When a Loved One Passes

A guide to funeral plans, reporting the death, and setting up the deceased’s estate.

Death is an aspect of life that many would rather avoid thinking about. Nevertheless, being armed with knowledge can lessen the hardship. If you are facing the passing of a loved one, we have made a step by step guide to help you through the process, from a practical perspective.

1. Notify the police if necessary

If the deceased died of unnatural causes, you should call the South African Police Services (SAPS) national number (10111) or your nearest Police Station. Do not tamper with the scene.

2. Appoint a funeral director

We recommend that you appoint the services of a funeral director who is affiliated with a recognised Funeral Association within the Federation of Funeral Professionals in South Africa.

Make sure that the funeral director understands and respects the religious practises of the deceased.

3. Identify the deceased

Someone who knew the deceased well will need to identify them. In order for this to happen, this person must produce their identity document or passport, as well as the identity document or passport of the deceased. If this is not done at the scene of the death, it will be done at the mortuary.

4. Inform family and friends

Reach out to both your loved ones and the loved ones of the deceased. This will be a time when you will all need comfort. From a pragmatic standpoint, you can take this as an opportunity to allocate tasks, including observing religious rites, appointing a funeral director and asking religious leaders for guidance on the burial preparations and service.

You should also eventually notify employers, employees and clients of the deceased.

5. Get a Notice of Death and a Death Certificate

Always keep the original Notice of Death and Death Certificate. Make multiple copies and have a commissioner of oaths certify them for you.

A medical practitioner or a member of the SAPS should issue a Notice of Death. Some traditional leaders or your funeral director may also be able to assist. A Notice of Death can be used for insurance claims. If your funeral director does not issue you with a Death Certificate, you may obtain a Death Certificate from the Department of Home Affairs after submitting the Notice of Death.

6. Arrange for the body to be moved to a mortuary or funeral home

If no foul play is suspected, your funeral director may take the body to their facilities. Otherwise, it will first need to be taken to the state mortuary for an autopsy.

7. Contact your funeral policy insurer and UIF

Find out from your insurer exactly what they need for a claim on their policy, and submit this to them. If the deceased contributed to UIF, their spouse or minor child(ren) may also be entitled to a dependant benefit for a period of time.

8. Find the will and contact the executor

The will should give direction on how to handle the assets of the deceased, and an executor should be nominated. The estate must be reported to the Master of the High Court. If the deceased made use of the services of De Wet – Van der Watt in drafting their will, we should have a copy of the will.

9. Deal with the possessions of the deceased

If the deceased lived alone, make sure that their residence is secure, check for any perishable food and take care of pets. Depending on the beliefs and customs of your loved one, you may also need to turn the mirrors and pictures around, remove the bed and close the curtains.

Going through your loved one’s personal effects can be emotionally taxing. Consider discussing with your family and collectively deciding how to go about this. Set aside a substantial amount of time to sort through the possessions. When it comes to distributing items, it’s always best to seek the advice of a qualified third party. De Wet – Van der Watt has been helping people with this for decades, and can assist in this regard.

It’s never easy to deal with the loss of a loved one. We believe in doing what we can to allow you to move forward with dignity and closure. That’s why we handle the legal side of things efficiently and delicately – remembering the person who passed and honouring their legacy.