Death Procedures and All Death Expenses in Singapore

Last updated on March 12, 2019

Featured image for the "Death Registry, Autopsy and Funeral Expenses in Singapore" article. It features a woman mourning after a death.

Death takes our loved ones away. It emotionally destroys us. Yet, we stay strong to say goodbye to them. And so, although the process of following up with post-death matters is a distressing one, we never hesitate to take the necessary steps.

In hopes of helping you stay strong, this article will guide you through the practical and financial arrangements to be made upon the death of a loved one.

It will cover:

What Do I Do When a Death Occurs?

1. Obtain a Certificate of Cause of Death (CCOD)

When someone passes away, a Certificate of Cause of Death (CCOD) has to be obtained.

What is a CCOD?

A CCOD is a document filled in by a licensed medical practitioner to certify that the individual’s death resulted from known and natural causes.

This means that the death of the individual may have occurred due to a known medical illness (e.g. cancer) or a sudden stop in bodily function (e.g. sudden cardiac arrest) and is therefore natural. The cause of death should not be from external forces (E.g. suicide/murder) which are deemed unnatural.

Here are 3 possible places in which a death may occur and what to do in each situation:

When a Loved One Passes Away at Home

Where a death occurs at home, call a doctor. This could be either your family doctor or your neighbourhood doctor (he/she must be willing to make a house call).

If the doctor is able to certify the death, he/she will issue the CCOD on the spot.

Note that the doctor can only certify a death if there is a valid clinical report (from the hospital or clinic the patient has been visiting or receiving treatments from) that could help the doctor identify that the death may have occurred based on existing medical conditions.

If you are unable to contact a doctor, call the police.

The police will proceed immediately to the reported location of the deceased. He/she will, to his/her best ability, investigate the cause of and circumstances of the deceased’s death.

According to sections 10(3) and 11 of the Coroner’s Act, any police officer who has seen the body may:

  • Have the body removed to any place he may direct; or
  • Secure and preserve the scene where the body was found, for further investigations. In this case, the police will have to report the death of the deceased to the Coroner as soon as possible. He/she will have to inform the Coroner of any information (connected to the deceased’s death) found in current and subsequent investigations.

The body of the deceased will then be sent to the mortuary at Health Sciences Authority (HSA) for a pathologist to determine the cause of death.

You will need to bring to the mortuary:

  • All medical documents relating to the deceased
  • All medicine consumed by the deceased
  • Identification papers of the deceased and yourself (E.g. NRIC, passport, Certificate of Registration of Birth, or FIN Card)

It might take up to 1 day before the police calls you down to identify the body in the presence of a Coroner. If an autopsy is needed (see below), the Coroner will inform you of this.

When a Loved One Passes Away in a Hospital

Where a death occurs in a hospital, a doctor at the hospital will certify the cause of death. This is only if the cause is known and natural (as explained above).

Once the CCOD is filled in and handed over to the ward nurse, you may collect it from the ward nurse by presenting an identification card of the deceased.

When a Loved One Passes Away Overseas

Where a death occurs overseas, the death should be registered with the relevant foreign authorities where the death has occurred.

While obtaining the CCOD, you should look into getting a funeral director who can start making the necessary funeral arrangements. This will also reduce your concern on organising a funeral in the midst of losing a loved one. (More information on engaging a funeral director can be found below.)

2. Register the Death to Obtain a Death Certificate

Unlike a CCOD (which certifies the cause of death), a Death Certificate is an official document to declare the death of an individual.

You can register the death at either one of the following places:

  • Police Divisional Headquarters
  • Neighbourhood Police Centre
  • Neighbourhood Police Post
  • The Registry of Births and Death

You will need to bring:

  • Certificate of Cause of Death
  • Identifications of the deceased and yourself (E.g. NRIC, passport, Certificate of Registration of Birth, or FIN Card)

Prior to registration, note that your family and you should also decide if the body will be cremated or buried as this information will be required when registering the death.

Upon verifying the documents, the Registration Officer will issue the Death Certificate. You must verify the particulars on the Death Certificate, then sign the Death Certificate.

If the body is referred to the Mortuary at HSA by the police (where you are unable to contact a doctor or the doctor is unable to certify the cause of death), the death will be registered there.

