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Losing a loved one at Christmas time: what you need to do as the executor or next of kin

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Attwood Marshall Lawyers Legal Practice Director Jeff Garrett joins Robyn Hyland on Radio 4CRB for ‘Law Talks’. Losing a loved one is never easy, however, if this happens over the Christmas period it can make a bad situation worse as many businesses are closed, leaving people overwhelmed as they try to get the answers they need about what they need to do next.


The holiday season is traditionally a time brimming with celebration and joy; however, it can take an unexpected heart-breaking turn if a loved one passes away.

Surprisingly, there have been studies that have revealed a poignant connection between the festive season and an increased likelihood of death from natural causes. Christmas Day, Boxing Day, and New Year’s Day have been identified as days of higher risk of mortality compared to any other day of the year.

Regrettably, this means that many families find themselves bidding farewell to a cherished family member or friend during a period when others are revelling in the festivities or eagerly preparing for the holidays.

Dealing with grief amid widespread celebration is undoubtedly challenging, but additional hurdles arise at Christmas time with many businesses closing their doors or scaling back operations. This can complicate an already arduous and emotional process when individuals must seek support and answers following the passing of a loved one.

In recognising the unique challenges posed by losing a loved one during the holiday season, we are here to support families through these difficult times and provide guidance through the complex estate administration process that follows the loss of a loved one.

The first question we are often asked by relatives of a deceased after someone passes away is “what do I do?”.

This is an emotional time and emotions can be amplified by the added responsibility and stress of finalising the deceased person’s affairs.

The most common concerns people have generally relate to the payment of the funeral, as well as any bills that are rolling in. It is important to know that you don’t need to react to every bill you receive (or bills that you find unpaid) immediately. Most businesses will be sympathetic to the situation and understand that there is a process to follow.

The first steps to take after losing a loved one – locate the Will and contact a funeral director

There’s time to sort out the bills – don’t panic!

For the loved ones left behind, the initial focus should turn to locating the most recent Will of the deceased. This is an essential step because the deceased’s funeral wishes may be stipulated in the Will. The deceased may even have had a pre-paid or pre-arranged funeral plan which may be outlined in documents held with the Will. The Will also should nominate an executor – the executor has the power and responsibility to make the funeral arrangements and generally deal with the administration of the estate. Sometimes locating the Will can be difficult over the Christmas period – many law firms shut down over the break and cannot be contacted.

Attwood Marshall Lawyers are open over the Christmas period and only close on the public holidays – we realise how important it is to be available at all times and also have a phone service that operates 24/7 for urgent matters (1800 621 071).

Need help understanding where to look for someone’s Will? Here’s a good place to start.

If the deceased had arranged a pre-paid funeral, this means they already planned their funeral and paid for the funeral costs in advance.

If the deceased had a pre-arranged funeral, this means the deceased met with and instructed a funeral director regarding their future funeral arrangements, however the costs have not yet been paid.

By locating the Will, the executor or legal personal representative can identify the deceased’s wishes and contact the funeral director to start planning the funeral.

Although most businesses close over the festive season, funeral homes remain open. Funeral directors are available all year round, including Christmas day and public holidays, so you should be able to engage a firm to act for you without too much trouble. 

The funeral director will help take away a lot of the angst surrounding making these types of decisions and will organise for the collection of the body and assist with making the funeral arrangements. They will also register the death with Births, Deaths and Marriages, and advise Centrelink.

The funeral is considered an expense that can be paid directly from the funds held in the bank account of the deceased. All banks and credit unions will usually allow the release of funds for this purpose upon production of the funeral account to the branch and a certified copy of the Will (they usually require ID certification of the executor in the Will).

The costs of a wake are generally considered a “funeral expense” and a wake may be organised by the executor as well.

The death certificate – who applies and how long does it take?

Initiating the process

Before a funeral director can apply for a death certificate, they need a medical certificate from the attending doctor or hospital detailing the cause of death. It’s important to note that this is purely a ‘cause of death’ medical certificate that Births Deaths & Marriages require before they issue the official death certificate.

The role of the funeral director

Typically, the funeral home will take care of applying for the death certificate. This process usually takes 2-4 weeks, however, during the Christmas season this may take up to 4-8 weeks.

Most institutions require the original death certificate, or a certified copy, before providing information to the executor. This means the executor has some time while waiting for this where they won’t be able to do too much with the estate.

It is essential to anticipate delays, especially during the Christmas period. Government organisations and financial institutions often close on public holidays, potentially slowing down the estate administration process.

Understanding these timelines and potential hurdles can help you manage expectations and plan accordingly while handing the necessary administrative tasks.

