The law governing burial and cremation in New Zealand is outdated and rather unsatisfactory. A review of the Burial and Cremation Act 1964 has been started but has not progressed far. The law as it stands does not prevent ordinary people from acting as funeral directors and making their own arrangements as long as the paperwork is complied with. This can be an issue in circumstances where a medical referee cannot be located, and I will shortly update this page to provide more information around that.
In the meantime, here are the main acts and regulations affecting the handling of dead bodies and funeral processes in NZ :
This link explains the situations in which a death will be referred to the Coroner's Court.The rest of this page explains what you need to when you are arranging a burial or cremation yourself and registering the death afterwards.
I am about to update this page to make the step-by-step process easier to understand. However my main piece of advice, if you are contemplating a cremation, is to contact the crematorium you are thinking of using and speak to them about what they require in order for you to be able to bring your deceased person to them for cremation.
There are a number of forms that must be used in different situations, but the basic forms which must be obtained before a body can be cremated are a Medical Certificate of Cause of Death (which will be provided by the attending doctor) and a Permission to Cremate, which must be provided by a Medical Referee. Each individual crematorium will have a Medical Referee it uses and it will also require its own Application to Cremate (which will vary from local body to local body) and after the cremation the death must be registered with Births Deaths and Marriages.
The list below covers most of the forms you may encounter, and what is involved with each of them:
This is often incorrectly refered to (especially by medical personnel) as the "death certificate". It is important to note that the true "Death Certificate" is obtained from the Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages AFTER the burial or cremation, when the death has been registered. Refer to Death Certificate (BDM93D) further down this page for more information. For a DIY funeral, when placing a death notice in a newspaper, if the paper wants to see a "Death Certificate" use the Medical Certificate of Cause of Death.
In general, when someone dies as the result of an illness, the attending doctor signs a Medical Certificate of Cause of Death and funeral arrangements can go ahead immediately. The doctor certifying the death will supply the form. A coroner is called in if a doctor has been unable to determine the cause of death, or if a death has occurred in violent or unnatural circumstances. Refer to Coroner's Authorisation for Release of Body (Cor 3) below.
If the body is to be cremated, pacemakers must be removed and the crematorium notified of any radiotherapy prior to death.
A Medical Certificate of Causes of Fetal and Neonatal Death is used in the case of a liveborn baby dying within 28 days of birth, and for a stillbirth. The doctor certifying the death will supply the form.
A coroner is called in if a doctor has been unable to determine the cause of death, or if a death has occurred in violent or unnatural circumstances.All deaths occurring during medical procedures or while a person is in the care or custody of the state are also reported to the coroner. Any death that occurred while the woman concerned was giving birth, or was as a result of being pregnant or giving birth must be reported to the coroner.
Coroners are appointed by the Governor-General and have the legal duty to enquire into all deaths reported to them. They make enquiries, carry out inquiries and/or hold inquests. Further information about the Coronial Services of New Zealand is available at www.justice.govt.nz/coroners
In general, if a death has been referred to the coroner the funeral planning can be started but a burial or cremation cannot proceed until the coroner releases the body. A post-mortem may delay this. While most enquiries are simple and straightforward, there are sometimes complications. Burial or cremation can take place before an inquest is held, provided that the coroner has signed the Coroner's Authorisation for Release of Body .
Contact your chosen crematorium for a list of local doctors (known as medical referees) who are authorised to complete a Permission to Cremate. They must be a doctor other than the one who signed the HP4720 or HP4721 form.
The medical referee's role is to check the information on either the Medical Certificate of cause of death (HP4720), or the Medical Certificate of Causes of Foetal and Neonatal Death (HP4721), or the Coroner's Authorisation for Release of Body (Cor 3) and then sign the Permission to Cremate form. A crematorium will not accept an Application for Cremation without this Permission to Cremate form.
Make sure you find out from the crematorium you are using whether the medical referee's fees are covered by the cremation fee. Some referees will attempt to charge you separately for this service when they are already being paid to do it by the crematorium. Ask questions and understand what procedure you need to follow (for instance who faxes what documents to whom) to avoid being double charged. Sadly this kind of thing is rife within the industy - it always pays to check thoroughly what you are being charged for and by whom.
Your chosen crematorium will have its own forms for applying to use their facilities. Costs for cremation vary widely so it does pay to shop around.
Your chosen cemetery will have its own forms for applying to use their facilities. Costs for burial can also vary.
Notification that a person has been buried or cremated must be sent to the Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages within three days of the burial or cremation. The BDM office will supply the form upon request.
A checklist showing the information you will need to fill out this form correctly can be found here.
A stillbirth must be notified jointly by the parents using a Notification of Birth for Registration (BDM27) form. The BDM office will supply the form upon request.
At the same time as you lodge a BDM28 form with the Registrar you can request a copy of the Death Certificate on the BDM28 form. There is a small fee for this certificate. The Executor of the will may need this document.
BDM (Births, Deaths and Marriages) Contact Information:
Freephone: 0800 22 52 52