There’s a lot to do when someone close to you dies. What you’ll need to do depends on how you are related to the person and how they died.
In the first hours and days you might need to:
- talk to the healthcare team about organ or tissue donations
- let people know (such as family and friends)
- organise care for children, dependents or pets. Sometimes the will has specific instructions for this.
- find the will
- think about funeral arrangements
- consider time off work with compassionate or bereavement leave.
It’s very common for people to need support with grief or finances after the death of a loved one. There are many places that offer extra support when you need it. It is ok to seek help at any time.
Getting support can help you understand and process the death of someone close to you.
Support can include talking to a:
- grief counsellor
- support group with someone who has had a similar experience.
You can access these services in different ways, including:
- one-on-one counselling
- support groups
- online or telephone support.
The Department of Health have resources on grief and bereavement, including a booklet from the Specialist Palliative Care unit. The Magistrates Court of Tasmania also provides important resources about coping with grief and guidance about who can help.
Your doctor or GP can give you support and advice. They can also refer you to specialist services if you need them. For an overview of these services, see the Australian Centre for Grief and Bereavement.
Specialised support services
It can help to talk to people who understand more about your situation. These organisations offer specialised information and support for:
- young people – ReachOut
- families of victims of homicide – Victims Support Services
- people affected by suicide – Lifeline
- preventing mental health difficulties compounded by grief and loss – Griefline
- parents of babies that have died – Sands
- families of children that have died – Red Nose
- veterans and their families – Department of Veterans Affairs.
Cost of grief support services
How much you pay depends on where you go and what kind of service you use. Some services might cost you less if you get a referral from your regular doctor or GP.
Seeing a mental health professional with a referral letter and as part of a mental health treatment plan can reduce how much you pay for services with psychologists and psychiatrists.
You can get more information about support services from the Australian Centre for Grief and Bereavement.
When someone close to you dies there can be many costs involved. There are several government agencies and subsidies that can provide help, depending on your circumstances.
Financial support is available for:
- individuals, including widows, carers and pensioners
- a death that happens at work (PDF, 379KB)
- parents of a stillborn child
- death as a result of violent crime.
You may also be eligible for subsidies for seeing mental health professionals if you're:
- seeing a counsellor as part of a mental health treatment plan, or
- receiving a Centrelink payment.
For more information talk to your doctor (GP).
Help with flight costs
If the person who died was in your immediate family, you and your family may be able to get help with the costs of:
- booking urgent domestic flights due to the death, or
- changing flights if you can't travel due to the death.
How the person died
There may be different things you need to do, depending on how the person died
If you are with someone when they die in a hospital, hospice or retirement home you need to let the medical or retirement home staff on duty know.
The staff will contact a doctor to confirm the cause of death. If the cause is known and from natural causes they'll complete a medical certificate of cause of death. This certificate must be lodged with Births, Deaths and Marriages before the death can be registered.
If the cause of death is not obvious, or suspected to be from unnatural causes, further investigation will be needed and the doctor will report the death to a coroner.
You are usually able to stay with the body until you feel comfortable to call someone – such as a funeral director.
When someone dies at home you need to:
- call 000 and ask for an ambulance and police if the death was unexpected, or
- call their doctor if the death was expected – this can wait until morning if the person dies overnight.
The doctor will check to confirm the cause of death. If the cause is known and from natural causes they'll complete a medical certificate of cause of death. This certificate must be lodged with Births, Deaths and Marriages before the death can be registered.
Usually you'll be able to stay with the body until you feel comfortable to call someone – such as a funeral director.
The loss of a child is one of the most difficult losses you'll ever experience and can be extremely challenging to come to terms with.
When a baby dies before or shortly after birth, the health care team looking after the baby will provide support and information to the family.
The grief after such an event, whether sudden or after an illness, will likely be intense and overwhelming.
You can get additional support available through organisations such as:
Sands - specialised resources for partners, grandparents, friends and children that provide information and support as well as share personal stories of those who've had similar experiences.
RedNose - a support library for parents, family and friends, as well as peer support from parents who are a few years past their loss, a 24-hour help line, and individual online communities for men and women.
