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General News · 4th May 2023
Margaret Verschuur
When a person dies in British Columbia, burial or cremation cannot legally take place until the death has been registered with the Vital Statistics Agency. The executor named in the Will is responsible for this (if no Will, then the next of kin). Although it is usual to hire a licensed funeral director to do this and other death-related tasks, the registration documents could also be obtained by the executor, a family member, friend, or volunteer.

Bringing death back into the stream of life could involve keeping a body in the family home for a period of time after a death has occurred. Family and/or friends can tend to and prepare the body, light candles, say prayers, sit with the deceased, hold a wake, or do whatever is meaningful to them. Family and friends can transport the body to the cemetery or crematorium themselves, following a set of rules which will be the topic for another article. This do-it-yourself or home funeral approach needs to include registering the death.

Community-Led Death Care volunteers are available to guide, support, and assist with the death registration process and other death-related tasks. On the website is a link to “Documentation Required When a Death Occurs”, where each step of the process is outlined in detail.

Taking responsibility for the death-related tasks ourselves is considered alternative, which is why planning ahead is important. It is challenging to navigate unfamiliar territory during a time when overwhelming emotions may be reducing our ability to think. Creating a plan and preparing for death while you are still healthy, or when a death is expected, is prudent. Email to request help in this planning process.

In order to register the death, the Vital Statistics Agency requires a considerable amount of information about the deceased, proof of identification, proof of Social Insurance Number, and a copy of the Medical Certification of Death document.

A medical practitioner, nurse practitioner or coroner is obligated to complete and sign the Medical Certification of Death within 48 hours after the death occurs. When a death is expected It is helpful to let the health practitioner know before the death occurs that you are keeping the body at home and would like a copy of this document as soon as possible.

The Vital Statistics Agency is open only during regular business hours. This can influence the length of a time that occurs between the death, and burial or cremation. While funeral homes use refrigerated storage units, family and friends are usually relying on ice to keep the body cool. Once again, it is wise to plan ahead so the registration process can be completed as soon as possible.

After the Vital Statistics agent enters the information, they create a Death Event document for the family to check. Once the agent is informed the information is correct, a Burial Permit and Acknowledgement of Registration of Death is issued. This document is usually referred to as a “Disposition Permit”, as it is required for burial or cremation. The executor can now order the number of Death Certificates they think they will need to administer the estate.

The process to register a death with the Vital Statistics Agency is free. Although not difficult, knowing each of the steps and completing them correctly and in a timely fashion can be challenging for many people, and especially for a family in the midst of dealing with a death. Whether you intend to keep the body at home or not, planning ahead helps. Rather than scrambling for paperwork, those you leave behind can attend to their grief.