A valuable checklist on how to take care
of immediate business following the death of a loved one,
including the latest information on the effect of COVID-19
procedures surrounding death and funerals
Death, be it expected or unexpected, is always immensely hard to deal with. Death is something that no-one is ever prepared for. And if you are the person who has to deal with all the practicalities surrounding the death of your loved one, you could find yourself dealing with a funeral and never-ending paperwork.
With the help of Alan Lindhorst, Managing Member of Constantiaberg Funeral Home, You’ve Earned It has put together a checklist on how to take care of the immediate business following the death of your loved one.
As there is a difference in procedure, the following checklist does distinguish between natural and unnatural causes.
If your loved one dies in hospital
- Contact a Funeral Director – he/she will advise you on procedure.
- The Funeral Director will collect the deceased from the hospital.
- Many large Government hospitals appoint a Funeral Director (on a tender basis for a period) to remove/collect all the deceased (unless special arrangements are made with the Ward Sister). However the Funeral Director chosen by the family can collect the deceased from the hospital’s Funeral Director at no charge (within 72 hours). (This is the case with Victoria, Groote Schuur, Somerset and Tygerberg Hospitals).
- The hospital will issue the Notification of Death (DHA 1663)to the family’s Funeral Director, as well as a Medical Certificate for Cremation (Form B), if required.
- The deceased’s ID document/card (original) should be handed to the Funeral Director, who may need to present this to the hospital when collecting the certificates
- Remember to collect your loved one’s personal belongings.
If your loved one dies at home
- Contact the family Medical Doctor (GP) – at whatever time of day or night. Many doctors have an ‘on call’ roster with other doctors for after hours service.
- If a doctor is not available to come to the house, contact Netcare 911 or ER24. They will determine if the death is natural or unnatural, and (if natural causes) will issue a Declaration of Death (DOD) form. They will usually call the SA Police Service to come and confirm that death was by natural causes. The SAPS officer needs to issue a SAP 180 form. The Funeral Directors can then be called to collect the deceased.
- Contact the Funeral Director who will advise you on procedures. The Funeral Director will remove/collect the Deceased and liaise with the Medical Doctor.
- Copies of the DOD and SAP 180 forms, if obtained, should be given to the Funeral Director, who will forward copies to the family Doctor or specialist, whichever will be issuing the Notification of Death (DHA 1663) This form, together with the Medical Certificate for Cremation (if applicable), will be collected by the Funeral Director when ready – which may be a day or two later
- If the deceased was an outpatient of a hospital or day hospital or clinic, the Funeral Director will need to take the deceased’s hospital card and ID document/card together with the DOD and SAP 180 forms to the hospital, and request a DHA 1663 (Notification of Death form) and a Form B for cremation (if required).
If your loved one dies unexpectedly
- Contact the Funeral Director who will advise on the procedures involved and who will also liaise with the correct authorities.
- If death appears to be from natural causes, call the family Medical Doctor. If the doctor is not available, call the Paramedics and Police (as described above). Obtain the DOD and SAP 180 forms, and hand these to the Funeral Director, as well as the hospital outpatients card (if applicable), and the deceased’s ID book/card or a copy.
- The Funeral Director may then remove/collect the deceased to their private mortuary.
- Should the person pass away at home and it appears that there has been a forced entry, or there is evidence of unnatural causes, or you consider something suspicious has happened, call 10111 or your local SA Police Services. They will arrange for the removal/collection of the body to the nearest State Mortuary (run by the Provincial Department of Health). It is likely that a post mortem examination will be performed by a Pathologist (usually from the local university medical school).
- If there is no family doctor, and the deceased was not an outpatient of a hospital or clinic, or there is no medical history, the SA Police Service will need to be called, and the deceased taken to the State Mortuary. If there is no suspicion of unnatural causes, the family may be asked to give the medical history of the deceased to an official at the State Mortuary, who may decide that a post mortem examination is not necessary.
- In all cases where the deceased has been taken to a State Mortuary, the Next-of-Kin will need to go there and identify the deceased, and take their and the deceased’s ID document to show the official. If the Next-of-Kin wishes to delegate the identification of the deceased to another family member or associate, he/she will need to write a letter authorising this person to do the identification on his/her behalf. The official will then issue a letter to the person, authorising the removal of the deceased. This, and the deceased’s ID document, needs to be handed to the Funeral Director, who will liaise with the State Mortuary to find out when the deceased will be released, and can be collected – which will be after the post mortem (if performed).
