Funeral and Burial Arrangements
Once you have selected a funeral director, they will arrange most aspects of the funeral for you.
They can also arrange other things such as newspaper notices, flowers and religious services.
Notifying people about the death and funeral
If you elect to arrange the newspaper notices yourself, you may wish to consider publishing:
- a notice of death, including an indication of the expected funeral date, time and place; and
- a separate notice of the confirmed funeral arrangements closer to the time of the funeral, as well as on the particular day.
By this time you may also wish to contact the deceased’s friends, work and professional colleges and remote family, to inform them of the death and the funeral arrangements, giving them time to make leave and travel arrangements.
Covering the funeral cost
The cost of a funeral can be thousands of dollars. If the deceased did not have a pre-paid funeral or funeral bond, then you need to consider how you are going to cover this cost.
In some instances, you may be able to cover this cost from the deceased’s own resources (see section below titled ‘Payment of Immediate Expenses’).
Sometimes private health insurance, sickness and accident insurance or life insurance policies may contribute an amount towards the cost of a funeral. If the deceased had insurance, you should enquire with their insurer as to whether there is any contribution towards the funeral expenses.
The contribution can depend on the level of cover and certain conditions including:
- your relationship to the person who has died;
- the length of time he or she had the cover; and
- whether a health condition that contributed to the death had existed before the policy was taken out.
Some people are entitled to apply through Centrelink for financial assistance for funerals in the form of a bereavement payment or early release of their superannuation to pay for a dependant’s funeral.
You may wish to make this enquiry early on if you do not think you will be able to meet the costs of the funeral. For more information you can contact Centrelink on 1300 131 060.
Department of Veterans’ Affairs
If the deceased was an eligible Australian war veteran, you may be entitled to receive a funeral benefit up to a maximum of $2,000 from the Department of Veterans’ Affairs. This amount can be used to assist with funeral costs or to assist with the costs of transporting the veteran’s body form the place of death to their usual place of residence.
The maximum amount will be paid where the deceased was receiving a Special rate (T&PI) or Extreme Disablement Adjustment (EDA) rate disability pension, or was an ex-prisoner of war.
In addition, a funeral benefit of up to $2,000 will be paid by the Department of Veterans’ Affairs for the funeral of certain dependants of an eligible veteran, including war widows who die in needy circumstances.
To determine if you may be eligible for one of these payments and to obtain an application form, you can contact the Department of Veterans’ Affairs on 133 254.
The funeral director will also give you a copy of the official Death Certificate if it is ready. You may receive an interim Death Certificate if there is any enquiry as to the cause of death, in which case the final Death Certificate may take months.
You will need the Death Certificate to administer the estate and apply for probate, so you must keep it in a safe spot.
Copy of the Deceased’s Will
In the days after the deceased has died you will need to establish whether or not the deceased left a Will, and who will be the executor (under the Will) or the administrator (if there was no Will). If you locate more than one Will purporting to be the Will of the deceased then you should try and determine which is the most recent and valid Will. You may require the assistance of a solicitor to do this.
If there is no Will then the administrator will be the deceased’s next of kin – usually a spouse or partner, a parent or a sibling, (see more information about Letters of Administration below under the heading ‘What to do … Within Weeks: Apply for Probate or Letters of Administration’).
It is important that you preserve the deceased’s Will in its original state, as any alteration is considered ‘damage’ (which could result in the Will being invalid, or requiring further legal work to be done before probate is granted). For example, you cannot remove a staple or other binding of a Will because this is considered ‘damage’. If you wish to make copies of a Will, you must do so page-by-page.
You should also avoid pinning or clipping things to the Will, as the marks left by these things may give the Probate Registry reason to make further enquires as to the nature of the thing pinned or clipped to the Will, which can delay the grant of probate and lead to more legal costs.
The Will is an important document in dealing with the deceased’s affairs, particularly the distribution of his or her assets. If there is no Will, then there is legislation to outline how the assets of the estate are to be distributed.
In the course of administering an estate, an executor or administrator will usually have to:
- File an application for probate or letters of administration (please note that this is not required for all estates);
- Pay any bills owing by the deceased (e.g. utility bills) for which they will be reimbursed by the estate following the grant of probate or letters of administration;
- Determine what debts and liabilities have to be satisfied from the assets of the estate;
- Collect and realise the value of the assets which will be used to pay any debts and liabilities;
- Determine the order in which assets are to be used to pay any debts and liabilities – in some cases this is set out in the Will;
- Lodge a final tax return for the deceased (personally, up to the time of death) and for the estate (for each tax year during the period of administration of the estate);
- In some cases, arrange for documents to show that the executor or administrator is the legal owner of certain types of assets before these can be sold;
- Pay the debts and liabilities; and
- Distribute the remaining assets to beneficiaries according to the terms of the Will or according to law (if there is no Will, or a successful challenge to the Will is made).
In some cases the executor will also be involved in making funeral arrangements – this will usually be the case if the executor is a close family member.
If the executor is someone more removed (i.e. a lawyer or other advisor), they will need to be given a copy of the invoice for the funeral, as this is considered an expense of the estate and must be included in the probate application.
It may be the case that you know the deceased had a Will, but you cannot locate it. This is more common than you may think.
You should of course make every effort to find the Will, including looking through the deceased’s personal effects, contacting the deceased’s bank, solicitor, accountant, financial planner and any trusted friends.
You should also contact the various trustee companies and consider placing an advertisement in the local newspaper and in the journal of the local law society (this may alert a solicitor who may have made the will).
If you are not able to find the Will, then the estate will be treated as if a Will did not exist, and the estate will be distributed according to the rules that apply to intestacy. This is the case even if you know what the deceased’s intended for the distribution of their estate.
Payment of Immediate Expenses
It is likely that the deceased had a bank account they were using at the time they died. Depending on how much money is available in the account, you may wish to access some of it to meet immediate expenses, such as the funeral and the probate application. The bank will usually let you do this, even if you were not an authorised operator of the account before the deceased died.
We recommend meeting with someone from the deceased’s local bank branch to discuss how much money is available and how much you might need to cover immediate expenses.
It is likely that the bank will freeze the deceased’s account once you have taken the money you immediately require, so you will need to make alternative arrangements to pay any other bills or expenses that might come up in the time between the death and the grant of probate (such as ongoing utility bills and periodic payments, such as mortgage interest).
You may wish to enquire as to any direct debits that are regularly made from the deceased’s accounts so that you can notify these providers to cease their services (some may require a Death Certificate in order to do this).
As a general rule, any reasonable and necessary expenses that you meet on behalf of the deceased after their death may be reimbursed from the deceased’s estate after probate is granted.
Make sure to keep a copy of all invoices paid on behalf of the deceased, and evidence of how these expenses have been met.
You should also keep a copy of all correspondence with persons on before of the deceased and their estate.
Notification of Key Organisations
Some organisations should be notified as soon as possible after the deceased has died. These include:
- Centrelink – if the deceased was in receipt of a Centrelink payment, or your Centrelink payments are made by reference to the deceased;
- The Department of Veterans’ Affairs – if the deceased was a pensioner or a Defence Service Homes Scheme borrower;
- Any foreign pension authority (if applicable);
- Banks and other financial institutions; and
- Insurance providers.
Contact details for some of the above are listed at the back of this booklet.