What to do after a death?

A death is a great burden for relatives and close persons. Right in the first few days after that, various errands have to be done. In this text we show you what to do and when after a death.

Quick Summary

  • After finding a lifeless person, doctors or rescue services are notified. The first important document after a death is then also the medical death certificate. It confirms that, from a medical point of view, the person found definitely died at a certain point in time.
  • The death is reported to different authorities. In the case of a natural death, the notification to the Civil Registry Office is of particular importance. This updates the official registers of persons and issues death certificates on request. This second important document is needed by the surviving dependants to settle the legal relationships and estate of the deceased person.
  • The third main point is the organisation of the funeral and all related tasks. This must be done within a short time, as there are usually only a few days between death and burial. When sending out obituaries and planning the ceremony, including musical, pastoral, rhetorical and culinary accompaniment, the wishes of the deceased person must be taken into account on the one hand. On the other hand, experienced funeral planners can relieve you of much of this work and take responsibility for the success of the funeral.
  • In order to share the assets you need a heir’s certificate, which you will get at the deceased’s last place of residence. You will need the death certificate and a document declaring your heirship. Later on, the heirs can start the settlement of estate. Then, the inheritance settlement gets underway.

The most important matters after a death

A death is a very stressful event, especially for close relatives. This makes it helpful to have orientation about the immediate consequences and the necessary arrangements.

People most often die at home, in a hospital, care facility or in public. The procedure differs only minimally at first. If a person is found lifeless, the first – and absolutely correct – reaction is to call a doctor or rescue services. On the one hand, first aid and the immediate involvement of medical professionals can often save lives. Every second counts.

The medical death certificate

On the other hand, only doctors are authorised to determine and legally certify the death of a person. They do this on a specially designed standardised form, the ‘medical death certificate’. The form must contain information on the identity of the deceased person and indicate the place and time of death. After careful examination of sure signs of death (rigor mortis, death marks, cooling, etc.) all over the body, the doctor confirms by her signature that the person concerned has undoubtedly died. This procedure is called a “post-mortem examination”, and it is mandatory in every case of death. If there is doubt whether the death was natural or if the deceased person’s identity is unknown, a legal inspection or a post-mortem examination may also be ordered (so-called “unexplained death“). In the remaining cases, the body is released for burial.

Administrative procedures, personal registers and personal documents

The medical death certificate is the first of several documents required in connection with a death. You must submit the death certificate together with the death notification to the cantonal registry office within two days. This then makes the necessary changes in the registers of persons. In the case of foreign nationals who are not recorded in Swiss registers of persons, additional clarifications with the authorities of the home country may be necessary. The authority designations and responsibilities may vary from canton to canton (overview).

In the canton of Zurich, for example, every death must be reported to the local burial office. Registration should be made in person by relatives if the deceased person was a resident of Zurich or if burial in a Zurich cemetery is desired. Among other things, the medical death certificate must be presented. The funeral office also discusses the details of the laying out, burial and funeral service.

It is advisable to organise the most important files after the death of a person. Namely, you must gather personal documents such as birth certificate and marriage certificate, certificate of municipal citizenship, contracts, insurance policies and, of course, dispositions on death, i.e. testaments and inheritance contracts. This will give you an overview of the deceased person’s circumstances and estate. This is important in order to know which declarations and legal transactions towards which authorities or contractual partners will be necessary later.

Funeral services and burial

Even before contracts are terminated or assets are disposed of, relatives usually take care of the burial. This usually takes place a few days after the death. The first and central point of contact for this is – again depending on the canton – the relevant funeral office or a funeral home you trust. They will support you in the choice of coffin, type of grave and gravestone, and, if desired, also in the design of the funeral ceremony. They work closely with cemeteries and stonemasons and can therefore provide you with grave sites or contacts for questions on this topic.

Although it goes without saying, it is still worth mentioning that the wishes of the deceased person should be taken into consideration when planning the funeral. Sometimes corresponding expressions of will are found in or with the will. In other cases, it is necessary to infer funeral wishes from statements or actions made during life.

In preparation for the funeral, in particular death notices shall be published in printed or digital media and invitations sent to relatives. For the ceremony itself, the focus is not only on considerations of date, place and time. It is also important to think about storage, floral decoration, funeral orations, musical and pastoral accompaniment, as well as funeral banquets and any donation instructions.

