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Death at a rest home or hospital

What to do first when someone dies

Death at hospital

If the death was not unexpected, the rest home is likely to call their on-call doctor/medical professional to confirm death and document the cause of death. If the death was unexpected, suspicious or the cause of death cannot be determined, the rest home may call the Police who act as the Coroner’s agent.

As the grieving family, your first call should be to a FDANZ Funeral Director who can talk you through the next stages.

Death at home or public space

If the death was expected, a doctor/medical professional still has to confirm death and document the cause of death. This is most often facilitated by your funeral director who will liaise with the family’s doctor and arrange transport for the body to the doctor’s premise for the examination. Not many doctors visit the home for this purpose anymore. If the death was unexpected, or you have any concerns, please call the Police.

Death while overseas

If a New Zealand resident dies overseas, your Funeral Director can help you understand the options in regards arranging for the person’s body or ashes to be repatriated (brought back to New Zealand). Click here to read more about repatriation requirements by country.

First point of contact

In the initial interaction is just a phone call to us. Our Funeral directors are likely to want the following information from you:

The name of the deceased
The contact details of the primary contact
A time and venue to meet for the first discussion about funeral arrangements
Who has authority to allow the transfer from the place of death (see below)
Address details so they can arrange transfer of the deceased to their care
Questions about whether a doctor has been contacted to verify cause of death
They will then arrange for the transfer into their care, and perhaps a visit to a doctor for an evaluation of the cause of death.

Why Funerals matter

The funeral director will meet you at your home or in their offices at a convenient time to discuss arrangements - this is usually within 24 hours of first contact. The funeral director will offer a range of choices to suit your family’s culture, customs and religious requirements.

Key decisions to discuss are:

Who the decision maker is
Burial or cremation, or other options
After-care options and recommendations
The funeral service itself

Before that first meeting there are some practical matters you may like to start attending to if you feel you can manage:

Contacting the next of kin
Contacting the Executor of the Will or the solicitor
Start thinking about the kind of funeral you would like
Gathering clothes for the deceased
Thinking about whether you would like a viewing
Determining the level of after-care you would like (and finding a suitable photograph)
Finding suitable photographs for the service sheet
Locating birth and marriage certificates

Who has authority?

One of the first questions a funeral director will try and determine is who has authority to make the after-care and funeral decisions for the person who has died. If there is a will, the executor usually has authority. If there is no will, or the will has yet to be found, the next of kin has legal authority. The next of kin may choose to nominate a family member to have authority on their behalf.

The courts have determined the following hierarchy in determining who is next of kin:

Surviving spouse, Civil Union Partner or de facto partner
Children of the deceased
Parents of the deceased
Brothers and sisters of the deceased
Grandparents of the deceased
Aunts and Uncles of the decease

Information to gather

One of the important roles a FDANZ Funeral Director does on your behalf is to register the death. Below is the type of information needed - much of this information can be found on birth and marriage certificates. You can download the form here.


The Department of Internal Affairs has developed a digital resource to support family and whanau experiencing a death, with information on what to do and where to get financial and emotional support when someone dies.