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HealthInfo Canterbury

What to do when someone dies

This page has links to information in other languages.


When someone you've been caring for dies, you don't need to do anything straight away. You may want to spend time with them after their death – this can be a time of sharing and closeness for family, whānau and friends.

If they've died in a hospital or hospice, you'll need to tell the nursing staff they have died. It will help if you can give them the time your loved one died.

If they die at home

There can be a lot to do when someone dies at home. Consider delegating some of these tasks to family, whānau and friends who want to help.

You don't have to call an ambulance when someone dies at home.

If your loved one has died at home, you'll need to tell their GP. You'll also need to tell their palliative care team if they've been involved. But if they die overnight, it's OK to leave this until the morning. If you aren't comfortable waiting until morning and want help and advice, you can call their GP if you have the number, or the Nurse Maude Hospice on (03) 375‑4274.

Their GP will need to visit and certify the death (this means they officially confirm the person has died). They can do this at your home, or they can do it at the funeral home once your loved one goes there. The GP will also need to know if your loved one wanted to be buried or cremated, as they need to fill out some extra forms for a cremation.

Funeral directors

A funeral director can help you make all the necessary arrangements. There's no hurry to do this. To find a funeral director, you might like to ask family, whānau and friends for recommendations. Or you can find a list of funeral directors in the Yellow Pages.

If you aren't involving a funeral director, the person in charge of the funeral arrangements needs to notify Births, Deaths and Marriages to register the death and get a death certificate. All deaths must be registered.

If the death is unexpected

If your loved one wasn't receiving palliative care or wasn't in the final stages of a terminal illness, call 111 to tell the police about the death.

If a doctor can confirm that the death is due to natural causes, they may be able to complete a Medical Certificate of Cause of Death.

In all other cases, the police will refer the death to a coroner. You can find more information about this in the guide When someone dies suddenly from Coronial Services.

This guide is also available in Te reo Māori, Simplified Chinese, Traditional Chinese, Samoan and Tongan.

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On the next page: After someone you love has died

Written by HealthInfo clinical advisers. Endorsed by Canterbury DHB and community palliative care specialists. Last reviewed November 2020.


Page reference: 76097

Review key: HIWSD-76097