the method they have used for identifying the body;
- collect statements and evidence regarding the cause or circumstances of death;
- submit a form to the Coroner;
- arrange for transfer of the body to the mortuary; and
- affix identifying tags to the deceased.
Officers must also take reasonable steps, regardless of what certification is provided, to notify the family of a deceased person.
Often, an error is recorded on the register and death certificate. One of the more common errors is the date of death where the exact date is not known at the time a cause 9 death certificate is issued.
Where you believe there is an error, you can apply to the Registrar to correct:
- Spelling errors on a certificate
- Incorrect information supplied at the time of the event
- Missing information from the time of the event.
The Registrar will not accept applications for the following changes to a death certificate:
- changes to information that have occurred since the event;
- changes to a name;
- cause of death information. This can only be changed by the doctor issuing the certificate or coroner [as relevant].
General Advice Disclaimer
Information provided on this website is general in nature and does not constitute financial or legal advice. Every effort has been made to ensure that the information provided is accurate, but information may become outdated as legislation and new government announcements are made. Individuals must not rely on this information to make a financial, investment or legal decision as it does not take into account their personal circumstance. Before making any decision, we recommend you consult a licensed adviser or legal practitioner to take into account your particular objectives, circumstances and individual needs.