In the first days after someone dies you might need to:
- talk to the healthcare team about next steps
- let people know (eg. family, friends)
- talk to a funeral director
- find the will
- consider time off work
- organise care for children or dependents
- organise care for pets
A funeral director will be able to talk to you about what happens before the funeral, and will organise the transport and care for the person that has died.
For information about who you need to tell, see NSW LawAccess.
In some circumstances you will need to take extra steps. This is common in the following situations:
When a child dies at or before birth
When a baby dies before or shortly after birth, the health care team looking after the baby will provide support and information to the family.
There is a different process for registering the death of a child that has died before or shortly after birth. For more information on this process, see NSW Registry of Births Deaths and Marriages.
For more information about what to do, see LegalAnswers NSW.
When a death happens overseas
When someone dies overseas, it is common for family members to organise:
- bringing them home
- registering their death with local authorities
- claiming on insurance
Usually, deaths that happen overseas are registered in the country the person has died in.
This can cause delays to things like funerals and Australian death certificates.
If someone has died overseas, you can get support and advice from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.
When a death is referred to the coroner
If a death is unexpected or the cause of death is unusual or unclear, it will be referred to a coroner.
When a death is referred to the coroner, it can sometimes delay the funeral. The length of the delay will depend on if there is:
- a post-mortem (autopsy)
- a police investigation
- a coronial inquiry
You can start organising the funeral, but you should avoid setting a date until the coroner has finished their investigation.
For a detailed explanation of the process of deaths that are referred to a coroner at the Coroner’s Court.
When a death is the result of violent crime
When someone dies as a result of crime in NSW, there will be involvement from:
- NSW Police
- NSW Coroner
- victims support
Family members of people who have died as a result of violent crime in NSW might be eligible for support through NSW Victims Services.
When someone from another country dies in Australia
A funeral director will be able to help you with:
- transport of the person that has died to another country
- death certificates and documentation in Australia
Organise a funeral or memorial service
There are many different ways to hold a funeral or memorial service.
The price you pay will depend on the type of service you have, and how much your funeral director charges.
Services are usually organised by the closest relative. If there is any dispute over who is organising the service, seek legal advice.
Using a funeral director
Most people in NSW use a funeral director to help organise the funeral or memorial service.
Many funeral directors can take calls 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Funeral directors aren’t compulsory, but most people find that they make things simpler and easier.
A funeral director will usually organise:
- the service including speeches
- transport and care for the person that has died
- cremation or burial
- a venue for the service
- officiating/speaking at the funeral
Different types of services
There are many different options for funerals and memorial services. Common things people consider when organising a service include:
- the location of burial plot or memorial
- whether burial or cremation
- what kind of coffin
- the date (particularly if guests are travelling)
- who to invite to the service
- who will speak at the service
- what to say at the service
- what is in the memorial booklet
- what clothing you would like the person to wear
- whether you want to hold a wake
Types of services
A funeral is usually held at a funeral home, cemetery or crematorium. Funerals involve the burial or cremation of the body of the person that has died.
A memorial service can be held anywhere (often in someone’s home). Memorial services don’t involve burial or cremation.
Cultural or religious customs and practices
While many funeral directors arrange funerals or burials that are in line with cultural or religious practices, not all of them do.
Make sure you talk to your funeral director as soon possible to make sure they are able to provide the type of service that you need.
If you don’t want to hold a service
You aren’t legally required to hold a service.
If you don’t hold an official service, you will still need to organise burial or cremation.
The cheapest option for this is direct cremation.
How much funerals cost
Ask your funeral director for a quote that breaks down the fees they are charging.
The cost of the funeral will depend on what you choose to include in the service, and prices can differ between funeral directors.
The cheapest option is a cremation without an official service. This is sometimes called “direct cremation”.
Ask your funeral director for a written quote that tells you what each item costs. Consider asking about the price of:
- hosting and organising the service
- death certificate
- burial or cremation
- cemetery plot
- celebrant or clergy
- newspaper notices
- the wake
Low cost funerals
Usually funeral directors will provide something called a “basic funeral”.
In NSW, a funeral director is required to give you a written quote for their basic funeral option. A basic funeral in NSW costs, on average, $4000.
Many funeral directors offer a basic funeral, although they may call it something different (eg. ‘economy funeral’ or ‘budget funeral’).
