The first 24 hours
This section will help you to focus on what you might need to think about in the first 24 hours after a sudden death.
A quick guide for families and friends
- The deceased person will be taken to the mortuary at the Royal Hobart Hospital or the Launceston General Hospital.
- You may wish to contact a support person, friend or family member to help you to cope, and who can make arrangements with or for you, in the first few days.
- If you do not have a support person, you may want to contact a professional for support. You can find people to help you in A Guide for Families and Friends: Who can help?.
- It is a good idea to write down any important information, as shock can make it hard to remember things later on.
- You may want to contact a funeral director to discuss the funeral, and while this can be done right away you should let them know that the coroner is involved.
- You may want to visit the deceased person when they are moved to a funeral home. They will not go to the funeral home right away because the coroner must be careful to get all the evidence they need first. Usually it will take 2-4 days for the deceased person to be released for burial / cremation, depending on if there is a weekend in the middle.
- Police may ask you to identify the deceased person. Any person who knew the deceased person in life can do this, so if you do not want to do it, tell the police.
- The coroner will decide if an autopsy is necessary. If they make an order, the autopsy will usually happen within 48 hours (once again, this depends on if there is a weekend in the middle). If you don’t want an autopsy (if you “object”), tell the attending police or the coroner’s court right away. After business hours you can phone 131 444 to notify a police officer of your objection. An autopsy may be the only way to get a clear picture of how the person died.
- The police or coroners’ office may contact you to get more information about the circumstances of the death or the person’s medical history.
For a list of services available to you, please go to A Guide for Families and Friends: Coping with grief and A Guide for Families and Friends: Who can help?.
For more information on objecting to an autopsy, please go to A Guide for Families and Friends: The coroner’s court and me - What is an autopsy?.
The coroner must be sure of the identity of the deceased person. The police or coroners’ office may ask you to identify the deceased person by looking at them. Any person who knew the deceased person in life can do this. If the deceased person cannot be identified by sight, the coroner may use things such as fingerprints, dental records or DNA samples to confirm identity.
Finding out that a loved one has died suddenly is a huge shock, and affects everyone differently. It may help to call a person who is close to you and ask them to come to your house and support you. Families may find comfort in gathering together and supporting each other. Some people want to take time off work and others want to stay at work or continue with their plans. You should do whatever makes you feel most comfortable.
A support person can help you with things you might need to do in the first few hours or days, including:
- telling other people that the person has passed away
- making appointments with doctors:
- you might need a medical certificate to get time off work
- you might need advice on how to cope with the shock of what has happened
- telling others at the deceased person’s place of work what has happened
- contacting a funeral director
- making appointments with counsellors, insurance companies or lawyers.
For a list of groups that can support you in this difficult time, go to A Guide for Families and Friends: Who can help?.
Religious and cultural practices
Please tell the coroner’s court if you have religious or cultural concerns about any part of the coronial process.
Many different cultures and religions have rules and beliefs about death, burial and cremation. It is our job at the coroner’s court to do the best we can to make sure that the coronial process takes account of your beliefs and values. The more information we have, the better we can do this. Please tell us your concerns as soon as you can. The coroner will always do everything possible to allow for requests.
If you have a religious or cultural practice that:
- does not allow medical procedures, such as an autopsy
- requires burial or cremation in a certain time (for example, within 24 hours of death)
- objects to samples being taken from the deceased person, such as blood samples
please contact the coroner’s court right away. If you object to an autopsy, please go to A Guide for Families and Friends: The coroner’s court and me – What is an autopsy? for more information.
If you don’t want to talk about your beliefs with police officers or people who work for the government, you can ask someone else to speak to the court for you. You can ask a religious or cultural representative, a friend or a relative. You, or the person who is talking for you, can call the coroner’s court any time. If time is an important factor, the sooner we know about your needs, the more likely we are to be able to help you. The after-hours phone number for police is 131 444, they will pass on any messages to the coroners’ associates. No autopsies or medical examinations will happen on the weekend.
It is the coroner’s job to make sure that the findings they make are correct. If the coroner cannot get the information they need in the time you request, or without doing an autopsy, then it may not be possible to do things the way you request.
Organ and tissue donation
Organ and tissue donation is a life-saving medical process that can help save someone who is very ill or dying from organ failure. The opportunity to become an organ donor is very rare, only approximately one per cent of people who die in hospitals can possibly become donors.
When a person dies in a situation where they can become an organ and / or tissue donor, the hospital medical team will raise the possibility of donation with families. The Australian Organ Donor Register is checked, this information is shared with families and the senior next of kin is then asked to give the final written consent for organ donation. Organ donation in Australia is governed by law and if a coroner is investigating the death, they must give permission for donation to occur.
If you would like further information about organ donation, please ask the treating medical team; alternatively, DonateLife Tasmania can be contacted during business hours on: