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When a Person Dies: Information for Next of Kin

When a person dies, there are a great deal of changes in lives of their family and friends. Grief and other responses to death vary and are highly personal. Such responses frequently relate to the manner of the death, which might be sudden or over an extended period of time.

Death

When a person dies at a healthcare facility, or outside a facility where relatives are not present, next of kin will be notified as soon as possible. In the case of an accident, a church minister or a specially summoned police officer will deliver the news to the next of kin.

When next of kin are not available in the area, the district minister in their vicinity is typically contacted so that they might be noticed in person.

In cases of a fatal accident, the reporters and other media representatives coordinate with the priest or police on when the identity of the deceased may be made public. The general rule is that the identity of the deceased is not released until most of their closest family members have been notified.

After a death, the next of kin contact a minister, other religious officiant or funeral direction for information on the next steps.

At this point, the next of kin must review any end-of-life wishes made by the deceased. The deceased's wishes for their own funeral take precedence over any wishes of the next of kin. This is especially true of observing any religious beliefs the deceased may or may not have held. If the deceased's beliefs are not in line with the beliefs of the next of kin, the funeral service generally defers to the deceased's beliefs, although the next of kin may hold a separate memorial service in line with their beliefs.

In particular, a request for cremation must be respected. If a religious minister or other party visiting the sick and dying becomes aware that the person in question has changed their mind with respect to the funeral arrangements, this person is obligated to ensure that the wishes of the deceased are fulfilled, either with a written statement or the confirmation of summoned witnesses.

Death outside a Healthcare Facility

Where death occurs outside a healthcare facility, or where the deceased has not received the care of healthcare workers, the police are summoned, along with ambulance staff and a physician to confirm death.

The police investigate the scene and decide, in consultation with the physician, whether it is possible to make a pronouncement on the cause of death. If not possible, a forensic autopsy will be performed according to law.

Once death has been confirmed, and the investigation by the police and physician has been concluded, the police may permit the preparation of the deceased for transfer if death occurred at home.

The police are responsible for arranging transport of the deceased to a funeral home. The funeral home or other authorized entity is often summoned to handle the transport.

Next of kin are typically asked if they want to contact a minister or other support person to aid in the process.

Sometimes there is an opportunity to hold a quiet moment of farewell before the deceased is transferred. Such moments can be very important.

Postmortems & Autopsies

A postmortem is an examination by a medical doctor to determine the cause of death.

A forensic postmortem is a joint examination by the police and a medical doctor to determine cause of death.

There are two kinds of autopsies performed: an autopsy performed for medical purposes and a forensic autopsy.

Following the postmortem, an autopsy may be performed on the body for medical purposes, if the deceased consented to the procedure before death.

The next of kin may also consent to the autopsy if it can be shown that it was not against the will of the deceased.

The police may request a forensic autopsy in cases when the investigation indicates a death other than natural causes or if the cause of death cannot be determined.

Consent from the next of kin or a court order is required for a forensic autopsy.

In cases of a forensic autopsy, the deceased's organs may not be removed if it is deemed that such removal would impact the findings of the autopsy.

Organ Donation

Organ donation means that organs or other biological material is removed from a deceased person and transplanted into a patient in need of those organs or material.

Death Certificates

A death certificate is a report of an individual's death and cause of death to Registers Iceland on one hand, and a report of an individual's death to the district commissioner on the other.

A doctor or director of medicine at the relevant healthcare facility, the personal physician of the deceased or the district physician, and sometimes the police, depending on the manner of death, examine the body and a physician writes the death certificate. 

  1. The deceased's next of kin receives the death certificate from the relevant healthcare facility or physician who examined the body.

  2. The next of kin then submits the death certificate to the district commissioner in the jurisdiction where the deceased maintained their legal domicile or where the deceased's estate will be settled.

  3. The district commissioner issues the next of kin a confirmation of receipt of the death certificate.

  4. The next of kin provides the priest, other religious officiant or funeral director with the confirmation. The funeral may not proceed with providing this confirmation.

  5. The district commissioner forwards the death certificate to Registers Iceland.

If a person dies abroad, the death certificate or equivalent foreign certificate is submitted to the district commissioner in the jurisdiction where the funeral will take place or where the deceased's estate will be settled.

If a death certificate cannot be produced, the district commissioner may accept a report of death provided any of the following supporting documents is submitted as well:

  • An official certificate signed by the individual, who, in their official capacity, is qualified to certify death

  • A police report prepared in Iceland that confirms the death in question or a court ruling issued in Iceland that a missing person is presumed dead

  • A court ruling issued in Iceland permitting the settlement of the estate of a missing person presumed dead

  • Equivalent foreign documentation supporting the claim

In cases of stillbirth there is no need to issue a death certificate. The relevant healthcare facility notifies Registers Iceland with a special form.

Transporting the Deceased within Iceland and Internationally

If the deceased needs to be transported within Iceland or internationally, the same rules concerning death certificates apply as stated in the section above. Funeral homes will be able to arrange transport from one part of the country to another for the next of kin.

If a deceased person is to be transported out of Iceland, the next of kin must provide the death certificate to the district commission in the jurisdiction where the person died. The district commissioner returns a certified copy of the death certificate to the party who will oversee the transportation of the deceased person, who must ensure that the certified copy of the death certificate accompanies the body while in transit.

Funeral homes can arrange, on behalf of the next of kin, for international transport of the deceased person as well as any other matters associated with transportation.

Obituaries

It is appropriate for the next of kin to notify other relatives and friends of the death before the deceased's obituary is released.

Deaths and funerals can be announced publicly through three outlets: the State Broadcasting Service (RÚV), Morgunblaðið newspaper, and Fréttablaðið newspaper. Next of kin should bear in mind that it is necessary to contact the media outlet(s) well in advance.

An obituary is typically published a few days after the death, and a funeral notice several days before the funeral. Some people choose to publish the death notice and funeral notice together.

If the deceased wished for a private funeral, the notice is not to be published until after the ceremony.

Bear in Mind

  • Notify close family members and friends.

  • Review the deceased's wishes, if any, regarding the funeral and contact a minister, other religious officiant or funeral director for further information and guidance.

  • Collect the death certificate from the healthcare facility or physician, submit it to the district commissioner and receive written confirmation. Provide the confirmation to the party overseeing the funeral.

  • Determine if the deceased is eligible for any funeral benefits and ascertain costs associated with the funeral.

  • Contact the media outlet(s) well in advance if the funeral is to be announced publicly.

  • Survivors should take steps to probate the estate within four months of the death.

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