It is also important to think about storage, floral decoration, funeral orations, musical and pastoral accompaniment, as well as funeral banquets and any donation instructions.

The cantonal authorities also issue the death certificate, the second important document after a death. As a rule, the official death certificate can simply be ordered via the online desk of the competent authority instead of attending in person. Among others, the following are entitled to do so: widowed spouses or registered partners, descendants and other relatives, but also executors and persons entitled to inherit.

The death certificate is used to terminate contracts with employers, banks, post office, insurance companies, electricity and as well as telephone and internet providers etc. and to dissolve other civil law relationships of the deceased person. Also tenancies, club memberships or subscriptions can be cancelled in this way. Scans or copies can be made and sent for this purpose. It is important to expressly terminate due to the death, as only few legal relationships end by themselves with the death of a person. Therefore, notification of the counterparties by the survivors is required.

The same applies to the assertion of pension claims from the AHV as well as from occupational and private provision. With the death certificate, the surviving dependants can prove to the institutions that an insured event has occurred and subsequently have the insured sum paid out.

The issuance of an heir’s certificate is also only possible upon presentation of an official death certificate. You need a certificate of inheritance to be able to dispose of assets of the deceased person during the inheritance process. This includes access to bank accounts, the liquidation of securities, but also the execution of land register entries. These matters are no longer directly related to the death itself. Rather, they concern the inheritance, i.e. the settlement of the estate. (In this guidebook article you can learn more about the course of an inheritance.)

Who can help me in the event of a death?

A feeling of being overwhelmed after the death of a close person is completely normal. Therefore, fortunately, there are numerous professionals who support you in coping with a death. We have already presented many of them earlier in the text.

  • Doctors, nurses and other medical personnel have above all the task of curing sick people, prolonging their lives or enabling them to lead as pain-free a life as possible. At the same time, they necessarily have experience with deaths, as the death of a person is always established by a medical death certificate. A separate, often controversial topic is medically assisted suicide. In this process, persons willing to die can end their lives by means of a medically prescribed preparation under certain conditions and strict medical ethical controls.
  • Authorities and offices accompany the life of a person ‘from the cradle to the grave’. Probably the two most important authorities in connection with a death are civil registration offices and – in some cantons – burial offices. After the death of a person, they take care of updating official registers and issuing necessary documents such as death certificates or certificates of inheritance.
  • Funeral directors are specialised in organising funerals. Here you will find the widest selection imaginable. From the complete package, in which essential parts of the planning are taken off your hands, to highly personalised, individually fitting solutions, much is possible. The activities of funeral homes are closely related to those of cemeteries and stonemasons. Therefore, a well-organised, reliable and trustworthy funeral director can take a lot of work off your hands. This allows for support during the stressful days following a death.
  • Pastors, musicians, funeral orators and other people involved in a funeral are just as much a part of its success as the funeral director himself. Often the deceased person has expressed wishes regarding the arrangement of their funeral ceremony. These should be taken into account. If no burial wishes are known, statements or living habits from earlier times can provide information about possible ideas for burial.
  • Lastly, the relatives are perhaps the most important group of people after a death. They are the ones most directly affected and most in need of mutual support. Disagreements or family conflicts should be put on hold after a death or, if possible, completely reconsidered. On the one hand, this is almost always in the spirit of the deceased person. On the other hand, such an approach facilitates not only the management of the death itself, but also the subsequent inheritance law disputes.

How does DeinAdieu.ch help me?

We would like to complement these offers with an easily accessible and user-friendly online offer. That is why you will find numerous guide articles, blog entries, templates, checklists and much more on the topics of will, mourning correspondence, organ donation, provision dossier or financial provision on DeinAdieu.ch.

We are also happy to refer you to carefully selected service providers in various fields. These include lawyers & notaries, musicians, mourning speakers or help with the household liquidation. Please also visit our section Frequently Asked Questions or send us your own questions at +41 44 500 52 37 or support@deinadieu.ch. We would also like to invite you to participate in one of our webinars on the topic of death benefits. We look forward to being able to advise or refer you.

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