Registering a baby’s birth and death
There are different requirements if the child has died:
- before birth, known as stillbirth (generally between 20 weeks of pregnancy and the due date), or
- shortly after birth, known as a neo-natal death (generally within the first 28 days of life).
All information should be provided while in the hospital. This can be a very challenging task, so take your time and ask a family member, close friend or social worker to help.
The Tasmanian Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages provide information on when you need to register the death of a baby.
When someone dies overseas, it is common for family members to have to organise:
- bringing the person home
- registering their death with local authorities
- claiming on insurance.
Usually, deaths that happen overseas are registered in the country where the person died. You do not have to register the death in Australia.
Australian consular staff may be available to help. Generally, when overseas officials learn an Australian has died, local police are contacted in Australia, who then notify next of kin.
If the deceased person has appropriate insurance, there are usually existing processes for dealing with the death and any repatriation expenses.
If local police or the coroner need to be involved, this can cause delays to things like funerals and the issuing of an Australian death certificate.
Find out more about what to do when someone has died overseas at the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.
A death is referred to the coroner when:
- it appears to have been unexpected, unnatural or violent
- it appears to have resulted directly or indirectly from an accident or injury
- it occurs during or after a medical procedure, where the death may be causally related to that procedure, and a medical practitioner would not have reasonably expected the death
- the cause of death is unknown
- it is of a child under the age of one year which was sudden and unexpected
- it is of a person who was held in care or a person held in custody
- if it is of a person whose identity is unknown
- if it occurs at, or as a result of an accident or injury that occurs at work, and does not appear to be due to natural causes.
When a death is referred to the coroner, it can sometimes delay the funeral. The length of the delay will depend on if there is:
- a post-mortem (autopsy)
- a police investigation
- a coronial inquiry
- time required to arrange a funeral.
At this time, the family or friends may contact a funeral director to begin arranging the funeral. The funeral director should be told that the coroner is involved.
Family should not set a date for the funeral until they receive confirmation from the coroner of when the deceased will be released into the care of the funeral director.
Find out more about deaths that are referred to a coroner at the Magistrate's Court of Tasmania.
When a person dies in a motor accident in Tasmania, the Motor Accidents Insurance Board can help with the funeral expenses. They can also help with counselling services. Financial support may also be available for dependants.
Road Trauma Support Tasmania also provides free counselling and support for people affected by road accidents, whatever your involvement may have been.
Organising a funeral or memorial service
Funeral services are usually held 1 to 4 weeks after a person dies. If you decide to use a funeral director this should be one of the first things you organise.
It is important to consider the deceased person’s wishes, cultural or religious practices in any decisions around a funeral or memorial services. These wishes may be already known or be included in the will or other documents.
There is no legal requirement to hold a funeral or memorial service. If one is held, it can be simple and low cost, or more detailed and more expensive. Burials can also be conducted on private land.
If you choose to have the deceased person cremated, ashes can usually be scattered with the permission of the land owner (private) or local authority (public land). If on water, vessel owner needs to give permission. Being mindful of other members of the public is very important.
If you're responsible for organising the funeral, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission has information on what you should consider, including a checklist to review before choosing a funeral director or provider.
A funeral director can help you organise a funeral or memorial service and deal with legal requirements. They can take care of everything, or you can choose to do some things yourself. You don't have to use a funeral director if you don't want - you can organise everything yourself.
Most funeral directors' services include:
- working with authorities and registering the death
- transporting the person's body
- meeting the family to understand their wishes
- embalming, care and presentation of the person's body
- organising the burial or cremation
- recommending or arranging a celebrant
- arranging the funeral service and any function afterwards.
If you are eligible, the No Interest Loan Scheme may be able to provide a loan for the cost of essential services.
Funeral directors may charge a flat fee for their services, or charge for individual services.
Some services may include additional costs passed on from a provider - such as florists or newspapers. It’s a good idea to ask for an itemised quote that includes any additional costs.
It's important to remember that you don't have to agree to anything that's outside of your budget.
Funeral costs can be met from a range of sources including:
- insurance or a funeral bond
- prepaid arrangements, like designated bank accounts
- a deceased person's estate.
