Losing a loved one is a difficult and painful experience. As anyone who’s gone through grief will tell you, dealing with the labyrinth of administrative and logistical items on top can feel almost unbearable. And whilst we can’t promise a perfect roadmap to navigate through your unique experience of grief, we can give some assistance in de-bunking and simplifying the associated death admin.
So to help where we feel we can, we’ve compiled a straight-talking and clear checklist of steps you should consider if someone you love has passed away. From what you need to do if a parent dies, to knowing what to do with a bank account, this guide can help you through the process. For any support you need, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with us.
Get a medical certificate
After someone dies, the first thing you may consider is obtaining a medical certificate detailing the cause of death. You can contact a hospital member of staff or your GP to arrange this, as well as check whether your loved one was a registered organ donor.
Register the death
You should then consider registering the death and getting a death certificate. This can be done through the Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages in your state or territory.
Below are links for each state and territories online application process:
Tell friends and family
When your loved one has died recently, it can be especially difficult letting people know that they have died. Reaching out to their immediate family and closest friends at this initial stage can be a good first step to help lower this burden all being on you, as well as provide some support.
Look into existing funeral or memorial plans
Preferably, you might’ve had the chance to discuss your loved one’s wishes for a funeral or memorial service before they passed away. They also may have left a letter or included information in their Will that detailed whether they’d prefer a burial or to be cremated. In some instances, the deceased might’ve pre-paid their own funeral in advance. If you don’t have any instructions, it can be best to discuss arrangements with the immediate family. You’ll be able to consider what your loved one would’ve wanted and what you’re able to afford.
Secure the deceased’s property
It’s important to gain access to your loved one’s home and make sure it’s properly locked up. This can include securing any vehicles they have or valuables stored inside their home. Their property might need some maintenance here and there, so it can be helpful asking someone close to you for their help in cleaning out the fridge or collecting the mail.
Care for their pets
Make sure pets are looked after until a permanent home is found for them. Their pet will be feeling the loss, so try keeping them with someone who likes animals and can nurture them. If there is no one, look into some local kennels that can take care of them for the time being. It’s also worth looking into if your loved one nominated a particular person to be the guardian of their pet.
Contact their employer or carers
When you have the time, get in touch with their employer or business partners and tell them your loved one has died. A relative or close friend may need to go into their office to collect their belongings and return any company property.
If your loved one was receiving care services, make sure you contact them and cancel any ongoing services.
Obtain certified copies of death certificates and other important documents
When it comes to closing bank accounts and handling insurance claims, you’ll need to have at least 10 copies of the death certificate. Each state has their own process when it comes to applying for a death certificate. It’s also important to make sure all the information on the death certificate is correct.
Find their Will and who they named as the Executor
There can be a few different ways you can go about finding the Will if you haven’t discussed it before with your loved one. It’s best to first look for the document in a desk or safety deposit box. Once you’ve found the Will, the Executor of the Will has the responsibility of administering the deceased estate. If there isn’t a Will, you’ll need to find out who is the Next of Kin and if they’re able to act as the Administrator.
Depending on your situation, whoever the Executor or Administrator is may consider engaging an estate lawyer to help with a more complicated estate.
If your loved one created their Will with Safewill, get in touch with us to confirm you have the current version. Our team is also here to chat if you need.
Apply for Probate
Before you can deal with the person’s estate, you may need to apply for a Grant of Probate from a Court of competent jurisdiction to verify the Will is valid. We take a more detailed look at the probate process, in Step 6.
Create an inventory of all assets
When going forward with Probate, it will be helpful to have a complete inventory of the deceased’s assets. This can include their bank accounts, property, vehicles, and personal possessions. You may find it helpful to engage an appraiser for any household items. Once you’ve created an inventory, you’ll need to find each asset.
Claim outstanding benefits, allowances, and support
Now that you have obtained the Death Certificate and made certified copies, you can claim various benefits or notify relevant organisations to close accounts like the deceased’s Superannuation Death Benefit, Centrelink, Health and Life Insurance, Department of Veterans Affairs.
You or the Executor must also ensure to notify the Australian Tax Office (find the ATO’s online Notification of a Deceased Person form here) and the Australian Electorate Office, whose online Notification of Death form is available here.
Cancel driver’s licence
Before you cancel their driver’s licence, make sure you have a copy of it stored in your records to close or access any of their accounts. You’ll need to provide the transport department with a copy of their death certificate. Cancelling the deceased’s licence takes their name off transport department records to help stop identity theft.
Consider what to do with their passport
It is entirely up to you what you’d like to do with the passport. If you’d like to keep your loved one’s passport as a memento, make sure it is held in a safe and secure location. If you’re concerned about identity theft, you can choose to officially cancel the passport with the Australian Passport Office. This is another situation where it will be helpful to have certified copies of the death certificate.
