What is the Cause of Death certificate?

When making funeral arrangements for a loved one, one of the essential pieces of paperwork required is a Cause of Death Certificate. A funeral director needs this document before they can start to help you and your family begin planning for the funeral, and to register the death after the funeral. 

The Cause of Death Certificate is a legal document that is used to record a person’s date and place of death. This certificate is issued by a healthcare professional - for example a doctor or general medical practitioner. In addition, some Australian states allow registered nurses to issue the certificate. 

In cases where there is a death of an infant, a healthcare professional will guide you in case there is any additional paperwork required.


Process of getting a Cause of Death certificate

Before a Cause of Death Certificate can be issued a doctor will need to rule the death as either expected or unexpected.


Expected or natural causes of death

If your loved one dies at home, the first step is to contact a doctor. If a doctor has seen the deceased within the past three to six months (and they are able to establish a cause of death), then a certificate will usually be issued immediately. 

In the case of death in a nursing home or private hospital the nursing staff will make initial contact with a doctor and can arrange for the certificate on your behalf.

If a death occurs in a public hospital, the attending doctor at the hospital will issue the cause of death certificate. The doctor will send a copy of the Cause of Death Certificate to both the state registry of births and deaths, and the funeral director.


Unexpected, accidental or suspicious deaths  

If a doctor or the police are unable to determine the cause of death, either the doctor or the police report the issue to the Coroner. The Coroner will then investigate the circumstances and establish a cause of death. 

The situation varies between states and territories, but generally, the Coroner may be involved if:

  • The deceased has not seen a doctor in the last six months
  • A doctor cannot establish probable cause of death
  • Deaths caused by fire or other accidents, including road accidents
  • Deaths in the workplace or deaths in a public place
  • Deaths related to suicide, homicide, poisoning, alcohol or drugs
  • Other violent or unusual deaths
  • Unexpected deaths in hospital
  • Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS)
  • The identity of the person who has died is not known

The Coroner then determines the cause of death by various means including speaking to the doctor, viewing medical records, requesting that a pathologist inspect the body or carrying out autopsies. 

If the death has been ruled as unexpected or accidental, your funeral director can speak to the Coroner on your behalf to manage any additional details.


How can your funeral director help?

Your funeral director can help take care of the paperwork required to register the death after the funeral has occurred, and then you will be able to apply to the Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages for a Death Certificate.

It is also important to note that, if you are planning a cremation, you must let your doctor or hospital or nursing home know, as extra paperwork may be needed by the funeral director in this case. 

Your funeral director will be able to answer any questions about the Cause of Death Certificate you might have. 

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