Our most practical piece of advice is to buy yourself a large exercise book in which you can write notes about phone calls, what people have told you (because you’re shocked you’ll find that you may forget things easily), ideas that you might have for the funeral or reminders to do things.
It’s also a good place to record phone numbers and any addresses you might need. Stick in business cards of, say, the funeral director, the funeral celebrant, minister or priest; the estate’s lawyer; and any other person you come in contact with at this time.
You’ll find this book to be invaluable as you work your way through all the arrangements that have to be made in the coming days, weeks and months.
You’ll want to make sure the appropriate people are told of the death. Usually this is done by family, but sometimes people prefer either the executor of the estate to do this, or the estate’s lawyer. As a guide, the people you may need to contact include:
You’ll need to get a medical certificate of cause of death signed by a doctor. If the death was in hospital, this will be arranged with the medical staff. If the death was at home, for example, you should call their doctor who will arrange for this to be done. A medical certificate of cause of death is a
legal requirement for cremation or burial. The estate’s lawyer also needs this certificate, so remember to get it to them as soon as you can. (It’s also worth getting your lawyer to certify several copies of the certificate, as you may need it for things later on.)
You’ll need to call a funeral director. You may already know of a funeral home or ask other people for a recommendation. Alternatively you can Google funeral directors – there’s usually quite a lot of choice.
You’ll need to check the Will or separate funeral instructions for any funeral requirements, including whether a burial or cremation is requested. Many people are quite specific about what they want for their funeral, how they want their body dealt with (there may be cultural or religious requirements), who
should be notified and the form of service (whether it’s religious or secular). Often the instructions include details about hymns or songs to be sung, music to be played, right down to what they’d like to be dressed in.
Even if you think you already know their wishes about their funeral, do check personal papers in their home and also with their lawyer. Sometimes funeral directions have been found in the oddest of places (wardrobes, tax files, etc), so without turning the house over, do have a good look. It’s comforting to know that you’ve been able to carry out their wishes for this most important farewell.
The executors are named in the Will. It’s their job to administer the estate and carry out the terms of the Will. They should be informed as soon as possible about the death as they have specific responsibilities for the assets of the estate.
After the funeral, the estate’s lawyer will be in touch with the executors so they can read through the Will and familiarise themselves with its contents.
The funeral director is, in effect, the master of ceremonies for the funeral. He or she will look after not only the legal requirements such as applying for the certified death certificate, but also the way the funeral is arranged.
Although the funeral director can run the entire funeral from start to finish, these days most families and close friends want to be involved. The lists below may help you with who does what.
The funeral director:
Before you see your chosen funeral director you may want to think about the family’s preferences for a funeral and, more importantly, the choices of the person who has just died.
The family or close friends can help with:
Many people establish a special funeral trust that will pay for their funeral expenses. Others may have ensured that there are sufficient funds on hand in a savings account to pay for their funeral.
Some people, however, have simply enjoyed their lives and have given little thought to their funeral or how it will be paid for. In most cases, their estate will have sufficient funds to pay for the funeral after probate is granted. If there are genuinely no funds available to pay for a funeral, family members
may want to chip in or the executors can apply to Work and Income for a funeral grant. If the death is the result of an accident, you can apply to ACC for a funeral grant.
If the person who has died had a SuperGoldCard, funeral directors in some locations offer a discount, although certain conditions apply. See www.supergold.govt.nz for more details.
If you’re unsure how the funeral will be paid for, talk to the funeral director or to the estate’s lawyer. They will be able to give you some good advice.
There are three main areas of cost for a funeral:
There are ways to rationalise funeral costs if you’re prepared to do some of the work yourself. For example, you can organise the flowers, arrange the order of service and the catering for the function afterwards.
We do, however, recommend that you liaise early on with the funeral director to ensure that it’s clear who is responsible for which arrangements. You don’t want to inadvertently double up, nor do you want to make an assumption that something has been done and it hasn’t.
It’s very important that the home of the person who has died is secure. This should be done as soon as possible after their death. The house should be checked by the family, or the executors, to ensure that what is probably the estate’s major asset is safe and looked after.
If the property is now empty you’ll need to:
Some families arrange for a security guard to be at the property on the day of the funeral. It’s not unknown for would-be thieves to check the daily death notices and burgle houses during a funeral.
If the person who has died was in paid employment, their desk will need to be cleared and their personal items removed from their workplace. Their employer should pay any annual leave and other entitlements to the estate.
It may also be necessary to ensure that businesses are looked after. Is there a trusted employee who can keep things going in the short term, or will it be necessary for someone to step in quickly to pay wages/bills, talk to suppliers/customers and so on?
There’s a great deal to do after the death of a family member or a close friend. Don’t worry too much about the Will or the legal side of things at this stage. Spend your time to secure their home, keep in touch with the executors, organise the funeral to reflect their wishes and give them a good send-off.