- To complete a death certificate, you
must be satisfied
as to the cause of death, and
- that the death does not need to be
reported to the coroner.
- If you have been treating a patient
immediately before they died,
or if you examine the body, you
will generally have 48 hours after
the death to complete the death
certificate or the death should be
reported to the coroner.
- Do not sign a death certificate if you
are uncomfortable or unable to form
an opinion as to the probable cause
of death. Seek advice.
The process and requirements
for completing death certificates
are different in each state
and territory. Make sure you
understand the rules that apply
where you practise.
Who can sign a death certificate?
When doctors are being asked to
complete the death certificate,
this generally refers to the Medical
Certificate of Cause of Death (MCCD).
This is the legal document used to notify
deaths to the Registrar of Births, Deaths
and Marriages in each state or territory.
You may be prohibited from signing an
MCCD in a particular case because of
your relationship to the deceased.
Otherwise, generally, you can sign an
MCCD if you are satisfied:
- the death does not need to be
reported to the coroner
- about the cause of death because
you were responsible for a person’s
medical care immediately before
you examined the body and/or have
sufficient information (e.g, through
review of the medical records or
discussion with the treating doctor).
In some states and territories you may
be able to sign the MCCD without
examining the body, if you have sufficient
information about the person’s medical
history and the circumstances of the
person’s death to form an opinion as to
the probable cause of death.
See Avant’s death certificate decision
flow chart for more detail on the
requirements for your state and territory.
When not to complete a death
Certain deaths must be reported to
the coroner or the police (reportable
deaths). In such cases, contact the
police or coroner and do not complete
The circumstances vary between states
and territories, however reportable
deaths usually include those:
- where the deceased’s identity is
- where the cause of death is not
known or where a doctor has been
unable to sign an MCCD
- that were violent or unnatural or
occurred under suspicious or unusual
- that were unexpected
- resulting from an accident or injury
- where the deceased person was in
care or custody
- related to health care and which
were not the reasonably expected
outcome of the health care. For
example in WA, a death that occurs
within 24 hours of an anaesthetic
must be reported.
In jurisdictions with voluntary assisted
dying provisions, such deaths are
generally not reportable, but there may
be notification provisions under the
legislation in your jurisdiction.
Most states and territories also have
specific provisions for perinatal deaths
and there is a usually a separate form to
be used in the case of a perinatal death.
Your relationship to the deceased
You may be prohibited from completing
an MCCD or a cremation certificate
for a family member, or if you are a
beneficiary of the deceased. Seek
advice if you may be in this situation.
Do you need to examine the body of
the deceased to complete the death
Examining or viewing the body is not
always legally necessary to complete
Whether an examination is necessary
depends on the facts and circumstances
described to you about the death.
If you have any concerns, we
recommend you make every effort to
examine the body.
If you need to examine the body but are
unable to attend in person and view the
body, contact Avant. Other options such
as viewing by video may be available in
some states and territories.
How long do you have to complete a
Generally, you must complete the
MCCD within 48 hours from the time of
death if you:
were treating the patient immediately
before the death, or
- attended and examined the body of a
The exceptions are if you notify the
coroner, or if you reasonably believe
another doctor has completed the
MCCD or notified the coroner.
Contact Avant if you will be unable to
complete the MCCD within the 48-hour
period. Some states and territories have
provisions that may allow you to extend
What if you are uncomfortable
completing a death certificate?
Sometimes doctors report they feel
pressure to sign the MCCD.
If you cannot be satisfied or cannot form
an opinion as to the probable cause of
death, or if you have any concerns that
the death might need to be reported to
the coroner, seek advice.
In many states and territories, you can
contact the coroner’s office for advice.
Always take careful notes of your
discussions and any advice in case
there are questions later.
What do you do with the death
The completed MCCD needs to be
sent to the Registry of Birth, Deaths and
There are different provisions in each
state and territory about who needs to
register the death.
Can a death certificate be amended?
If you discover an error that means the
death should have been reported to the
coroner, you need to bring the error to the
coroner’s attention and report the death.
If the error does not change your ability
to issue the MCCD, you can correct the
error. If possible, retract the incorrect
certificate and issue a new one.
Do not destroy the old documents or
make them illegible as they are still
part of the medical record. Correct
the document by striking through the
incorrect entry, mark it ‘written in error’
and print the author’s name, signature,
designation, date and time.
If the certificate has already been
provided to the Registrar of Births,
Deaths and Marriages, each state and
territory registry also has a process for
notifying the registry of the error. (For more information see avant.org.au/news/death-certificate-error).
Families can find amending death
certificates distressing so it is important
to manage this situation sensitively.
The body of a deceased person
cannot lawfully be cremated until the
necessary certificates and permits
have been obtained.
You may be asked to complete a
cremation certificate if you attended
the deceased patient. Or you may be
asked to act as a second independent
practitioner. The formal requirements
are different in each state and territory,
but generally you will be asked to certify:
the cause of death has been
there are no circumstances requiring
the coroner to investigate the death
you are not aware of any objections
– i.e, that the deceased did not wish
to be cremated or a family member
- whether the cremation poses a
risk (e.g, because there is a battery
powered device such as a pacemaker,
or a radioactive implant in the body).
If you are an appointed medical
referee you can complete a certificate
of medical referee stating there is no
reason why the remains cannot be
cremated. In the ACT that certificate
can only be completed by a legally
appointed medical referee.
Do you need to examine the body before
issuing a cremation certificate?
In most jurisdictions you are required
to view the body before issuing a
cremation certificate. It is advisable to
see the body in person (rather than via
video) to certify that you have “seen” the
body and “examined” it.
When not to sign a cremation certificate
Do not sign a cremation certificate if
- you are not satisfied with the MCCD
- there is a possibility that further
investigations into the cause of death
- you are aware the deceased did not
wish to be cremated
- you are aware someone such as
a personal representative or close
family member of the deceased has
objected to the cremation.
If you are related to the deceased in any
way, or a beneficiary of the deceased,
you should not sign a cremation
You may also be unable to sign a
cremation certificate as an independent
practitioner if you or a partner in your
practice completed the MCCD. Seek
advice in these circumstances.
Patient medical records
Document all aspects of the MCCD and
cremation certificate process in the
patient record, particularly if you decide
not to complete a certificate because
you are uncertain about the cause of
For more information or immediate medico-legal advice, call us on
1800 128 268, 24/7 in emergencies.