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Family law

Funerals and tangihanga

Arranging the funeral

Sometimes, families hand control of funeral arrangements over to a funeral director. However, you don’t have to do this; you and other immediate family may want to be more actively involved in the final arrangements as part of your grieving process.

Using a funeral director

A funeral director can take care of the full range of legal and practical tasks involved, including:

  • transporting the body
  • checking that all the legal requirements and documents for burial or cremation are in order
  • the embalming, care and presentation of the deceased’s body
  • organising the minister or celebrant and other people you might need, like an organist
  • death and funeral notices
  • flowers and catering
  • support services for bereaved family and friends
  • registering the death.

If you’re going to use a funeral director it’s best to use a funeral director from the Funeral Directors Association of New Zealand. They have to have appropriate qualifications and experience and must also follow a Code of Ethics – this requires them to, for example, respect “the ethnic origin and spiritual beliefs of the deceased person”, see www.fdanz.org/aboutus/standards

Arranging the funeral yourself

Many families also decide to arrange the funeral themselves. If you decide not to use a funeral director, there are some legal requirements you’ll need to take care of:

  • Confirmation of cause of death – The body can’t be buried or cremated unless a doctor has issued a Medical Certificate of Cause of Death or, if the death had to be reported to the coroner, the coroner has issued an Order for Disposal of Body.
  • Registering the death – Within three days after the burial or cremation, you’ll need to register the death with Births, Deaths and Marriages.

For more details about those steps, see above in this chapter, “Confirming and registering the death”.

Embalming isn’t always necessary if the body is to be buried or cremated within two or three days after death. However, particularly if the body is to be kept at home, the family may want to consider embalming. The speed with which the body may decompose will depend on different factors, including the cause of death, any medication the deceased may have been taking, and the time of year. It’s best to get advice about this from a funeral director.

Some other tasks or decisions you’ll probably need to consider can include:

  • contacting other family and friends, and publishing death or funeral notices in newspapers and online
  • the form of the service – for example, whether it will be led by a minister, a non-religious funeral celebrant, or a family member
  • letting people know if the deceased wanted any donations to go to a particular charity (instead of flowers for example)
  • deciding on a place where people can gather after the funeral – you might want to ask friends to organise food, or perhaps organise professional caterers for this.

Pre-arranged funerals

The deceased may have decided to arrange and pay for a funeral in advance. They might have left instructions in their will or with family members about what they’d like to happen. These instructions aren’t legally binding on the family, but it would be unusual for a family not to follow them.

Sometimes people decide to pay for their funeral in advance. The Funeral Directors Association of New Zealand operates a pre-paid funeral scheme where in planning for your funeral you meet with a funeral director to talk about arrangements and you pay the price of the funeral into a special trust account at www.fdanz.org/planning-a-funeral/prepay-preplan

The cost of the pre-paid funeral, up to $10,000, isn’t counted as part of your assets (property) when Work and Income are working out whether you qualify for a residential care subsidy for rest home care.

Next Section | Tangihanga

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A death in the family

Where to go for more support

Confirmation of the cause of death – Coroners


The website of Coronial Services of New Zealand has information about the role of coroners in investigating the causes of deaths.

Registering a death


The Births, Deaths and Marriages section of the Department of Internal Affairs has information on its website about registering deaths.

Burial and cremation

Local council websites have information about burial and cremation in their particular areas.

Financial support for bereaved families


Work and Income’s website has information about possible financial support for funerals and tangihanga. Click on “Benefits and payments / Urgent or unexpected costs”.

ACC‘s website has information about different types of accident compensation and payments that can be made to family members when a person has died in an accident. Go to: www.acc.co.nz , and click on “I’m injured / Types of financial support / Financial support if someone has died”.

Gathering kaimoana for tangihanga


The Ministry of Primary Industries has information on its website about Māori customary rights for gathering kaimoana for tangihanga, hui and other traditional purposes.

Organ donation


The website of Organ Donation New Zealand has information about organ and tissue donation.

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