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When someone dies at home

6-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, and where they have more freedom, peace and privacy. This article is for people who are caring for someone at home who has a long-term condition and is dying.

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, and what they want. 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.

Treat the person you’re caring for with dignity and compassion, and try to keep them comfortable, contented and as free of pain as possible. If they know they are dying, they might want to talk about their life, or they might want to be left in silence. Let them lead the way.

When there are medical problems, such as severe pain or other distressing symptoms, call the doctor or palliative care team for advice.

Arrange for a close relative, friend or nurse to come to the home to support you during the person’s final days or hours.

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Ideally, the person who is dying will already have the following documents in place:

  • a will, stating how they want their belongings distributed after their death
  • an enduring power of attorney, stating who can make legal and financial decisions for them if they are no longer capable of doing so
  • an enduring power of guardianship, naming the person they want to make decisions about their medical care and lifestyle if they can’t do so themselves
  • an advance care directive, also known as a living will, stating which medical treatment they do and do not want, if they can’t make their own decisions

If these arrangements are not in places, however, see if there is still time to make them now — especially, the will. Dying without a will can leave significant and often upsetting problems for family members.

Doctors can also help by providing people with ‘death at home’ documents, such as a letter informing the ambulance service the person is dying an expected death and should not be resuscitated.

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What should I do in the moments after a death at home?

It is natural to feel grief and a mix of emotions after a person you have been caring for dies. Try to stay calm. Call the doctor or ask the palliative care team to arrange for a doctor to visit to confirm the person’s death and issue a doctor’s certificate.

If the person’s death is expected and natural, you won’t have to call a doctor right away. It’s okay to spend the night or many hours grieving over the body of a loved one before calling a doctor.

If there is no doctor available, call the police.

When is a death referred to a coroner?

If for some reason the doctor cannot certify the cause of death, they will have to call the police to notify a coroner. The police refer ‘reportable deaths’ to the coroner, including when the person has died:

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

Deaths also need to be reported to the coroner if the person who died did not have a regular doctor or had not seen their regular doctor within the past 6 months.

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. For information about counselling services, call the Commonwealth Carer Resource Centre on 1800 242 636.

Helpful organisations include:

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There are some practical things that will need to be done, but very few of these things need to be done in a hurry. Get support from family and friends, and allow people to help if they offer.

How do I arrange a funeral?

Call a funeral director to collect the person’s body and arrange the funeral. They will hand over 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 follows the wishes of the deceased person and their family, including whether to have a cremation or burial. See a practical guide to the funeral process.

If you don’t want to use a funeral director, the person taking charge of the funeral has to register the death. See the births, deaths and marriages register in your state or territory.

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

After the person dies, you will need to notify several list of people and organisations, including the person’s bank, superannuation fund and the Australian Taxation Office.

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

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Last reviewed: April 2020

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