Note that you have a 24-hour grace period to register the death. However, you can only proceed with the various preparations once you have obtained a Death Certificate.

Having an Autopsy Conducted on the Deceased

An autopsy, also known as a post mortem examination, is an examination conducted by a pathologist to discover the cause of death of the deceased. It may include evaluation of any medical issues or injuries present on the deceased’s body.

Once the CCOD has been obtained and the death has been registered, an autopsy may or may not be conducted on the deceased’s body.

Is an Autopsy Compulsory?

An autopsy is only required if the matter becomes a Coroner’s inquiry (an inquiry conducted by a Coroner into the circumstances leading to the deceased’s death).

According to section 12(1) of the Coroner’s Act, in the event that a death has been reported to the Coroner, he/she will make a preliminary investigation to determine if an autopsy is needed.

If the death was due to natural causes, a Coroner’s inquiry is unnecessary and so an autopsy will not be required. The Coroner may issue an order for the body to be released.

However, if the death has occurred suddenly without any reason and/or is suspected to be due to unnatural causes, the Coroner will authorise an autopsy.

Can I Request for an Autopsy to be Conducted?

Yes, you can request for a private autopsy to be conducted by submitting an application form. However, do note that whether the autopsy will be conducted is subject to approval from HSA.

What Happens Upon the Release of the Autopsy Results?

If the autopsy reveals that the death is unnatural, the Police will conduct further investigations on the cause of death.

As the family of the deceased, you will be expected to co-operate and assist the police. The findings at the autopsy may later on become part of evidence adduced in the Coroner’s inquiries and criminal trials (if any).

Can I Claim My Loved One’s Body After an Autopsy?

Yes, you can.

However, for a Coroner’s case, you will have to wait until all investigations are completed. Upon which, your family and you will be told to attend a Coroner’s inquiry at the State Courts. Only then, will you be able to claim the body.

Nevertheless, HSA may make arrangements for you to see the body in the meantime, after the autopsy.

How Much does an Autopsy Cost?

For a private autopsy, the administrative fee per case is $5,863.60 (inclusive of GST) and the daily charge for body storage is $165.85 per day (from the third day onwards). If an autopsy is not carried out, the fees collected will be refunded.

For a Coroner’s inquiry, no fees will be charged.

However, if you wish to have a copy of the autopsy report, the administrative fee per certified true copy is $160.50 (inclusive of GST).

Funeral Expenses

What are the Possible Expenses to Consider for a Funeral?

Depending on your religion, the location (E.g. void deck or parlour) and the length (E.g. 2 or 5 days), funeral ceremonial rites and expenses may vary.

Funeral expenses in Singapore may range from around $1300 to $8400.

Regardless, you may want to look out for the following items, service and/or type of fee:

  • Embalming
  • Casket
  • Photo enlargement of the deceased and photo frame
  • Hearse
  • Manpower/co-ordination of related services
  • Placing of obituary in the newspaper
  • Travel expenses to and from the funeral location
  • Flowers

For cremation:

  • Booking fee
  • Storage of ashes (urns and niches)

For burial:

  • Booking fee
  • Tombstone

Note that these lists are non-exhaustive.

Where Can I Acquire Assistance for the Funeral Arrangements?

You may want to engage a funeral director who will guide you throughout the funeral process as per your preference. He/she will:

  • Collect the body of the deceased from your home/the hospital
  • Send the body for embalming (if required)
  • Deliver the body to the location of the wake

You should preferably engage a funeral director after you obtain a CCOD or at the same time you obtain a Death Certificate. This is so that he/she can start making the funeral arrangements as soon as possible.

What if My Family and I Can’t Afford the Funeral?

Reimbursement of Funeral Expenses

1. From the Deceased’s Estate Monies

A) If the Deceased’s Estate is Worth More than $50,000

If the deceased’s estate is worth more than $50,000, the executor (if the deceased made a will) or the administrator (if the deceased did not make a will) can claim a reimbursement of funeral expenses under section 67 of the Probate and Administration Act.

This includes all reasonable expenses of subsequent religious ceremonies done for the deceased.

B) If the Deceased’s Estate is Worth $50,000 or Less

If the deceased’s estate is worth $50,000 or less, the Public Trustee can administer the reimbursement of funeral expenses for you.

