Help for Those Dealing with a Sudden Death

The death of a family member or close friend may be one of the most painful events in a person’s life. When the death occurs unexpectedly, whether it is the result of homicide or some other traumatic event, the degree of distress is compounded.

The sudden loss of a loved one may have wide-ranging consequences—not only intense emotional effects but also physical symptoms and financial hardship. The practical, legal, and financial matters that need to be sorted out after the death of a loved one can be overwhelming at a time when one is least equipped to deal with them. When a person dies suddenly or unexpectedly, these matters may be complex. If you are dealing with the sudden death of a loved one or if you know someone who is, help is available.

If you are dealing with a sudden death and require assistance or support, or if you just want to talk to someone, call VictimLink BC at 1-800-563-0808.

Steps to Take if You Need Help

  • If immediate police or medical assistance is needed, call 911 or the emergency number for your community.
  • If you want to contact the police but the situation is not urgent, call the non-emergency number for police in your community.
  • Call VictimLink BC at 1-800-563-0808. VictimLink BC can help you directly and can also refer you to other community agencies. If the death resulted from a crime, a Victim Service Worker can provide you with information about the criminal justice system, the status of the case, and your rights. A victim service worker can support you throughout the criminal justice process.
  • Call someone to be with you. If a neighbour, friend, or family member can provide emotional support or help you in practical ways, ask for help.
  • Talk to your doctor or a counsellor to obtain any other help or support you or your family members need to assist you through the grieving process.
  • Financial assistance may be available. Call VictimLink BC at 1-800-563-0808 for more information.

Taking Care of Practical Matters

Taking care of all the practical matters after a sudden death can be overwhelming. It may help to make a checklist of specific tasks. If you have the help of others, assign them tasks. The following things may help in getting started on your checklist:

  • Consider the practical needs of the household, such as groceries, bill payments, meals, childcare, laundry, transportation, appointments, and so on.
  • Make a list of family, friends, and others (e.g., people at work or school) who should be notified, and notify them. Keep track of all calls that need to be made or returned.
  • If the death has come to the attention of the media, decide how to handle media enquiries and who will do this. If you or your family chooses to share information with the media, decide ahead of time what information will and will not be shared.
  • Contact the funeral home and any religious organization that will be involved. Decide on the type of funeral or other memorial service, and the time and place it will be held. (If your loved one made a will, it may include his or her wishes for burial or cremation and funeral service.)
  • Find out what tasks the funeral director will undertake (e.g., sending the obituary to newspapers, getting copies of the death certificate). Ask the funeral director for advice on tasks you need to undertake (e.g., writing the obituary, selecting pallbearers, organizing the reception). The Funeral Service Association of BC has helpful information on planning a funeral and related matters.
  • Contact the lawyer of the person who died or the executor of the estate. If there is no will or named executor, determine who will be the legal representative of the person who died and who will administer the estate. If there is no appropriate person to administer the estate, contact the Public Guardian and Trustee (see below).
  • Check to see if there are sources of funding for funeral expenses, and apply for these as well as any other types of benefits available (e.g., private insurance or employment related benefits, Canada Pension Plan survivor benefits, B.C. Ministry of Social Services and Housing benefits, B.C. Crime Victim Assistance Program benefits).
  • Determine how many copies of the death certificate will likely be needed, and obtain them from the funeral director or the Vital Statistics Agency.

Additional Resources

Coroners Service

The Coroners Service is responsible for the investigation of all unnatural, sudden, and unexpected, unexplained, or unattended deaths. Notification of a death generally comes from police, hospitals, or physicians; however anyone can and should report a death under these circumstances.  The Coroners Service ascertains the facts surrounding a death in accordance with the Coroners Act. The coroner must determine the identity of the deceased and how, when, where and by what means they died for the public record. In some cases an autopsy is required to assist the coroner in making theses determinations. Autopsies are ordered on a case-by-case basis. Coroners’ investigations are concluded either by way of a coroner’s judgement or by inquest; a quasi-judicial, public process.

The Public Guardian and Trustee

When a person dies and there is no named executor of the estate, or there is no one willing or able to administer the estate, the Public Guardian and Trustee may administer the estate. In certain circumstances, the Public Guardian and Trustee has a role in protecting the legal and financial interests of children (under 19) and adults with mental disabilities. For more information, go to the Public Guardian and Trustee website or call 1-800-663-7867.

Other Services

BC Vital Statistics Agency registers deaths and provides death certificates as ordered (usually by the funeral director after receiving a medical certification of death and basic information about the person who died). This agency also conducts the search for a Wills Notice. For more information go to the BC Vital Statistics Agency website or call 250 952-2557 (in Victoria) or 1-888-876-1633 (toll-free in B.C.).

The BC Bereavement Helpline provides useful resources for persons dealing with the loss of a loved one. Call 604 738-9950 (in the Lower Mainland) or 1-877-779-2223 (toll-free in B.C.).

The Salvation Army Pro Bono Program offers pro bono (free) legal services. For more information go to their website or call 604 694-6647.

The Access Pro Bono Society of BC also offers pro bono legal services. For more information go to their website or call 604-878-7400 (in the Lower Mainland) or 1-877-762-6664 (toll-free in B.C.).

If you are dealing with a sudden death and require assistance or support, or if you just want to talk to someone, please call VictimLink BC at 1-800-563-0808.