Basic instructions for the family of the deceased
You have been struck by sorrow. After a death, practical arrangements must be made for things like organizing a funeral, even amidst grieving. For these arrangements, it would be easiest for you to contact a funeral home of your choice or the church of the deceased. The funeral home does not need to be located in the deceased’s municipality of residence.
Authorities, such as hospital staff or the police, do not have a right to recommend you a specific funeral home. Funeral arrangements can begin immediately after a person’s death.
The doctor who treated your loved one will issue a burial permit, if there is no need for examinations to determine the cause of death. Otherwise, the burial permit will be issued after these examinations. Funeral arrangements can be made even before the burial permit has been issued.
Potential examinations for determining cause of death
Medical determination of cause of death
A permission from next of kin is requested for performing a medical autopsy. If you want a medical autopsy to be performed on the deceased, you should immediately contact the doctor who treated your deceased family member.
The hospital or medical center will be responsible for all expenses related to a medical autopsy, including possible transportation to where the autopsy will take place.
Forensic determination of cause of death
A forensic determination of cause of death will be performed when death was not caused by any known illness, cause of death was an accident or a medical procedure, or death was otherwise unexpected.
The Finnish state is responsible for all the expenses of a forensic determination of cause of death as well as transportation to where the examination will take place. You can start making funeral arrangements even before the examinations for determining the cause of death.
A death certificate states the cause of death of the deceased, and will be issued only after the results of all laboratory and other tests required to determine cause of death have been received. This may sometimes take as long as several months. A death certificate is not needed for dealing with the authorities.
Notification of death
Notification of death will be sent through official channels to the magistrate to be entered into the census record, from which the information will be passed on to places such as the church, the Kela office, most banks etc. You can handle official and bank business using an official certificate you can get from the registrar (civil register, parish). A death certificate issued by a doctor is not required.
Member companies of the Finnish Association of Funeral Services follow these professional rules:
Funeral home work requires considerable expertise and execution of duties as a matter of conscience. This is based on a loyal relationship with the families (estates) in question. Therefore, each entrepreneur must
- keep in mind their absolute responsibility of non-disclosure
- treat grieving families with appropriate respect
- always remember that the conduct of the owner of the funeral home or people in their employment must not give a negative impression of themselves or other people in the trade
In light of these rules, the Finnish Association of Funeral Services recommends that its members
- respect the religions and customs of those needing their services
- carry out all tasks related to death and burial carefully and in detail
- remain honest and reserved in all situations, including advertising
- respect the trust in their profession
- follow the domestic and international laws, statutes, decrees and agreements governing their trade
- loyally cooperate with domestic and foreign colleagues, especially in work and assistance within Europe
- support all projects by similar organizations that seek to facilitate and simplify working methods in our trade
The easiest way to organize a funeral is to contact the funeral home of your choice, which will reliably and professionally begin to take care of matters related to the funeral.
In accordance with your wishes, the funeral home will contact the necessary parties to organize the funeral. They will reserve the times, places and suppliers for the service.
At the funeral home, you will pick a coffin, and if necessary, an urn. The funeral home will take care of dressing up the deceased, placing them in the coffin and necessary transportations.
Arrangements for the memorial service, flower arrangements, matters related to the headstone and often also the estate inventory can also be handled by the funeral home.
The right of next of kin to make funeral arrangements
The Funerary Services Act defines the right to make funeral arrangements. Unless the deceased during their lifetime has explicitly wished that a specific person take care of the arrangements related to the funeral, cremation and scattering of the ashes, the arrangements can be made by the surviving spouse of the deceased or a person who was living in a shared household with the deceased at the time of death in a marriage-like fashion, as well as the closest heirs, such as children or siblings.
The Funerary Services Act also specifies that the body of the deceased must be buried without delay in a tight, appropriate coffin or cremated in a crematorium.
Death certificate and burial permit
If the deceased has been treated by a doctor during their final illness, the attending doctor will usually issue a death certificate and a burial permit. Before that, the hospital may request a permission for a medical autopsy from next of kin.
If the deceased has not been treated by a doctor over the last six months, if death has been caused by a criminal offense or accident, or if death has been otherwise unexpected, a law enforcement official of the locale where death took place will conduct a forensic determination of cause of death. In such cases, the death certificate and burial permit are issued by the doctor who performed the autopsy.
The hospital will pass information about the death to registrar authorities through official channels. The burial permit will be delivered to the next of kin or to the funeral home, depending on hospital policy.