The price of a basic funeral includes:
- arranging and conducting the funeral
- transport of the person that has died
- storage at a mortuary or holding room
- preparation for burial or cremation (does not include preparation for viewing or embalming)
- the least expensive coffin available
- compulsory medical certificates or permits
- burial or cremation
Different ways to pay
If you organise the funeral you’ll need to organise payment.
You can pay for a funeral in many different ways:
- funeral insurance (kept with an insurance agency)
- using funds from a prepaid funerals (kept with a funeral home)
- getting funds released from banks or other financial institutions
- the person's estate
- from your own money
If you can't afford to pay for a funeral
In some situations, you might be eligible for support to pay for a funeral.
If you or the person's estate can't pay for a funeral, they may be eligible for what is called a “destitute funeral”. In a destitute funeral, the government covers the cost of a basic funeral.
It’s common for people to get support with grief or finances when someone close to them has died.
Grief support services can help people to understand and process the death of someone close to them.
Getting grief support can involve talking to a:
- grief counsellor
- support group with someone who has had a similar experience
You can access these services in different ways, including through:
- one-on-one counselling
- support groups
- online or telephone support
Your GP (General Practitioner) can give you care and advice about grief support. They can also refer you to specialist services if you need them.
For an overview of these services, see the Centre for Grief and Bereavement.
Specialised support services
It can help to talk to people who understand more about your situation. These organisations offer specialised information and support for:
- young people – ReachOut
- families of victims of homicide – Victims Services
- people affected by suicide – Lifeline
- parents of babies that have died– Sands
- families of children that have died – Red Nose
- veterans and their families – Department of Veterans Affairs
- Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people – HealthDirect
Aboriginal families and communities can access support through Aboriginal Health Units. Contact your local Aboriginal Health Unit through your local hospital or health services.
How much do grief support services cost?
In some situations, having a referral letter from your doctor might reduce the overall cost of treatment. Talk to your doctor about getting a referral to a mental health professional.
Grief services set their own prices, so how much you pay will depend on where you go and what kind of service you use.
While some services are free, many services charge a fee. Seeing a mental health professional with a referral letter and as part of a Mental Health Care Plan can reduce how much you pay for services with psychologists and psychiatrists.
To find out how much your appointment will cost, ask when you are booking your appointment.
Some people can get help to pay for living expenses and funeral costs.
Check if you are eligible for the following financial support:
- individual, including widows, carers and pensioners at Services Australia
- Aboriginal people (help with travel costs)
- if the death happened at work
- parents of a stillborn child
- if the death was a result of violent crime
If you are seeing a counsellor as part of a Mental Health Care Plan, or if you are receiving a Centrelink payment, you may be eligible for subsidies for seeing mental health professionals. For more information talk to your doctor.
Get a death certificate
You won't usually need to apply for a death certificate – your funeral director will apply for you when they register the death.
A death certificate is the official record of a death and can be used as proof of death, and proof of relationship to someone that has died.
A death certificate is important for:
- transferring or cancelling services
- administering a will.
Your funeral director will usually apply for you when they register the death.
What’s on a death certificate
Death certificates record details of the person that died, including:
- their name
- the cause of death
- the names of their legal spouses
- the names and ages of their children
- the place of birth
- the place of death
- the final resting place
Extract death certificates
An extract death certificate is an official certified copy of part of the information held on the death register. It can be issued with or without the cause of death.
The extract may not be accepted by some organisations due to the limited information it contains.
To find out more about extract death certificates, see NSW Registry of Births, Deaths, and Marriages
Who can apply for a death certificate
You are eligible to apply for a death certificate if you are the:
- next of kin named on the death certificate (eg. current spouse (married/defacto), parent, child)
- funeral director
- executor of the estate
- solicitor acting for next of kin or the estate.
If you are a relative not listed on the death certificate, a certificate can be issued to you if the person has no spouse, children or parents still alive.
For complete information about who can apply, see NSW Registry of Births, Deaths, and Marriages
Certifying copies of a death certificate
To cancel or transfer ownership of a service, many companies will need a 'certified copy' of the death certificate.
A certified copy is a photocopy of a document that has been seen by a Justice of the Peace (JP) with the original document.
If you’re making changes to lots of services, it’s a good idea to get many copies certified by the JP at the same time.
Documents you will need to apply
If you are named on the death certificate (next of kin), you will need:
- 3 forms of ID as required by NSW Births, Deaths, and Marriages
If you are not named on the death certificate, you will also need to provide 1 of the following:
- Letter of Authority, including 3 forms of ID from the person giving authority
- Document showing custody of guardianship of the person that has died
- Document showing Power of Attorney for one of the people named on the death certificate
Find more information about the documents you’ll need at NSW Registry of Births, Deaths, and Marriages
How to apply
Before you apply
Funeral directors will usually submit the application for you. Check with your funeral director before you apply.
