Sandy Poelvoorde is the owner of Boyd’s Funeral Services Ltd. She can be reached at 250.287.2240 or online at

Even for families who are prepared and expecting a death, the situation can still be overwhelming.

Notwithstanding the unexpected emotional and physical toll grief can have on your ability to function, there are the practical and funeral arrangements to be attended to. I write, and talk, a lot about how pre-planned final arrangements can help alleviate a lot of this burden, but what if there are no plans? That was on the “to do” list and it never happened, and now . . . it’s too late?

First, consider contacting a funeral provider for some free advice. Licenced funeral directors know exactly what to do with regards to “what happens next” and can be invaluable at reducing anxiety and fear for families grieving and trying to plan when they often cannot even think cohesively, let alone rationally.

It’s important to know that you have time. After a death, a doctor has 48 hours to fill out a medical certificate of death. Remember, this is not a death certificate and even doctors can confuse the two. This is simply a medical certificate recording the cause and manner of a person’s death. Typically, a person cannot be released from a hospital without it. No medical certificate, no registration of the death, no death certificate can be issued. If a coroner is the one making out the medical certificate this process can take longer. This stage is often referred to as bureaucratic purgatory. (Well, at least that’s how I refer to it!)

Once issued, a person must still be discharged from the hospital in-patient system. Often the bed allocator who performs this job works limited hours, so be prepared to wait until the next business day for any deaths that occur outside typical “business” hours, over weekends, or holidays.

During this “hurry up and wait” period, I recommend families take time to meet and discuss final wishes. Cremation or burial is a good place to start. While there is no legal minimum wait period for burials, there are municipal bylaws that may require up to three days of notice for interments. Legally cremation has a minimum 48-hour wait from time of death. Also note that unless there is a will with a clearly named executor, there may be a delay while the legal next of kin is determined.

Once there is a medical certificate, a release, a registration and a death certificate, your loved one can be released to the legal authorized representative for his or her final disposition. And that person has some paperwork to do . . .

Sandy Poelvoorde is the owner of Boyd’s Funeral Services Ltd. (“Quality care you can trust”) She can be reached at 250.287.2240 or online at

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