The burial place will usually be a cemetery. Arrangements for using a grave already in the family’s possession can be made at the funeral home.
Obtaining a new burial place does not require church membership; parishes have a duty to grant a burial place to all residents of the municipality.
The best places for getting information about other burial places are your local parish or a funeral home.
The funeral service is almost identical for coffin burials and cremations. After service, the coffin is usually carried from the church or chapel accompanied by family members and laid to the grave. The service may also take place at the grave site. In a coffin burial, flowers are usually laid at the grave.
In cremation, the coffin and flowers are usually left in the chapel at the end of service, from which the coffin is transported for cremation by the parish or the funeral home. The burial of ashes usually takes place at a specifically reserved time. According to the Funerary Services Act, the ashes of the deceased must be laid in one single place within one year from death.
There is usually a memorial service after the funeral service. The memorial can be held at home, at parish premises or at some other suitable location.
Funeral costs are paid primarily from the deceased’s own assets and account. If the deceased has no money of their own for the funeral, it is possible to apply for funeral support from the social services of the deceased’s last place of residence. Social services will usually pay the mandatory minimum funeral costs.
An estate inventory must be made for all persons who lived and died in Finland within three months from death. The estate inventory is delivered to the tax office. If necessary, it is possible to apply for an extension for the estate inventory. An estate inventory is a report of the heirs, assets and debts of the deceased.
A checklist for families
There are many things someone must take care of after a death. For example, it may be necessary to keep an eye on an empty apartment, empty the refrigerator and take care of pets. If any of the deceased’s property was left at the hospital, it needs to be picked up.
Contact with authorities
The doctor who issues the burial permit will send information about the death to registrar authorities to be entered into the census record system. This way, the information will also be relayed to pension institutions and banks.
Mail and direct marketing
Direct marketing companies receive information about deaths from the census record system, but keep in mind that direct marketing address lists are updated infrequently. Direct marketing letters addressed to the deceased may keep arriving even months after death.
If the apartment of the deceased is empty, you should have mail forwarded to a close relative. The executor of the estate may receive registered mail using the official certificate of the deceased and an authorization from distributees of the estate.
Which things can be handled by a single distributee of the estate?
Even a single distributee of an estate may pay the bills of the deceased from the estate’s account, receive statements of the deceased’s bank accounts, cancel direct billing from the deceased’s accounts, order documents for the estate inventory and make funeral arrangements.
What do I need an official certificate for?
An official certificate is used for handling practical matters at banks, insurance companies etc. A death certificate is not required, unless dealing with a party that requires information about the deceased’s cause of death. An unbroken chain of official certificates is required as an appendix of the estate inventory. What is primarily needed is an official certificate specifying a person’s date of death and any distributees of the estate. Such a certificate can be obtained easily from the magistrate.
Other useful things to remember
Organizations, clubs and associations
Cancellation of membership is not the only reason to contact organizations the deceased has been a member of. A community where the deceased has actively participated might like to send its representative to the funeral or deliver flowers or a sympathy card to the family.
It is also possible that different member deposits or payments may be returned to the estate. Listed below are examples of some of the most common organizations:
- Trade union
- Hobby club
- Choir, orchestra
- Agricultural society, hunting club
- Trailer association
- Martha organization
- Sports club, other association
- Political party department, veterans’ associations
- Rotary/Lions Club/Freemasons
Besides different life, property and savings insurances, there are many separate insurances for things like mobile phones, computers, televisions etc. Some insurances may no longer be relevant, while others may need to be moved under a different person’s name.
It is also important to remember to apply for any applicable insurance compensations.
- Life insurance
- Group life insurance
- Accident insurance
- Health insurance
- Pension insurance
- Savings insurance
- Home insurance
- Traveler’s insurance
Subscriptions and contracts
To avoid unnecessary expenses for the estate and family, it is important to terminate any subscriptions and contracts. It may also be purposeful to transfer a contract or subscription under some family member’s name.
- Rental agreement
- Garage/parking spot
- Telephones, Internet
- Satellite and cable television
- Bank billing service
- Newspaper and magazine subscriptions
- Catering service
Finnish Association of Funeral Services
The Finnish Association of Funeral Services is a trade association of about 300 Finnish funeral homes. The Association was founded in 1942. Its purpose is to foster Finnish funeral culture, develop the professional skills and ethics of its members and to monitor and promote its members’ general and shared interests.
Copying these basic instructions is prohibited.
The basic instructions booklet can be ordered from the Finnish Association of Funeral Services.