The deceased person’s bills – how should these be handled?

Once the bank has been notified of the account holder’s death, all accounts are frozen. The bank will only deal with the executor of the estate, or the solicitor acting in the estate, to finalise or attend to payment of any accounts.

While some financial institutions may allow the release of funds to attend to payment of utilities and other expenses (i.e. rates, electricity etc); their requirements to release funds are quite stringent, and not all banks allow this.

Any expenses incurred by an individual on behalf of an estate will be reimbursed once funds become available. It is important to retain all receipts and keep a running list of such expenses.

Bills and expenses should be paid in a certain order, so it is helpful to be guided by a solicitor when working through the estate administration process to ensure it is completed properly and in the right sequence.

Though bills may accumulate before a grant of probate has been obtained, most businesses are understanding that you may not be able to pay the bill by the due date. A simple phone call or email, as a courtesy, can explain the situation.

Gathering essential information while awaiting the Death Certificate

While awaiting the issuance of the Death Certificate, it’s beneficial to collect the following documents and details to facilitate the administration of the deceased estate:

  • Bank account and credit card details, along with the most recent bank statement, if available,
  • Details of financial advisors, accountants, or brokers that the deceased had worked with,
  • Tax returns,
  • Details about investments or business interests,
  • Information about shareholdings,
  • Details of property owned,
  • Rates notices, body corporate notices, etc.
  • Utility accounts such as electricity, water, and phone accounts,
  • Insurance policies, including house, car, life insurance policies, etc.,
  • Superannuation policies,
  • Medicare card and number,
  • Private health insurance details,
  • Outstanding medical bills or other liabilities,
  • RACQ or other club memberships,
  • Passport and other identification certificates,
  • The funeral account and receipt,
  • Details of any other assets.


These documents help in determining the assets of the estate, liabilities, and existing insurance policies protecting the estate. If the executor does not have all these documents, there’s no need to worry; simply collect what is available.

Bringing as much information as possible to an initial appointment with an estate administration lawyer will expedite the process and minimise any unnecessary delays.

The benefits of getting assistance from an estate administration lawyer

After losing a loved one, seeking guidance from an estate administration lawyer can be valuable, contingent on various factors such as the complexity of the estate, the nature of the assets and liabilities, locating the beneficiaries and potential disputes or contested Wills.

Your lawyer will be able to guide you through the initial steps and help you determine if a grant of probate is necessary.

If probate is necessary, involving a Supreme Court Application to validate the Will, then meticulous attention to detail is critical to avoid delays and additional costs.

An experienced lawyer can ensure all the necessary information is provided during the application process and that the application can proceed through the court system as quickly as possible.

On average, estates usually take anywhere between 6-12 months to complete the administration process, depending on which state you are in with regards to timeframes that need to be considered for anyone wanting to contest or challenge the estate.

Attwood Marshall Lawyers – supporting you through life’s toughest moments

Losing a loved one is never easy.

Some people will have all their affairs in order when they pass away which can make it a little easier on the loved ones left behind when trying to manage their estate, while others may leave behind little instructions, or no Will, which can make it very difficult to get a complete picture of what the estate looks like, and what needs to be done.

If you have taken on the responsibility to administer a deceased estate and arrange a loved one’s funeral, don’t feel you need to go at it alone! From reaching out to the funeral director at that initial stage after death or reaching out to one of our expert Wills and estates lawyers, you can take comfort in knowing that there is support available to help you navigate this process.

If you have been named as the executor of someone’s estate, we know just how difficult and taxing this role can be. Make sure you get proper legal advice, preferably before you begin the administration of the estate, and let someone help you carry the load to ensure the estate is administered as quickly as possible.

To discuss your estate administration matter, please contact our Wills and Estates Department Manager Donna Tolley on direct line 07 5506 8241 or email dtolley@attwoodmarshall.com.au

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For more information about what to do after someone passes away, simply provide your details and our Estate Administration Digital Guide will be sent to your inbox.

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Jeff Garrett - Legal Practice Director - Wills & Estates, Estate Litigation, Property & Commercial, Compensation Law, Commercial Litigation, Criminal Law, Racing & Equine Law

Jeff Garrett

Legal Practice Director
Wills & Estates, Estate Litigation, Property & Commercial, Compensation Law, Commercial Litigation, Criminal Law, Racing & Equine Law

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Disclaimer
The contents of this article are considered accurate as at the date of publication. The information contained in this article does not constitute legal advice and is of a general nature only. Readers should seek legal advice about their specific circumstances. 

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