In some circumstances, government support can also cover the cost of a basic funeral.
Registering the death
When someone dies in Tasmania the death must be registered with Births, Deaths and Marriages. This is a legal requirement. You cannot get a death certificate until the death has been registered.
The funeral director usually registers the death. In exceptional circumstances where there is no funeral director, you can register it yourself by contacting Births, Deaths and Marriages for more information.
Births, Deaths and Marriages can only issue a death certificate after the death is registered.
You need a death certificate when you:
- administer the estate
- cancel or transfer services.
Who can apply for a death certificate
You can apply for a death certificate (fees apply) if you are the deceased person’s:
- partner - evidence of the relationship must be provided
- legal guardian - non-parent guardians must provide evidence
- executor of their estate, administrator or trustee – evidence must be provided
- power of attorney or have written consent to act on the person’s behalf – evidence must be provided.
Certified copies of a death certificate
To cancel or transfer a service, many companies need a certified copy of the death certificate.
A certified copy is a photocopy of a document that has been seen by a Justice of the Peace with the original document.
If you’re making changes to lots of services, it’s a good idea to get many copies certified at the same time.
Cancelling and transferring services
It is a good idea to cancel or transfer services as soon as you can. It can help save on account fees and unwanted mail.
It's not always clear which services people are members of, and it can be hard to know where to start. Services Australia have a helpful checklist about who to notify as a starting point.
The government services you should consider notifying include:
- the Australian Electoral Commission (electoral roll)
- the Australian Tax Office
- Department of State Growth (Tasmanian driver licence)
- Tasmania Police (firearms licence)
- Marine and Safety Tasmania (boating licence).
Other services include:
- banks and insurance companies
- club memberships (such as the RSL, sports and fitness)
- phone and internet
- energy providers (such as electricity and gas)
- digital subscriptions, social media and email.
Cancelling or transferring a service will differ from service to service. You will usually need:
- a certified copy of the death certificate
- the person's account details
- to meet with the service.
If you want to transfer services to your name, you’ll also need to prove your identity.
If you don’t know how to cancel, contact the service.
You can also let multiple organisations know that someone has died through the Australian Death Notification Service. This is a free service.
A will is a legal document that details how assets are to be distributed after death. This can include real estate, personal items, shares, pets and other assets. A will should also include details of the executor, who is responsible for managing the disposal of the estate within the terms of the will.
Finding the will should be one of the first tasks of family, trusted friends or the executor, as it may include wishes relating to the:
- care of dependents or pets
- funeral or memorial service.
If the person has a will, you may be able to find it:
- at their home
- with their bank
- with their solicitor
- with the Public Trustee.
If you don’t know the name of their solicitor, try contacting local ones in their area. When you are asking, provide them with the following details:
- their full name
- their address
- date of death
- information about your relationship to them.
Due to personal privacy, organisations may not be able to tell you if they hold the will, but they may be able to contact the executor.
If someone dies without making a valid will, this is called dying 'intestate'. State law will then determine how the estate is distributed. Unfortunately, this may not always be as the person had intended.
If disputes occur, the process to dispose of the estate can take time and be costly, both in financial and emotional terms.
Letters of administration
In order for the estate to be administered somebody needs to apply to the court for authority, similar to probate. This authority is called Letters of Administration and the court will select an administrator. This administrator may not be the person you would have selected if a will was made.
The duties of an administrator are similar to an executor and can include:
- paying debts
- collecting assets
- finalising tax affairs, and
- distributing the assets in accordance with the Intestacy Rules.
The administrator must establish the family tree using certificate evidence which may be an expensive and time-consuming task depending on who are the next of kin or if they live overseas.
The Public Trustee can take on this role if next of kin agrees to the appointment, but the Public Trustee is not automatically assigned to take on the administrator’s role.
If the Public Trustee accepts the appointment the fees charged for the services will depend on the value of the estate and the tasks required.
For more information on if there is no will, please see the Public Trustee.
The executor manages the deceased's estate within the terms of the will. Find out more about the role of an executor.
