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Preparing for a death at home

9-minute read

If a person's death is unexpected and they did not have a terminal illness, call triple zero (000) and ask for an ambulance.

Many people prefer to die at home in familiar surroundings. For those in end-of-life care, their home can provide a sense of freedom, peace, and privacy.

You may be caring for someone at home who has a terminal condition and is dying. This article gives you advice on how to prepare for a death at home.

How do I prepare for a coming death at home?

If the person you care for knows they are dying, they should talk to their doctor or palliative care team about:

  • how that might happen
  • what they want

Their doctor or palliative care team may ask them:

  • Do they want to die at home?
  • Do they want to be resuscitated, if possible?

They should either involve you in the discussion or tell you afterwards, so you know what to expect.

Try to make the person you’re caring for comfortable:

  • treat them with dignity and compassion
  • try to keep them as free of pain as possible

If they know they are dying, they might want to talk about their life. They might want to be left in silence. Let them lead the way.

The person you are caring for may have medical problems. If they have severe pain or other distressing symptoms, call the doctor or palliative care team for advice.

Arrange for someone to come to your home to support you during your loved one’s final days or hours. This person may be a:

  • close relative
  • friend
  • nurse

Find out more here about:

Video provided by CarerHelp — Regina Kendall: Practical tips for home care at end of life.

Ideally, the person you care for will already have legal documents in place, such as those described below.

Death at home documents

Your doctor can help by providing you with ‘death at home’ documents, such as a letter telling the ambulance service the person is dying an expected death and should not be resuscitated.

A will

A will states how you want your belongings distributed after your death. Follow the link to find out more about wills and powers of attorney.

Enduring power of attorney

An enduring power of attorney states who can make legal and financial decisions for you if you can’t do it yourself.

Appointing an enduring guardian

An enduring guardian is someone who can make decisions about your medical care and lifestyle if you can’t do it yourself. An enduring guardian should be someone who you trust and know well. This person should be named in your enduring guardianship documents.

Advance care planning

Advance care planning is the process of planning for your current and future health care.

Advance care plans are not legally binding. Your doctor can discuss advance care planning with you and your family.

Advance care directive

To formalise your advance care plan you should write an advance care directive. This is also known as an advance health directive, or a living will.

The forms for writing advance care directives vary between states and territories. Follow the link to find out more about advance care planning in your state or territory (or call 1300 208 582 for advice).

What if these documents are not available?

If these arrangements are not in place, you can see if there is time to arrange them now. It is especially important to organise a will. Dying without a will can create significant problems and upset for family members.

What should I do after a death at home?

The death of a person you have been caring for can be difficult to deal with. It is natural to feel grief and a mix of emotions. Try to stay calm.

First, call the person’s doctor or palliative care team. You can ask them to arrange for a doctor to:

  • visit to confirm the person’s death
  • issue a medical certificate of cause of death

If the person’s death is expected and natural, you don’t have to call a doctor right away. If they die during the night you can wait until the morning before calling a doctor.

If there is no doctor available, call the police.

Video provided by CarerHelp — Regina Kendall: What to do when someone dies.

When is a death referred to a coroner?

If the doctor cannot confirm the cause of death, they will have to call the police. The police refer ‘reportable deaths’ to the coroner. These include when the person has died:

  • violently or unnaturally
  • unusually or in suspicious circumstances
  • unexpectedly
  • after an accident, injury or surgery

The coroner can ask for a post-mortem or autopsy to decide the cause of death.

What should I do in the days and weeks after a death at home?

First, be kind to yourself. You will probably be feeling a whole range of emotions and will find it hard to concentrate. Grieving can take a long time, and each person’s experience is unique. It is important to look after your own physical and mental health.

Get support from family and friends. If you feel comfortable, allow people to help if they offer.

Services Australia have payments and services that may help you after someone has died.

For information about counselling services, call the Commonwealth Carer Resource Centre on 1800 242 636. You can also call Griefline on 1300 845 745.

Other helpful organisations include:

How do I arrange a funeral?

Call a funeral director to:

  • collect the person’s body
  • arrange the funeral

They will pass on the doctor’s certificate, noting the cause of death, to the state or territory Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages. The registry then issues a death certificate.

The funeral director will follow the wishes of the deceased person and their family. This includes whether they want to have a cremation or burial. Click here for a practical guide to the funeral process.

You may not want to use a funeral director. In this case, the person taking charge of the funeral must register the death. Click here to access the births, deaths and marriages register in your state or territory.

When should I notify banks and other organisations after a death?

After someone dies, you will need to notify many people and organisations, including the person’s:

  • bank
  • superannuation fund
  • the Australian Taxation Office

See the Services Australia page on what to do following a death for details of social and financial support.

Resources and support

For more support:

If you need help finding the right services, call healthdirect on 1800 022 222 (known as NURSE-ON-CALL in Victoria).

Other languages

Visit the CareSearch website for links to palliative care and end-of-life information in different community languages.

FIND A HEALTH SERVICE — The Service Finder can help you find doctors, pharmacies, hospitals and other health services.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: September 2022

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