- The Department of Health will issue the Notification of Death (DHA 1663) to the Funeral Director, signed by the pathologist who performed the post mortem (autopsy), or was satisfied that death was by natural causes (without a post mortem). If required, the Pathologist will also issue a Cremation Certificate(s).
The Funeral Director will then need to meet with the family to attend to the following:
- Receive the deceased’s ID document/card – which will be returned after the death has been registered with the Department of Home Affairs.
- Receive the ID of the next-of-kin, or other connected person, who will sign as ‘Informant’ on the Notification of Death. This ID can be returned immediately, after the Funeral Director has made copies.
- Obtain personal particulars of the deceased, for completion of the Notification of Death – which will be lodged with the Department of Home Affairs, together with the deceased’s ID document. Home Affairs will then issue the official Death Certificate, and Burial Order, and return the ID document. The Funeral Director will provide the original and five certified copies of the Death Certificate. (More copies can be requested).
- Completion of the Application for Cremation (if applicable), signed by the family representative, and attested before a Commissioner of Oaths (at the Funeral Director’s office), as well as instructions concerning the cremated remains (Ashes).
- The Next-of-Kin, or person responsible for making funeral arrangements, should advise the Funeral Director who will be authorised to collect the Death Certificate and the Ashes of the Deceased. This to prevent them being handed over to the ‘wrong’ person – which is a risk, especially in situations of family conflict.
- Discussion on funeral arrangements – whether there will be a burial or cremation; a church service, with or without the coffin present; a cremation, with or without the family attending at the Crematorium; whether there will be a viewing, at the funeral home or at the church; whether the deceased will be dressed, or stay in his/her clothes at the time of death, or simply be covered with a shroud; etc.
- A coffin will need to be selected. This is required for burial and cremation (even a private cremation, for which a simple unpainted chipboard or cardboard coffin will suffice).
- Optional services will also be discussed (which can be arranged either by the Funeral Director or the family and friends). These include placing of press notices, ordering of flowers, and printing of leaflets, and arranging for catering after the service. If the Funeral Director will be preparing a leaflet, the content needs to be given in good time. Donations (in lieu of flowers) to a charity or organisation can be included in the press notice and leaflet.
- Look at any funeral policies, and decide who needs to claim the benefits.
- Advise your Minister (Religious Leader), if you have one. He/she will provide the necessary support on a spiritual and emotional level.
- This is probably the last thing you want to think about at a time like this, but if the Deceased is an Organ Donor, arrangements for organ donation need to happen quickly.
- Once you feel ready, share the news with your immediate family and close friends.
- The Funeral Home will assist with all funeral preparations, and can source a Minister to conduct a service if you do not have one.
- Together with family members, decide on who will be delivering eulogies/tributes at the funeral or memorial service or gathering, and the pallbearers for the coffin.
- Meet with the Minister (Religious Leader) who will be conducting the funeral or memorial service, to discuss the service details and hymns, and participants in the service (eulogies/tributes and readers), as well as arrangements for the coffin to be brought into the church (placed in front beforehand, or in procession with Minister and Pallbearers), and taken out afterwards (usually in procession).
- Get support from family and friends – don’t try to do it all alone. Friends can remind you of certain things when your mind might be all over the place.
- Don’t forget about the pets. If there is no spouse, then arrangements need to be made for the pets. Consider arranging for the pets to see (and sniff) the body of the deceased after death, so as to understand that they have not been abandoned by the deceased.
- Arrange a post-funeral gathering. This can be at the funeral/memorial service venue (adjacent hall), or a restaurant, hotel or private club, or the home of family or friends. Enlist the help of friends and family, or a Church hospitality group. The Funeral Director will have contacts in catering.
- Don’t neglect your health – you need all your strength for the practical arrangements. It’s a huge loss – if you need the advice of a professional such as a therapist or bereavement counsellor, don’t be proud. Ask for help.
- The Estate of the Deceased needs to be reported to the Master of the High Court within 14 days from the date of death. There is a Death Notice form, a form sumarising assets and liabilities, and (if there is no Will) a form showing the close family tree (for intestate succession). These forms, together with the original Will, and a certified copy of the Death Certificate, need to be submitted to the Master.
- Once you have found the Deceased’s Will, establish the name of the Executors and contact them to advise on the death of the Deceased. The appointment of the Executors needs to be confirmed by the Master of the High Court.
- If the Executors do not have the experience or professional competence to wind up the Deceased Estate (e.g. family members), they can appoint an administrator (who may be an Attorney or Accountant, or other professional) to act on their behalf (with a power of attorney).
- A Power of Attorney given by a person ceases upon death. Thereafter the affairs of the Deceased can only be conducted by the Executors (or their appointees).
