The administration of death

05 Jan 2023

Practical planning, preparation and picking up the pieces

Losing loved ones can be debilitating, but you can find the strength to step up and make their last wishes a reality.

If your loss has you quite lost with no idea of what to do, you can use this list to help you focus.

Planning for death

Knowing that someone you love is dying and will be gone sooner than you thought can be a double-edged sword. While it is no less devastating, you do have the opportunity to say goodbye and ensure that they rest easy in their final days. The administration that is required when a person dies is so much more difficult when you can’t ask them where everything is.

If you can, and if they haven’t already, try to encourage the person to make a death file or red file. This is a file that contains copies AND originals, or details of where the originals are, so that when you need to register the death and handle the deceased estate, you will know where everything is. You should also ensure that you have a list of passwords or access codes that would be needed to manage everything from their phones to their online profiles.

After death

If you are present at the time of death, it can be traumatic even if the person died peacefully. The mechanics of a dying body are unsettling, and it can be difficult to focus on following the necessary procedure, but it is a legal requirement that a death notice is signed by a doctor or medical professional certifying the time and cause of death.

If a person passes away at home and there is nothing suspicious about the death, you will need to call the paramedics such as ER24. They will be able to confirm whether or not the causes are natural. They will also then escort the body to the nearest mortuary.

If the person passes away in hospital from natural causes or after an illness, the doctor will issue a death notice, and the body will be taken to the hospital mortuary. If the hospital has no mortuary, you will need to contact a Funeral Home to arrange for the deceased to be collected.

If a person dies in a motor vehicle accident, the body will be escorted to the mortuary, and their next of kin will be contacted.

If a person passes away under suspicious circumstances, the police need to be contacted immediately, and they will organise for the body to go to the mortuary. If the person’s cause of death is unknown or the result of a criminal action, there may be a delay in the release of the body for forensic purposes. Delays can add to the pressure on the bereaved, however the state does do its best to ensure that these procedures are carried out with care and consideration.


Identifying the body must be done by either an immediate family member or a close friend. In some cases, the body can be identified by digital images rather than viewing the body. It is recommended that you go with a friend, or someone who can drive you and offer some emotional support. Once the identification has been made, a body number will be issued. This number needs to be provided to the funeral home, as well as the funeral policy number and details – if one exists.

Next steps

Once this number has been given to the funeral home, they will proceed with the funeral arrangements and will also give advice on what to do. When you feel able to, you can disclose the news to friends, family and colleagues.

End of life ceremony

Each of our cultures has specific rites and ceremonies that accompany the death of loved ones. They bring solace to the ones left behind and can be a big responsibility to arrange according to the different customs.

Once the mortuary has released the body to the chosen funeral home, you will need to make some decisions about the kind of ceremony that will take place. If your loved one has outlined their last wishes in a Will, then you will know exactly what to do. If not, your funeral director will be able to help you decide on the following:

  • A suitable outfit for the deceased to wear in the coffin or before the cremation.
  • Will it be a cremation or a burial?
  • What type of coffin will be required?
  • What type of headstone will be required if it is a burial?
  • Will you require a cremation niche or plaque, if it is a cremation?

These can become quite expensive and, while we want the best for the ones we love, it can be difficult to get money out of a deceased estate. Funeral policies are a secure way of ensuring that you won’t have to compromise on the end-of-life ceremonies for any of your added dependents.

It is our responsibility to do our best to ensure that our affairs are in order so that, should we pass away suddenly, our loved ones are not left with the awful task of trying to piece together everything that is needed to register the death and the estate. You can put together your red file at any point, and then check it once or twice a year to keep it up to date.

With Legal&Tax you’re not alone

Remember, Legal&Tax is your companion in ensuring dignity in death. Contact our experts for more information on our Funeral Plan. We help you to take care of costs and ensure peace of mind for your loved ones.

Article sourced from Legal&Tax.

See also:

(This article is provided for informational purposes only and not for the purpose of providing legal advice. For more information on the topic, please contact the author/s or the relevant provider.)
Michael Visser

Michael Visser is a legal advisor at Legal&Tax. He has a Bachelor of Commerce (B.Com.) Law and LLB from The University of Pretoria. Read more about Michael Visser


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