As a living relative, one of the first tasks after a person's death is to provide details for the official death certificate with 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.
Whilst a death registration form might not be on the top of our mind after a family death, this written authority is an essential part of death in Australia. More than just a medical certificate and providing proof of cause of death, a death cert is also essential to estate administration- acting on the person's behalf to ensure their estate wishes are carried through.
In this sense, death certificates are severely undervalued documents, prone to errors and incorrect information. The details included on a death certificate can impact everything from 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.
From allowing the deceased estate to be distributed, a funeral director to plan a meaningful farewell and cause of death to be registered- a death certificate is important. For this reason, it's important to get these documents right. Read on to find out how, as well as what happens in most cases where this death record application goes wrong.
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- both for the farewell of the deceased person, their estate and their family.
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.
Whether it's a spelling error in the name or an incorrect title, these mistakes can cause delays, complications and costs across probate if it doesn't match 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. Cause of death can be used as evidence on claims against the validity of the Will, so it's important to use the right words in the completed form.
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.
Naming this relationship on the standard death certificate is important to provide evidence of their right to the deceased's estate in Australia.
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 relevant 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 other documents as evidence in support of the change; include a copy of the deceased's birth certificate, medical 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 and provide alternative documents to the registry.
Consulting with the next of kin can help ensure information for a standard death certificate is correct. This can avoid the need to amend the death certificate down the track when applying for a grant of representation.
Safewill Legal provides the most affordable fixed-fee Probate and Letters of Administration service in Australia. We can help you with the application process, whether you're applying online or via registered post, or help you apply for Probate. Find out more via Safewill Legal, or call the legal team on 1300 942 586 today.