Pay Funeral Expenses
When it comes to immediate expenses after someone’s death, all expenses related to the funeral (along with estate administration expenses) have priority. Generally, the deceased persons’ bank or financial institution can release funds from the estate to pay for funeral costs if the account is frozen. The money can be paid directly from the bank to the funeral provider or to the person who paid for the funeral, or to the Executor or Administrator who in turn can reimburse whoever paid for the funeral. The bank will require an invoice or receipt for the funeral service, a death certificate and a copy of the Will.
Pay and close credit card accounts
Before you contact customer service, make sure you have a copy of the death certificate so you’re able to close any sole accounts on behalf of the deceased. In case you need to inform the Executor of any outstanding balances, it’s best to keep records of the accounts before they’re closed.
If they had any shared accounts, the account will be kept open but let the bank know that your loved one has died so their name is no longer attached to the account.
Create a list of bills
While the estate is being settled, you’ll need to make a list of important expenses to be managed by the Executor. These can include taxes, a mortgage, and the property’s utilities.
Cancel services and subscriptions
Look into any ongoing services and subscriptions that need to be cancelled. These might include phone bills, streaming services and internet.
Gain access to banking documents
Find any bank statements belonging to the deceased. This will give you more information on accounts held solely in their name, as well as any loans or shared accounts they had. Contact your loved one’s banks and financial institutions to let them know. You will need to provide a death certificate as proof of death. Banks will often require a Grant of Probate before you’re allowed access to the deceased’s bank accounts. Joint accounts will still be held by the surviving owner, but make sure the deceased’s name is removed.
Contact insurance companies
Each insurance provider will have their own requirements and policies, so reach out to them to discuss what you need to do when making a claim or closing the account. You’ll typically need to provide a death certificate as proof of death.
If your loved one has made their wishes known in their Will, you might have an idea for what they’d like to happen to their digital assets. It’s important to remember each platform has their own internal policies and procedures that might override these wishes.
Close email accounts
Before closing your loved one’s email accounts, make sure you’ve had a look for any important information relating to their estate. The specifics for accessing an email account will vary depending on the email provider, but it’ll be helpful to have a copy of the death certificate and proof that you’re related to the deceased.
Memorialise or close social media accounts
A lot of platforms rely on the Executor of the estate to decide what happens to social media profiles. Facebook and Instagram allow accounts to be memorialised or deleted. Memorialising a loved one’s Facebook profile lets the account be managed by whoever has been nominated as the Facebook Legacy Contact. If the account is permanently closed, all information and photos will be deleted along with it. Unlike Facebook, Instagram doesn’t allow new content to be shared to a memorialised profile, but the profile will still be viewable.
Currently, Twitter and Linkedin only allow for profiles to be deleted after someone has died. The Executor or a loved one can request to have the profile removed by contacting each platform’s support centre. Make sure you’re able to prove your own identity, as well as your loved one’s, and provide proof of their death.
Consider if you’d like to make a post
Sharing a post about your loved one on social media can be a simple way to let the people in their life know they’ve passed away. If you’ve memorialised their Facebook profile, you can create a tribute on their account. You might like to include information about their funeral or memorial service.
Probate is the approval granted to an executor of a Will by the Supreme Court. Obtaining a Grant of Probate means that the Court has formally recognised the authority of the executor to manage the estate of the deceased, in accordance with the instructions and wishes in their Will. A Grant of Probate takes the form of a document that has been stamped with the seal of the Court on the cover page.
If a person dies without a Will (known as “dying intestate”) or without an Executor, the Willmaker’s next of kin needs to make an application for “Letters of Administration” rather than Probate. The application process for Letters of Administration is similar to Probate, but there are different documents involved. Once the approval is granted by the Court, the next of kin will be called the “Administrator” of the Estate (rather than the Executor).
Make a Probate application
Applying for (or “filing for”) Probate occurs after the death of the Willmaker, and involves making an application to the Court to approve the Will and give the Executor (the person named in the Will to manage the Estate) the authority to start carrying out the instructions in the Will on behalf of the Beneficiaries.
In Australia there is a Probate Registry in each state and territory that handles Probate and Letters of Administration applications.
Applying for probate is a complicated legal process, with numerous steps including drafting affidavits and lodging documents with the Court. For this reason, while anyone is able to prepare a Probate application and lodge it with the relevant Court in their state, most people will engage a lawyer to ensure they do it correctly.
Probate Process and timelines
An application for Probate most commonly involves the following steps:
Find the Will: Your first step is to try to locate the Will of the deceased. If one is located, you will apply for Probate of that Will. If you cannot find a Will, you will need to apply for Letters of Administration.
Notice period: A legal notice is published regarding the intention of the Executor to apply for Probate. This notice needs to give 14 days advance warning so that Probate searches, claims and objections can be made. It also gives time for any contesting parties to come forward or make a claim.
Preparation of documents: While waiting out the notice period, you can instruct a lawyer to start preparing the necessary documents for Probate. This might take about 1 to 2 weeks, or slightly longer if you are waiting for certain information such as the value of assets and liabilities of the Estate.
Once the documents are gathered, the Executor then files an application for Probate to the Court (or relevant state or territory Probate authority) with the evidence and supporting documents required by local legislation. Supporting documents can include a death certificate, a Will, Codicils (updates to the original Will) and an Estate Inventory (a list of all the assets).
