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What To Do When Someone Dies (NT)

When a family member dies, it can be difficult to know how best to proceed with the necessary practical and legal steps. Unfortunately, this is made more difficult because the legal procedures can vary across Australian jurisdictions. This article explains what to do when someone dies in the Northern Territory.

Who Is In Charge When Someone Dies In the NT?

While a family might think that they are in charge of making arrangements for the deceased after their death, this may not be the case. In the Northern Territory, when someone makes a valid and comprehensive will, the appointed executor is legally responsible for taking care of things after the testator passes away. This means that the executor has the final say over the funeral and burial arrangements.

Alternatively, if a deceased in the Northern Territory left no will (that is, they were intestate), the closest next of kin is responsible for administering the deceased estate. The next of kin is typically the deceased’s de facto partner, spouse, adult child, or parent. Sometimes there is a dispute over the identity of the next of kin. For instance, the deceased might have had a current partner and grown children from a previous relationship. The Supreme Court of the Northern Territory can adjudicate if there is a dispute over who has authority over the deceased’s body and estate.

First Steps After Death

After the immediate flurry of activity related to the care of the deceased, there are many legalities and formalities to complete. However, it is important to know that most of these activities can wait a few days. It is important to take the time to process the loss of a loved one.

A few of the critical first steps include the following:

  • Look for the deceased’s will. It is a legal requirement to check with the Public Trustee for the will, but the executor or family should also check the deceased’s paperwork, lawyers, a safety deposit box and with any other person who may have knowledge of a current will;
  • Arrange the deceased’s burial, cremation and funeral;
  • Secure the deceased’s property by locking up their home, storing vehicles and valuables, freezing bank accounts (apart from joint accounts) and taking out (or continuing) insurance on all valuables;
  • Ensure that a medical certificate (from a doctor or Coroner) is submitted to the Births, Deaths and Marriages (BDM) office; and
  • Collect a Death Registration Statement for submission to the BDM office.

Funeral Arrangements

In making funeral arrangements, the executor should respect the deceased’s wishes, as well as their religious affiliation and cultural identity. For instance, if the deceased is Indigenous, the funeral and burial customs may depend on the traditions and customs of their community. These wishes may be set out in the deceased’s will, or the executor may have to decide in consultation with the family and based on their knowledge of the deceased.

The funeral home will usually request payment upfront. The executor or family often pay these costs and is repaid out of the deceased estate. The deceased’s funeral costs take precedent over any other debts of the estate. The deceased’s executor or family should check to see if the deceased had a funeral plan or an insurance policy that covers funeral costs. There may also be funeral benefits available depending on the deceased’s cultural identity, military service, and circumstances of the death. For instance, the Central Land Council and Northern Land Council have schemes to assist with the funeral costs of eligible Indigenous people. Certain defence veterans can access the Department of Veteran’s Affairs funeral benefit. Also, when someone dies as a result of a traffic accident, they may be able to access the motor accidents compensation scheme.

Otherwise, an executor can access the deceased’s own funds to pay for the funeral even before they have received authority to administer the estate from the Supreme Court. The executor needs to supply the deceased’s bank with a doctor’s certificate confirming death and a quote for the funeral costs. In that case, the bank will typically issue a cheque directly to the funeral company. If there are insufficient funds in the deceased’s account, then the bank will issue a check to the funeral company in the amount that is available, and the executor will ask the family for the remaining funds.

In the event that the estate cannot cover the funeral costs and the family cannot contribute, the Public Trustee can make a financial assistance application to the Coroner’s Officer under the Indigent Person’s Funeral Scheme. If the executor recoups funds through the sale of estate assets, this financial assistance must be repaid.

Administer The Deceased Estate

After the cremation or burial, the next step is to begin administration of the deceased estate. During this process, all surviving debts must be discharged, and after a suitable period of time, the remainder of the estate is distributed to the beneficiaries of the will or the intestate estate.

It can be difficult to know what to do when someone dies in the Northern Territory. Go To Court Lawyers can help you understand your obligations to take control of the deceased’s body and estate. Our team can also help with legal advice and representation when there is a legal dispute over the estate. Please contact Go To Court on 1300 636 846.


Nicola Bowes

Dr Nicola Bowes holds a Bachelor of Arts with first-class honours from the University of Tasmania, a Bachelor of Laws with first-class honours from the Queensland University of Technology, and a PhD from The University of Queensland. After a decade of working in higher education, Nicola joined Go To Court Lawyers in 2020.

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