Submit your application with the supporting documents to any of the following:
- in person at a Births, Deaths and Marriages office
- in person at Service NSW
- by post to:
Registry of Births, Deaths & Marriages
GPO Box 30
Sydney NSW 2001
If you are applying in person or by post you will need a completed Death Certificate Application Form [PDF]
Cancel or transfer services
Cancelling or transferring services can take a lot of time and effort, but doing it sooner can help save on account fees and unwanted mail.
Finding out which services to cancel
While some people include information about which services they are members of in their will or with their solicitor, many people don't.
It's not always clear which services people are members of, and it can be hard to know where to start.
The government services you should consider notifying include:
- the Australian Electoral Commission (electoral roll)
- the Australian Tax Office
- NSW Roads and Maritime Services (NSW licences)
- Opal cards at Transport for NSW
Other services there might be accounts with include:
- Bank accounts
- club memberships (eg. RSL, sports and fitness)
- phone and internet
- energy providers (electricity and gas)
- social media and email
How to cancel or transfer services
The process to cancel or transfer a service will differ from service to service.
You will usually need:
- a certified copy of the death certificate,
- the person's account details
- to meet with the service
If you want to transfer the services to your name, you will also need to prove your identity.
If you are unsure how to cancel, get in contact with the service you are trying to cancel.
Certified copies of a death certificate
To cancel or transfer ownership of a service, many companies will need a certified copy of the death certificate.
If you’re making changes to lots of services, it’s a good idea to get many copies certified by a Justice of the Peace at the same time.
Deal with the will and estate
A will is a legal record of what someone wants to happen to their assets after their death. This can include real estate, personal items, shares and other assets.
The will might also include information about the funeral or memorial service.
Superannuation doesn’t always form part of an estate. For more information about superannuation, talk to the person’s superannuation fund.
What executors do
The executor of a will carries out the wishes of someone that has died. The role of the executor is to manage the estate within the terms of the will and to protect the assets of the estate.
Executors are named in the will, and their responsibilities include:
- finding the will
- making funeral arrangements
- arranging burial or cremation
- getting the death certificate
- listing assets and liabilities
- protecting assets, business interests, and property
- assessing the value of the deceased's assets
- obtaining probate (if required)
- paying the person’s debts, income tax, duties and funeral costs
- distributing the assets according to the terms of the will
Turning down the role of executor
If you intend to turn down the role of executor you should do this as soon as possible. There can be difficulties with turning down the role once you have already started to undertake the duties of the executor.
If you are a beneficiary under a will, next of kin or relative of the deceased and the executor is unable or unwilling to apply for probate, you should get legal advice.
Where to find someone's will
If the person has a will, you may be able to find it:
- at their home
- with their bank
- with their solicitor
- with NSW Trustee & Guardian
If you don’t know the name of their solicitor, try calling ones in their area. When you are asking, provide them with the following details:
- their full name
- their address
- date of death
- information about your relationship to them (eg. that you are their spouse)
What is probate?
Probate is the name of a court order that is granted by the Supreme Court of NSW. Being granted probate confirms that:
- the will is valid
- the executor has permission to distribute the estate according to the will
You might not need to go through probate if the person died without owning property and only had small amounts of money to their name.
If you do need probate, you will need to apply through the NSW Supreme Court.
When there isn't a will
When a person dies without a will and they have assets in NSW, someone (often the next of kin) has to apply to the Supreme Court of New South Wales for an order called “Letters of Administration.”
Letters of Administration allows an administrator (who is appointed by the court) to distribute the assets of the person that has died.
If the person died without owning property, or they only had small amounts of money, you might not need to be apply for Letters of Administration.
Letters of Administration is usually made by the person’s next-of-kin (their closest relative), however there is an option for the NSW Trustee & Guardian is appointed as administrator.
How long it takes
Time it takes to get a grant of probate
If the court documents are completed accurately, grants of probate take 10 business days.
Probate will take longer if the court documents are not complete or unclear. In this case, the Supreme Court will ask for more information and process the grant of probate when the information is complete.
Time it takes to administer an estate
The majority of estates take between 3 and 12 months to administer.
Things that can make the process take longer include:
- when the estate includes trust accounts or life estates
- when the will or estate is complex
- when the will is contested