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What to do when someone dies in Australia

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If you are reading this article, chances are you or someone you know, has a lot on their plate right now. You are likely to be the person coordinating and communicating with other family members, you’re likely to be fielding many phone calls and are in need of some clear tips about what needs to be done after someone passes away. For that reason we have compiled them here to help you as you navigate this process.

Determine if there is a will

What is important to determine first is if there is a will. Where there is no will, then the Court must appoint an administrator to deal with the deceased’s assets, usually the next of kin. 

If there is a will there’s usually one or two people named as Executors. The Executor has a key role in administering the deceased’s estate and applying for a Grant of Probate, if it is required. They will be responsible for organising the payment of the deceased’s debts and afterward, the distribution of assets according to the terms of the will. If you are not familiar with the contents of the will, it will set out the deceased’s wishes in relation to the distribution of the assets.

Related: Grant of Probate – who needs it?

Probate vs Letters of Administration  

What to do after someone dies – the legal process

Notify these people and organisations

Outside of a list of family and friends, there are a number of people and organisations that need to be notified of the deceased’s death. The Department of Human Services have put together a very helpful checklist that can be found here.

Before the funeral

While you are likely to already be in contact with a funeral director, it is wise to determine if there are any funds available to pay for the funeral. If the deceased belonged to a trade union, club, pensioner association or superannuation scheme they may have funeral benefits. If they were in receipt of Centrelink benefits, you may be eligible for a bereavement payment. Further, they may have also had a prepaid arrangement or funeral insurance policy which may be discovered via their bank account transaction history if you are not immediately aware if they have such a policy in place.

There may also be benefits to contribute to funeral expenses through private health, sickness or life insurance policies so it is worth investigating. Discovering if they belonged to any of these groups may prove very helpful and reduce some stress in the short-term.

Close Social Media accounts

Deactivating the social media accounts of the deceased can be a priority for many. Most platforms offer assistance via their ‘Help’ sections of the site but you will need the death to have been registered in the state where the deceased died.

Related: Australian Government – Births, Deaths and Marriages registry links

Facebook has the ability to ‘memorialise’ someone’s profile (allowing family and friends to share memories) or have it deleted if you can prove you are an immediate family member and have a verified account.

Look after yourself

Regardless of however involved you are in the process, it can be helpful to seek support from your GP. Now is a good time to tap into a professional support network even if you feel you are coping well. Lifeline and Beyond Blue have a range of services that you and others who are grieving can access at no cost and many are accessible 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

How can a lawyer help in this process?

We give advice about whether a Grant of Probate or if Letters of Administration are needed. Sometimes working out the form of the application requires technical expertise, reading of the will and understanding the circumstances of the person who has died to make sure that the right person is making the application.

Probate forms are available online and sometimes people wish to fill these out themselves however the advantage of having a specialist to do this is that having someone to work through the process with you, reduces the stress and workload in what is an already difficult time. Additionally, there is often complexity that exists when it comes to the interpretation of a will, or if there are questions about who should be applying for probate or letters of administration, whether consent of any other person is required and we investigate whether any other searches need to be carried out.

In terms of assisting with estates generally, we give Executors advice about interpretation of the will as well as advice about any questions, issues or disputes that may arise with any of the beneficiaries. If required, we also assist by dealing with the asset distribution such as transferring of properties, closing bank accounts, transferring or selling shares and instructing accountants in relation to tax terms. We also advise executives on protecting against any risk and making sure they are protected from any possible liabilities.

The DDCS Wills and Estate planning team are highly experienced and specialise in helping people navigate difficult processes like these. To discuss your circumstances confidentially, phone our team on (02) 62127600 or fill in the contact us form and our team will be in touch.