Both the beneficiaries (of the deceased’s will or trust) and non-beneficiaries of the deceased are eligible to claim for reimbursement of funeral expenses from the deceased’s estate monies. The maximum amount of money that can be claimed from the deceased’s estate is $6,000.

Before a non-beneficiary’s claim can be considered, he/she must:

  • Produce copies of the relevant receipts showing proof of the funeral expenses incurred
  • Receive the consent of all other beneficiary(s) to claim reimbursement of funeral expenses from the deceased’s estate

However, there are certain situations under which the Public Trustee will not be able to act on administering the deceased’s estate monies. This means that your claim for reimbursement will not be considered. A few of these situations include:

  • The estate has outstanding debts or liabilities
  • There are conflicting claims to the estate or disputes among the beneficiary

Therefore, it is important that you check that the estate does not fall under any one of these situations.

2. From the Deceased’s Unnominated CPF Monies

Only the deceased’s beneficiaries are eligible to claim a reimbursement of funeral expenses from the deceased’s unnominated CPF monies (if any). Non-beneficiaries are not eligible.

If the deceased has more than one beneficiary, the beneficiary claiming for reimbursement must first obtain the consent of all the other beneficiaries for this.

Once the claim has been paid out, the remaining unnominated CPF monies (if any) will be distributed according to section 7 of the Intestate Succession Act.

3. From the Deceased’s Life Insurance

A life insurance policy pays out an amount of money (that has been agreed between the insurance holder and the insurance company) to the named beneficiaries of the insurance holder when certain circumstances occur, such as the death of the insurance holder.

If you are unable to cover the funeral costs, you may want to check if the deceased has taken out any life insurance policies and whether you are a beneficiary of the policy.

If you are, you will receive the insurance money directly from the deceased’s insurance company. You can then use the money to offset the costs of the funeral.

4. From the Deceased’s Bank Account Monies

In the event you are still lacking funds to pay for the funeral, you may want to turn to the deceased’s bank account monies to cover the funeral costs.

Usually, the bank would freeze the deceased’s bank account once they have been notified of the deceased’s death. In this case, a legal representative of the deceased’s estate (or the surviving joint account holder if the account was held jointly) has to approach the bank to close the bank account(s).

This will ensure that any automatic monthly payments or GIRO deductions are dealt with accordingly. This includes any safety deposit box the deceased may have had.

Only after the settlement process has been completed, you will be able to access the deceased’s bank account monies and use it to pay for the funeral.

Protecting Your Deceased Loved One

Closing the Deceased’s Online Accounts

Even after their death, we would want to protect our loved ones and ensure the best for them.

The internet is one place where your loved one’s identity may be at risk. This is because, all of their personal information (passwords, birth dates, etc.) from their social media, email or bank accounts on mobile applications or sites, have not been taken down.

This opens up the possibility of online identity theft where their information can be stolen to commit fraudulent acts. For example, use of your loved one’s personal information to take over his/her bank account.

It is therefore important that your family and you close any online accounts of the deceased.

Dealing with Trespassers at the Funeral/Burial Ground

Should you, for any unfortunate reason, have to deal with trespassers at the funeral or burial ground, note that the law protects your family and your deceased loved one from trespassers.

Under section 297 of the Penal Code, any person who trespasses on a funeral or burial ground with the:

  • Intention of wounding any person’s feelings, or with the
  • Knowledge that he/she is likely to insult any person’s religion, or with the
  • Knowledge that he/she would likely wound, the feelings of any person or insulting any religion by doing so, may be imprisoned up to 3 years and/or fined.

If the trespassers refuse to leave, you may call the police to let them deal with the situation.

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Moving forward with financial and legal matters right after a death may be quite agonising.

We hope that this article has helped you become better-informed of the necessary steps and procedures of registering a death, having an autopsy conducted (if needed), how you may pay for the funeral, and how you can protect your deceased loved one after his or her passing.

In addition, if you are feeling emotionally detached or the pain of grief while going through the practical arrangements that come with the death of the loved one, you may be experiencing symptoms of bereavement.

Should you require help to get through this tough period of time, do not hesitate to call the Mental Health Helpline run by the Institute of Mental Health (IMH) at 6389-2222.

Alternatively, you can refer to the IMH website for a list of hotlines where you can acquire assistance (e.g. counselling), to address any mental health concerns you may have.