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When we imagine the death of a loved one, or our own passing, most people hope it will come peacefully at a very old age. But sadly, this isn’t always the case. Death is the heartbreaking consequence of life, but the grieving process can be that more difficult if someone dies unexpectedly.

Unexpected deaths – like accidents, illnesses, suicide and even natural causes – often happen suddenly, leaving loved ones unprepared to cope with the devastating loss.

This article offers some practical advice and support for those left wondering what to do if someone dies unexpectedly, particularly at home.

This guide is broken down into the following sections:

  • First steps when someone dies unexpectedly
  • What if someone died unexpectedly at a hospital or nursing home?
  • What happens if the death was unclear or suspicious?
  • How to register the death
  • What happens next after someone dies unexpectedly?
  • What to do after the funeral
  • Coping with grief after someone dies unexpectedly

First steps when someone dies unexpectedly

If you witness someone die unexpectedly or suddenly, or if you aren't sure if the person is dead, you should immediately call 000.

Ask for an ambulance and explain what's happened as best you can. Once the first responders arrive, they will either attempt resuscitation or confirm the death. The paramedics or emergency crew will either contact the deceased person's doctor or the police, depending on the situation.

If the person died unexpectedly, a doctor will need to come to verify their passing and provide a cause of death certificate before any funeral arrangements can be made.

What if someone died unexpectedly at a hospital or care facility?

If your loved one died unexpectedly at a hospital, nursing home, or an aged care facility, a doctor or other medical practitioner will be able to verify their death and provide the cause of death certificate.

You will need to make arrangements with your chosen funeral director. From there, the hospital or nursing home will liaise with the funeral director to arrange collection and make funeral plans.

What happens if the death was unclear or suspicious?

If the cause of death was unclear, suspicious, or a result of a workplace incident, the police will be called and they will likely arrange for the deceased person to be taken to the Coroner to determine the cause of death. A funeral cannot take place until a post-mortem has been completed. If the cause of death is still unknown, the Coroner will hold an inquest to review evidence to determine how the person died.

Once the deceased person has been cleared for release, the chosen funeral provider will liaise with the Coroner’s office to obtain the necessary paperwork and make funeral arrangements.

When someone dies unexpectedly, it can be that more difficult to cope with the sudden loss.
When someone dies unexpectedly, it can be that more difficult to cope with the sudden loss.

How to register the death

When someone dies in Australia, their death must be registered with the office of Births, Deaths and Marriages. The funeral director will usually register the death on behalf of the family/next of kin and apply for the death certificate. They will provide all the forms that must be filled out.

What happens next after someone dies unexpectedly?

While all the necessary paperwork is being gathered and completed, the funeral director will arrange to take the deceased person into their care and transport them to a mortuary.

The deceased person may have already arranged and prepaid their funeral with a funeral provider like Bare Cremation, or you may have to organise it yourself.

In the meantime, you will need to notify the relevant people and organisations about the death as soon as possible. The list usually includes the deceased person’s family, friends, employer, doctors, and government services like Centrelink. Other organisations like banks and utilities providers will also need to be notified. Save/Download our checklist below:

You may also wish to make an announcement on social media or in the newspaper.

What to do after the funeral

After the funeral or memorial is over, there is often a lot of other things to take care of, including the deceased person’s estate and finances. To help you through the estate administration process, read our 10-step guide to deceased estates here.

Coping with grief after someone dies unexpectedly

It’s common for the shock of an unexpected or sudden death to extend or complicate the grieving process. So, it’s important to get help if you’re struggling to cope.

Speaking with family and friends can help ease the emotional stress of losing a loved one unexpectedly. If you feel you are struggling to cope with grief more than expected, speak to your GP. They can assist you with strategies for coping with grief and referrals to mental health professionals. Some people find it helpful to speak with a professional who isn’t emotionally connected to you or the deceased person.

There are also many grief and bereavement services available to help. A place to start would be the Australian Centre for Grief and Bereavement or for more immediate help call Lifeline on 13 11 14. Our list of grief counselling and support services across Australia includes more contacts that might help.

Our article Experiencing grief on the death of a loved one might also help you understand the grieving process a little better.

Above all, allow yourself time to grieve and consider taking ample time out from work and other commitments. Grief plays out differently in everyone so be aware of how your mind, body and emotions are reacting to your situation.

Remember the most important things in the first few weeks after your loved one has passed:

  • Do not feel rushed or pressured into making decisions. Make the right decisions for you, your family, your loved one and your financial situation.
  • Do not feel you have to do everything alone. Reach out to family, friends or even professionals to help you.
  • Above all – look after yourself. Ensure you are sleeping, eating, taking time out for yourself and taking care of your emotional health.

To learn more about Bare Cremation or to get a quote, click the below button or give us a call on 1800 071 176.