Court preparation of the Grant of Probate: When the application has been approved, the Court issues a document called a Grant of Probate. This process can take anywhere from 4-6 weeks and once granted, acts both as proof of an Executor’s authority, and the passport for them to deal with a range of third parties - including the ATO, real estate agents, banks and insurance companies - in connection with their Estate administration duties.
Administration of Estate: The Executor begins to carry out all the tasks that are required for the assets of the estate to be distributed to Beneficiaries under the terms of the Will. These can include:
listing and selling real estate assets
selling or transferring shares
claiming nursing home bonds
closing bank accounts
paying off debts and settling expenses of the Estate.
The Executor can act in this job on their own, or they can team up with a lawyer to help and advise them.
The cost of applying for Probate in Australia will depend on which state or territory the application is lodged. It’s often based on a scale relating to the value of the Estate.
In NSW, for example, the current cost of Probate can vary from around $1,000 in the case of small Estates (worth under $150,000 ) to around $11,000 for larger Estates (worth $5 million or above). For some very small value Estates, Probate isn’t required and there will be no cost or requirement to file for a Grant of Probate.
Court filing costs are the same whether the application is made by the Executor or a lawyer acting on the Executor’s behalf. However, in the case where you hire a lawyer to help, legal costs will be added for their time spent dealing with the matter. To keep costs down without compromising on quality or service, law firms like Safewill Legal can provide fixed-fee and transparent pricing.
You’re in the final stages of completing what needs to be done after someone passes away. If you are the Executor of the deceased’s Will, follow these steps to ensure you’ve correctly finalised and distributed the deceased’s estate correctly as to avoid personal liability.
Reconcile Final Inventory of Assets & Liabilities including Taxes
As mentioned in step 4: How to Handle Finances, you should have already compiled an inventory of assets and liabilities, and filed a tax return for the deceased person. If all debts and bills have been settled, now is the time to lodge a “trust tax return,” which is a final estate tax return that’s required if a sale of the deceased’s assets resulted in capital gains over the tax-free threshold of $18,200.
You may need to get a tax assessment to find out how much tax is owed from the estate. Once you know the tax amount, you can choose to either pay it immediately or make sure the amount is withheld before the estate is distributed to the beneficiaries.
Confirm Court Jurisdiction
Whether a Grant of Probate or Letters of Administration are required to administer the deceased’s estate, you must apply to the relevant Supreme Court in the state or territory in which the estate is registered and/or located.
If the estate holds assets registered and/or located in more than one state or territory, you can either apply to multiple Supreme Courts, or have the Grant of Probate or Letters of Administration ‘resealed’ in the relevant state or territory’s Supreme Court. This means a Will that has a Grant of Probate in one state will also be recognised in another state. Only after a Reseal of Probate is granted will the Executor be allowed to handle assets located in a state different from where the original Grant of Probate was issued.
Prepare and Issue a Statement to Each Beneficiary
Now is the time to inform each beneficiary of their entitlements and inheritance. The most common way to do this is to write a letter to each beneficiary, outlining the estate’s value and the details of their share. Before any inheritance is distributed and to avoid any future claims made against the estate, ensure each beneficiary reviews and signs the statement.
The following is a helpful guide as to what information you might include in the letter:
The value of the estate
The details of the inheritance
The expenses incurred from administering the estate
How the assets will be distributed and requesting of bank details for funds transfers
Publish Notice of Intent to Distribute
By now, each beneficiary should have been notified of their inheritance and agreed on the distribution. Depending on the state or territory, the Executor may be required to publish a Notice of Intent to Distribute, which allows the opportunity for other parties including other family members, previous spouses or creditors to make a claim if they believe they may be entitled to an inheritance.
Publishing a Notice of Intent to Distribute allows the Executor or Administrator to reduce personal liability if any claims are made after the deceased estate is distributed. It’s common to seek professional support regarding estate administration and our legal team at Safewill Legal can certainly guide you with this.
Generally, when applying for this notice, the Supreme Court requires the final Inventory of Assets & Liabilities - a statement of all the deceased’s estates, liabilities, receipts and disbursements - as part of the application.
Distribute the Estate
Once the above has been done, you are ready to distribute the estate. This could take the form of distributing cash to the beneficiaries via transferring funds from the deceased bank accounts; distributing real estate or land via Land Registry Services; and distributing other valuable items such as artworks, jewellery and other valuables.
Managing someone’s estate can be extremely time-consuming, confusing and stressful, but we hope this guide helps you navigate all there is to do. Depending on your and the deceased’s situation, you may be looking for more in-depth help. Our legal experts can both guide and educate you on the steps you might need to take to seamlessly and efficiently navigate the administrative and legal tasks following someone’s death. If you need any support with these items, or just someone to talk to, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with us at 1800 10 33 10. If you’d like to talk to Safewill Legal about assistance with Probate or Letters of Administration, you can call them directly on 1300 942 586.