As a beneficiary, you may need to know about:
Tax obligations of beneficiaries
You might have some tax obligations as the beneficiary of an estate. The Australian Tax Office (ATO) provides advice for beneficiaries on:
- receiving super benefits
- receiving assets
- earning income
- beneficiaries presently entitled but under a legal disability
- non-resident beneficiaries.
The ATO provides full information about tax returns for beneficiaries.
A testamentary trust is a trust which has been established under a valid will. It is not the same trust as the deceased estate.
Depending on who is appointed as the trustee and appointor of the testamentary trust, there may need to be a high level of co-operation between family members.
This ensures that necessary tax, financial and other information is shared for the trust to operate effectively.
The ATO provides comprehensive information about testamentary trusts.
The role of an executor
The executor of a will carries out the wishes of someone that has died. They need to manage the estate within the terms of the will and protect the assets of the estate.
Executors are named in the will, and their responsibilities include:
- finding the will
- making funeral arrangements
- getting the death certificate
- dealing with assets and liabilities
- obtaining probate (if required)
- finding and dealing with beneficiaries.
Being an executor can be complex and requires some understanding of the legal, financial and tax implications. Some people prefer to appoint professionals, such as the Public Trustee, rather than leaving it to their loved ones, as they are able to maintain independence if there are disputes.
If you have been named the executor of a will you do not legally have to accept this role.
If you want to turn down the role of executor or cannot do it for any reason, you should do so as soon as possible. There can be difficulties with turning down the role once you have started.
You can also appoint the Public Trustee to act as the executor for you. The Public Trustee charge for their services. The amount they charge depends on how complex the estate is and what services you are asking for.
You should get legal advice or contact the Public Trustee to turn down the role.
You do not have to do it all yourself. You can get help from:
Family and friends
Some tasks can be shared, including:
- finding organisations
- organising the funeral
- contacting people about the death.
Lawyers or solicitors
Solicitors can help with many of the legal processes. These include:
- assessing the will
- preparing a grant of probate
- contacting organisations
- contacting beneficiaries
- explaining how legal processes work
- contests to the will or the estate.
For more information on legal assistance, see the Department of Justice.
The Public Trustee
The Public Trustee is a government business enterprise, owned by the Tasmanian Government on behalf of the Tasmanian community, that specialises in wills and estates.
Get help with estate administration from the Public Trustee.
Applying for probate or letters of administration
You need to apply for a grant of probate or letters of administration within 6 months of the death, unless there is a reasonable explanation for the delay.
Probate is a court order made by the Supreme Court of Tasmania which:
- confirms that the will is valid
- allows the executor to distribute the estate as described in the will.
Letters of administration are confirmation by a court of who can act as executor when:
- there is no will
- the will is not valid
- there are no executors named in the will
- the executor doesn’t want to, or is unable to, act as executor.
You can apply for a grant of probate and letters of administration through the Supreme Court of Tasmania.
Generally you need to apply for a grant of probate if assets are:
- owned solely by the person that has died
- worth more than a certain amount.
You do not need to apply for a grant of probate if:
- all assets are shared with a single person
- the total amount of assets doesn't exceed a certain amount.
Shared assets means that the asset (such as house, bank accounts or shares) are jointly owned. This is often the case for people who are married.
Before you apply
Before you apply for a grant of probate, you need to make a complete list of assets and liabilities for the person at the date of their death.
This only includes assets and liabilities that are solely owned by the person that has died. It does not include:
- assets that are jointly held with another person (which pass to the surviving joint owner)
- assets that are held in trusts, such as a family trust (which carry on after death)
- superannuation death benefits (unless they were left to the estate, executor or administrator)
- life insurance death benefits (unless they were left to the estate, executor or administrator).
Applying for a grant of probate
To submit an application for a grant of probate, you need to:
- gather supporting documents
- complete probate forms, including the Notice of Intention
- file a probate application (14 days after the Notice of Intention has been published)
- respond to requisitions from the court (which may be issued Registrar if your application contains any errors or is incomplete).
Before you submit the documents you need to submit the notification. The notification is a declaration of your intention to administer the estate and it will be displayed on the Supreme Court of Tasmania’s website.
