WHAT TO DO WHEN
A LOVED ONE DIES

The below content can be used as a basic guide or checklist for funeral arrangements and things that need to be taken care of when a loved one dies. The estate information does not cover every eventuality – only the most basic straightforward cases.

WHAT TO
DO IN THE

FIRST FEW
HOURS

Transport the body and get a notice of death.

You need to have your loved one’s body moved to a suitable mortuary and acquire a notice of death. A notice of death (BI-1663 Medical Certificate) is a critical piece of paperwork that you need to obtain immediately after the death of your loved one. A notice of death can be issued by a medical practitioner (where a medical practitioner is not available, in rural areas for example, a notice of death can be issued by a traditional leader) or a South African Police Service member. Your funeral director may also be able to assist you in this regard. The notice of death referred to here is not the ‘Death Certificate’ from Home Affairs, (see Obtain a Death Certificate page).

Both the procedures of obtaining a Notice of death and the moving of the body to a mortuary are dependent on where (in hospital, at home, motor vehicle accident etc.) and how (natural or unnatural causes) your loved one died.

Identify the body
When asked a family member or close friend will have to go to the mortuary to identify the body of the deceased before the notice of death can be issued. Anyone who knew the deceased can do the identification and must take both the deceased’s and their ID with. The identification at the mortuary will possibly be emotionally overwhelming, so it is recommended to take someone with for support.

The official will then issue a body number and letter, authorising the removal of the body. This number, the deceased’s ID, and the funeral policy number need to be handed to the Funeral Director, who will liaise with the Mortuary to find out when the body will be released, and can be collected.
Arrange for organ, tissue or full-body donation

Check your loved one’s identification document, driver’s license, living will or paper work for any sign that he/she was a registered organ donor. Organ, tissue and full-body donations are time-critical, so it is crucial to act quickly. There are different criteria, rules and processes depending on each individual situation. Be sure to familiarize yourself with the detail as far in advance as possible.

Notify family and friends

Once you feel ready, share the news with family and friends. Don’t try to go through this difficult time all alone. Family and friends can offer great support and remind you of certain things. Ask your family and friends to also help spread the word. Follow the link below for a contact list to help you think of everyone that needs to be notified.

Make arrangements for dependents
If the your loved one was responsible for the caring of any child or person, arrange for temporary care while longer-term plans are made. Don’t forget about the pets. If there is no obvious new owner, arrangements need to be made for short and long-term care. Also consider arranging for the pets to see (and sniff) your loved one’s body, so as to understand that they have not been abandoned.

WHAT TO
DO IN THE

NEXT FEW
DAYS

Secure your loved one’s home

It might be the last thing on your mind but if your loved one lived alone it is a good idea to stop by their home and secure it as soon as possible. There are many things that might need your urgent attention, from removing valuables and mail to locking up.

Decide on the type of funeral service

A funeral service is not a legal requirement in South Africa. However, it is customary to have an ‘end of life ritual or ceremony’ to commemorate your loved one’s life. When planning a funeral, all decisions should be made in terms of a persons will. Try to ascertain what kind of funeral your loved one would have preferred – burial, cremation or donation to science then choose from the many different types of services and ceremonies available.

Plan the funeral

The services of a funeral director are required for transport and sanitary storage of the body. Their valuable knowledge in handling home affairs and their experience with the various funeral arrangements can make things a lot easier for you. A funeral director could help with almost everything from obtaining a death certificate and liaising with Home Affairs to repatriation and detailed funeral arrangements.

Pay for the funeral

There are a few ways of paying for a funeral. Most funeral service providers require payment upfront. If your loved one had a funeral policy, the policy details need to be given to the funeral director to verify. If your loved one didn’t have a funeral policy there are a few alternatives you can consider.

Make final arrangements
After meeting with the Funeral Director remember to make final arrangements for everything that you agreed you will be handling yourself. Make requests to the minister, family and friends, who needs to participate in good time, so they can prepare. Order printed materials and floral arrangement days in advance to avoid disappointment of anything being late. You may choose to provide food yourself, use caterers, have a potluck, or hold the event at a restaurant where guests can pay for themselves. Any of these options are completely acceptable, it all depends on personal preference.
Create an online memorial page

An online memorial page is often the easiest way to share a death announcement and any funeral plans with a large group of people. It is extremely easy and quick to create one for free.

Write a eulogy

A eulogy can be a written tribute to your loved one, or a speech delivered at a funeral or memorial service. We have a few resources to help you in writing and delivering a eulogy as well as various pages of poetry and quotes which are tremendously helpful to add that poetic touch to funeral speeches.

WHAT TO
DO IN THE

next FEW
WEEKS

Obtain a death certificate

Obtaining a death certificate is vital in order to administer a deceased estate. The Births and Deaths Registration Act requires every death to be reported to the Department of Home Affairs who in turn will issue a death certificate.

Establish who the executor of the estate is

If your loved one had a will, he/she may have nominated an individual or a financial institution to perform the function of the executor of the estate. If no executor was nominated or the nominated executor is unable or refuses to accept the task, or if your loved one died intestate, the master of the High Court will appoint an executor to the estate, this is called an Executor Dative. 

Apply for executorship

The basic estate administration tasks outlined in this section fall under the duties of the executor who may be a family member, a trusted friend or a financial institution. In order to apply to the Master of the High Court to be formally appointed and granted the necessary powers to administer the estate, the executor first needs to attend to some basic estate admin. These initial tasks include anything from locating and validating the will to obtaining a list of assets and liabilities.

Duties of the executor

Once appointed by the Masters Office, the executor will be responsible for the administering of the deceased estate in terms of the Administration of Estates Act and the duties set out therein. Some of the duties include collecting all the assets and liabilities, accounting for the assets and liabilities in a Liquidation and Distribution Account, ensuring that all debts are paid off and distributing all the assets to the heirs. The role of an Executor is not simple one and takes an average of eight months to three years to finalise an estate.

If your loved one died without a will (Intestate)

In the case of someone dying without a will, The Master of the High Court may appoint an executor dative since no-one would have been nominated in a will. The executor’s first duty is to locate the will if there is one. If a will cannot be found among personal papers, inquiries should be made at the deceased’s lawyers, accountants, bank or insurance company. It may be in safe keeping with one of them. If it cannot be traced, even though relatives may be positive that one exists, the estate must be administered as if no will had been drawn up.

Firearms in an estate

If your loved one was a registered owner of firearms there are various options for the beneficiary. According to the Firearms Control Act 60 of 2000 which came into effect on 1 July 2004 the heir has the following four options:

  1. Hand or sell the firearms to a dealer.
  2. Hand the firearms to the police to be destroyed.
  3. Arrange for the firearms to be deactivated by a gunsmith.
  4. Apply for an appropriate license in terms of the Firearms Control Act.

Have more questions?

See Frequently
Asked Questions

Ashes to ashes, dust to dust, all come from earth, and to earth all return.

Ashes to ashes,
dust to dust,
all come from earth,
and to earth all return.

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