- After death the Deceased’s bank accounts are frozen. This is usually effected by the Executors, but may be done by the bank if it hears about the death. (If a family member with access to the Deceased’s bank account, pays medical, funeral or other bills after death, he/she needs to be able to account to the Executors).
- If no Executor has been nominated in the Will, then the next-of-kin or close family members can propose suitable persons to the Master. An Attorney, Accountant, Trust Administrator or suitably equipped relative are options.
- Estates worth less than R250 000 are administered under Section 18(3) of the Estates Act – a simpler process. A nominated Executor or other suitable person needs to apply to and be appointed by the Master to do this.
- Sometimes there can be disputes over money or possessions. Death can bring out the worst in people. Be prepared for this.
The effect of COVID-19 on procedures surrounding death and funerals
All the normal procedures apply, except that some of these will need to be adapted to comply with COVID-19 regulations and protocols, as explained below.
Patients infected with the COVID-19 Corona Virus in hospitals and nursing homes are isolated, and may not be visited by family or friends. This also applies to Persons Under Investigation (“PUI”) – suspected of being infected. Distressing for both patient and family.
When an infected person, or PUI, dies (in hospital, nursing home or at home), the funeral undertakers who come to collect the Deceased need to be dressed in full PPE (personal protective equipment). This includes coveralls, mask, face shield, gloves, covering of footwear. The Deceased is enclosed in double body-bags, sealed. The vehicle and mortuary area are disinfected. The PPE is disposed of in a hazardous waste bin, to be removed by a medical waste company. The undertakers scrub themselves down afterwards.
Viewing of the Deceased is only possible in a coffin with a see-through screen at the face piece, with no direct exposure to the corpse. Dressing of the Deceased is not permitted.
Regarding the holding of funeral and memorial services, there are state and church regulations. These have been adapted as we have moved into lighter levels of lockdown. The Funeral Directors can advise of the latest protocols in place. Regulations also differ between denominations and churches. Generally, the following apply.
A building may take 50% of its normal capacity, including the ministers and undertakers. Social distancing needs to be applied to the seating arrangements. Face masks must be worn, and hands sanitized on entry. The church or hall needs to be properly cleaned (sanitised) before and after services.
A register must be kept of all who attend the service, which includes name, ID, contact telephone number, temperature at the door, and questions on whether or not the person has displayed any Corona Virus symptoms, or been in contact with infected persons in the past 14 days. A high temperature or positive answer to any question would mean that the person may not attend the service. The register is kept by the church, with a copy being given to the Funeral Directors.
Some churches/ministers do not allow the coffin of an infected deceased person to be brought into the church – it stays in the hearse outside, and the minister may say the prayers of committal at the hearse.
In higher levels of lockdown, the number was restricted to 50. In practice, bereaved families would invite mourners to attend (like attending a wedding!). Many families opted to have a small committal service for immediate family and very close friends only, with the intention of holding a memorial service or gathering at a later date, after restrictions have eased. Some arranged for the small service to be viewed (attended) by a wider audience via Skype, Zoom or other digital platform. Also, a permit needed to be issued by the local SAPS (no longer), and possibly by the head of the religious denomination, for the church to be used.
The Department of Health has now introduced a measure requiring all persons who die out of hospital, to be tested for COVID-19 post mortem – to be done by the Doctor or Funeral Directors. This is simply to obtain accurate statistical records.
Bills and accounts to be paid
- Once the Death Certificate has been issued, advise the nominated Executor or Estate Administrator of bills that need to be paid, bank accounts to be closed or debit orders stopped -medical aid, cellphone, mortgage bonds, household and car insurance, the bank.
- Contact the Deceased’s Financial Advisor, stockbroker, etc.
- Cancel the Deceased’s driver’s licence, TV licence, email, social media and website accounts,and memberships of clubs and organisations.
It may seem macabre, but pre-planning your funeral or memorial service will make life so much easier for your loved ones when they are going through a difficult emotional time. Draw up a document stipulating an end-of-life plan. Also, make financial provision for your funeral: a funeral policy, prepaid funeral, or cash amount held by your Attorney, Financial Adviser, or a family member for this purpose.
Constantiaberg Funeral Home
Serving the bereaved with sensitivity, Attending to the deceased with dignity
Member of National Funeral Directors’ Association of Southern Africa (NFDA)
85 Kenilworth Road, Kenilworth, Cape Town.
P O Box 53366, Kenilworth 7745
Tel: 021 671 2400 (Office/ 24hr call-out), 021 674 1443 (Office/ Alan A/Hrs)
Updated: 29 October 2020
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