Johanneburg – Shock is the natural reaction to news that a loved one has passed away.

Sadness and grief will follow.

But what do you do when you are also the person who has to deal with all the practical responsibilities of the death? When you are the one on whose shoulders the duty of taking care of the body, the funeral and administrative arrangements has fallen?

Emotions aside, the death of a relative or friend can be a sudden and daunting challenge, even more so because you are contending not only with your own grief but also with the grief of others who were close to the deceased.

With the help of Ettiene du Plessis, funeral manager at the Randburg franchise of Martin’s Funeral Services, we have put together a guide on how to take care of the immediate business following the death of someone close.

The body

* If the person passes away in hospital: If the death is deemed to be a natural one, after a long illness or heart attack for instance, the deceased’s doctor will issue a death notice.

If the hospital has no mortuary facilities – and this is the case in most private hospitals – call your preferred funeral home and a funeral director will arrange for the deceased to be collected. Hospital staff will help you with this.

State hospitals generally have mortuary facilities.

If the death is deemed to be unnatural, a suicide or accident, for example, the body will be sent for a compulsory post-mortem. The mortuary will issue a death notice after the autopsy has been performed.

* If the person passes away at home: The first thing to do is look for anything suspicious, like a forced entry or anything missing. If there is something suspicious, call 10111 or the local SAPS, who will organise the removal of the body to the mortuary.

If nothing looks suspicious, contact a medical response team such as Netcare 911 or ER24. They will immediately determine if the death is natural or unnatural, and will arrange for the body to be taken to the mortuary.

By law, a certificate to certify the cause of death must be signed by a doctor or medical professional. This is usually done at the mortuary or during an interview with the family.

An autopsy does not have to be performed in the case of natural deaths, but it is often recommended if it will help bring closure to relatives. A private autopsy, arranged by a funeral home, costs about R3 500.

* If the person passes away in a car accident: You will most likely be notified of the death once the body is already in the mortuary. Immediately call a funeral home like Martin’s or Dove’s, which will help you with everything except the identification. This must be done by immediate family or a close friend.

The identification of your loved one at the mortuary – which in some mortuaries can be done through pictures on a computer screen rather than viewing the body physically – can be emotionally overwhelming, so take someone with you for support.

Once identification is done, a body number is issued to the family. This number must be given to the funeral home and from there on everything is in their hands, from removal of the mortal remains to funeral arrangements.

Things to do early on

* Share the news with closest family and friends as soon as you feel composed enough to do so.

* Once you’ve made funeral/service arrangements, place an advertisement in the newspaper advising of the funeral or service arrangements (if you want those who knew the deceased to attend).

* If the deceased had a funeral policy, the policy details need to be given to the funeral director to verify.

* Pick out a suitable outfit for the deceased, for him or her to wear in the coffin or prior to cremation (optional).

* Decide on who should deliver eulogies and make the requests in good time, so they can prepare.

* Decide on who the pallbearers for the coffin should be.

The funeral or cremation

You will need to visit the funeral home to make arrangements for either burial or cremation. You need to bring the following documents with you: ID of the deceased, ID of the spouse, ID of the next of kin if the deceased is widowed or divorced, information for the funeral programme, clothing for the deceased if there is something you prefer.

Your funeral director will discuss all the necessary details regarding the service, burial or cremation. You will be required to fill in some forms regarding the next of kin (school qualifications, smoking/non-smoker, occupation, place of birth etc), for the purposes of completing a death certificate at the Department of Home Affairs.

If you opt for a cremation, you will fill in a schedule A form for the funeral director to apply to the crematorium for permission to cremate. An attending doctor and a medical referee will sign off further schedules, but this is all taken care of by the funeral directors.

You will be asked for your ideas about how the service should run, and where, so you need to think about location (church, chapel, cemetery or crematorium), flowers (for the coffin and church), portraits, memory books, catering, the minister, organist, sound engineer, eulogies, printed programmes, hearse, presentations via projector and music. You can personalise it, for example releasing balloons with special messages. You can also ask for a home arrangement. Your funeral director is an events planner and co-ordinator, so will assist with all this.

For burials, you will discuss a grave booking and location, and what people would like to do at the grave. You can also personalise this – within limits.

For cremations, the funeral director will let you know the date and time of the cremation, usually within a week of the service. You decide on whether or not you wish to attend.

The funeral home collects the ashes and will keep them for you, in a temporary container, until you decide on a casket. You can also collect the ashes at no charge and decide yourself what to do with them.

Coffins and caskets

The funeral home will have a wide range of coffins and caskets available from which to choose. Entry-level coffins with veneer finishes are affordable, while caskets can retail for up to R100 000, depending on the design, type of wood or steel, and finish.

The choice of how much or how little is spent on the coffin or casket is entirely the decision of the family member or the person acting for them.

A medium-priced wooden coffin ranges between R6 000 to R10 000.

Some funeral homes deliberately avoid showing you the more inexpensive coffins, so ask for more options if you do not see what you want, or ask the funeral home for the general price list of available goods or services.

If the person is buried, you will want to choose a headstone. Your funeral home will provide you with a choice of these, and prices. At most cemeteries, tombstones are only allowed to be erected after six months from the date of burial. A permit must also be granted for this.

Your stone mason or funeral director will offer guidance and assistance with this too.

A cremation niche (small personalised above-ground space where an urn is placed) and plaque facilities are available at most crematoriums and some cemeteries. Again, your funeral director will help you to arrange one of these if you wish to have one.

Estate administration death certificate

The attending doctor, or the SAPS in the case of unnatural deaths, will issue a DHA 1663 (Department of Home Affairs notification of death). This, together with ID copies of the deceased and other forms you will be required to fill in, will be sent to the Department of Home Affairs for registration, where a death certificate (DHA-5) will be issued.

Your funeral home should help you with this, as the department is crowded and long queues are the norm.

They should also supply you with several certified copies of the death certificate so you can start to close accounts and set about wrapping up your loved one’s estate.

The estate

The law stipulates that the estate of a deceased person must be reported to the Master of the High Court within 14 days from the date of death. You need to find the deceased’s will and establish the name of the executor – either a financial institution or individual – and make contact with them.

If no executor is appointed, make an appointment with a lawyer to report the estate to the Master of the High Court, who will appoint an executor, called an executor dative.

If the person died intestate – with no will – or you can’t find a will, call a lawyer – preferably one the deceased used – as the estate then has to be administered in terms of the Intestate Succession Act. The Master of the High Court will appoint an executor to do this.

The basic rule of intestate succession – in other words who inherits what – is that the nearest blood relations inherit the estate. If the deceased is survived by a spouse, and has no children, the spouse inherits the estate, and if the deceased is survived by his or her children, but not by a spouse, the children inherit the estate. In the case of there being a spouse and children, the estate is divided accordingly. The spouse usually receives more than the children.

As soon as a death certificate has been issued, it is a good idea to start alerting the person’s account contractors such as medical aid, cellphone, insurance policy and security company, to prevent debit orders going through against their estate unnecessarily.

Bank accounts will be taken care of by the executor, who will freeze them. Do not draw money from the person’s account – unless it is approved and accounted for by the executor – as this amounts to fraud.

Contacts

* Martin’s Funerals: 0860 911 777 (24 hours) or visit www.martinsfunerals.co.za

* AVBOB: 086 11 28262 or visit www.avbob.co.za. Funerals hotline: 0861 386 3725 (24 hours)

* Doves Funerals: 0861 025 500 or visit www.doves.co.za

* Funeral guide: http://funeralguide.co.za