One of the first tasks someone is faced with after the passing of a loved one is to provide details for the death certificate to medical staff or the funeral director. This includes providing the deceased’s full legal name, any other names they were known by, when and where they were born, and details of their relationships and family.
Death certificates are severely undervalued documents, prone to errors and incorrect information. The details included on a death certificate can impact many things, including but not limited to the interpretation of a Will, who inherits the estate according to the laws of intestacy (where someone has died without a Will), how a superannuation or life insurance policy will be paid out, and even statistics used to form public health policies.
It’s understandable that, amid the grief of losing a loved one, people may make mistakes when filling out the subsequent paperwork. However, these mistakes can have significant repercussions.
The most common mistake we see on death certificates is errors with the full legal name of the deceased or their next of kin. For example, middle names are often excluded from the death certificate, either due to genuine error or because the informant assumes it’s unnecessary if the name wasn’t commonly used. Further, death certificates frequently contain spelling errors in names, which can cause complications if it doesn’t accurately reflect the names in the Will.
Tip: When providing details of the deceased’s name, make sure it’s consistent with the spelling of the name in the Will. You should also ensure the names of the next of kin (i.e., spouse or children) are spelled consistently.
If a medical condition is incorrectly noted on the death certificate and this overlaps with the time the deceased made their Will, the court may require evidence of the deceased’s testamentary capacity (mental soundness to make a valid Will) at the time the document was made. For example, if the Death Certificate lists that the deceased had dementia for “years” rather than providing a more concrete time period, it could make it difficult for the Executor to establish that the deceased had testamentary capacity.
Tip: Liaise with the deceased’s regular treating doctor to ensure any medical conditions noted on the death certificate are accurate (including the time periods).
If the death certificate omits the deceased’s de facto partner, it can make it more difficult to prove this relationship to the relevant Births, Death and Marriages registry. This can happen easily if the informant (i.e. the Executor of the Will or another family member) excludes the de facto partner’s details from the death registration paperwork. Sometimes this omission is purely by mistake or it may be done on purpose if the deceased’s child did not get along with the partner or respect the relationship.
Tip: Carefully consider the relationship status of the deceased at the date of death. Were they married, in a de facto relationship, never married or divorced? Do you have the required proof?
Each state and territory has its own process for amending an incorrect death certificate. For errors relating to the name, address, or relationship status of the deceased, the next of kin or Executor will need to submit a form that explains the error that has been made to the registry, and what the correct information should be. They may need to supply evidence in support of the change, such as a copy of the deceased’s birth certificate, or copies of the deceased’s marriage and divorce certificates.
For errors relating to medical history and cause of death, the doctor who signed off on the death certificate will likely be required to liaise with the registry directly to amend their medical evidence.
Anyone who is tasked with providing information for a death certificate should take care to ensure what they’re providing is correct. If certain information is missing, or not known at the time, investigations should be made by the next of kin before completing the relevant paperwork. This will hopefully avoid the need to amend the death certificate down the track when applying for a grant of representation.
Learn more about the Probate and Letters of Administration process with our affiliate firm, Safewill Legal, or call the Safewill Legal team on 1300 942 586.
Safewill Legal provides the most affordable fixed-fee Probate and Letters of Administration service in Australia.
Apply for Probate with Safewill Legal and simplify your journey as an Executor.