The fee for applying for a grant of probate depends on the value of the assets.
The Supreme Court of Tasmania provides a guide on how to apply for a grant of probate (PDF, 292KB). The information contained in the kit is not intended to be legal advice.
It is recommended that you seek legal advice before applying for a grant of probate. You can find a lawyer on the Law Society of Tasmania website.
Once probate has been granted
Once you have been granted probate, you can collect assets and pay off debts. This might involve:
- setting up a bank account
- selling property or shares
- collecting interest.
To make this easier, you can set up a single bank account in the name of the estate to deposit any money from sales or interest.
Dealing with assets and liabilities
Executors are responsible for the management and protection of the assets. They are also responsible for submitting final tax information for the person who has died.
You need to find and protect all assets and debts that belong to the person that has died.
Assets can mean:
- real estate property
- money, shares, bank accounts
- other property such as car, clothing, household furniture and pets.
Debts are what a person owes, such as:
- loans (home, personal, credit cards)
- wages and other business debts.
Once you have gathered all the information, you need to work out the value of the assets and debts owned by the deceased.
Different organisations have different processes for releasing assets to an executor. Often you will need to provide:
- a certified copy of the grant of probate
- personal identification.
Executors are responsible for protecting the assets of the estate. This may involve:
- storing valuables
- investing surplus funds
- getting insurance for property
- protecting business interests.
As an executor you can be held personally liable for any damage to property which has not been secured or insured.
As an executor, you are legally required to get a fair price for any assets you sell. If you don't, you might be personally liable for costs if beneficiaries sue.
The will might leave money to beneficiaries, rather than property. In some cases, you may need to sell property or shares to make this possible.
To make sure you are getting a fair price, it might be useful to talk to an independent valuer before the sale.
Before anything can be given to the beneficiaries, existing debts need to be paid from the estate. This is the case whether or not probate or administration was needed.
Debts might include:
- loans (credit cards, mortgages)
- any tax liabilities
- funeral expenses.
Before you pay any debts owed by the estate it is a good idea to get legal advice.
The executor of an estate often needs to submit tax returns on behalf of the person that has died.
Before you lodge the tax return, you will need to notify the ATO of their death. You may need to lodge:
- a 'date of death tax return' on behalf of the person who has died (or tell the ATO that a tax return is not necessary)
- tax returns for previous years.
More information is available on the ATO's deceased estate checklist.
Dealing with beneficiaries
As an executor you need to contact the beneficiaries and distribute the estate to them in accordance with the will. Any contests or disputes raised by the beneficiaries must be resolved before you can distribute any of the estate.
Beneficiaries are people who receive money or property from the estate of someone who has died.
As an executor, you need to contact the beneficiaries. This includes those that have been directly named in the will. This can be difficult if there are no recent contact details for them.
Some places you might find contact details in:
- personal documents of the person who died (home office, address book)
- phone book look-up
- social media or email.
When you contact beneficiaries, tell them what has been left to them in the will.
You may need to provide financial information at different times, particularly if selling assets or distributing property.
Once all assets have been collected and all debts have been paid, the executor can distribute the estate. Distributing the estate involves officially signing over all assets to beneficiaries.
The process of transferring assets is different for real estate and personal property.
Transferring personal property and money
Personal property might include:
- clothing and jewellery
- bank accounts
- cars and other vehicles.
These may be dealt with in the will as:
- part of the whole estate,
- specific gifts to named beneficiaries
- what is left after all other things in the will are dealt with.
If there is no will, personal property is dealt with according to the rules of intestacy.
Transferring real estate
Real estate includes land, houses, units, commercial and industrial property. The process is different depending on whether the property is owned:
- solely by the person who died
- by multiple people.
Find out more about transferring a land title at the Department of Natural Resources and the Environment Tasmania.
If someone makes a formal contest to the will or a claim on the estate, you must wait until this is resolved by the court before distributing any assets.
Reasons someone might contest a will include:
- they are a family member and don't believe they've been fairly considered as part of the will
- the will is not valid.
Information about family provision claims is provided by the Public Trustee.