In the event of a death

When someone dies, a great many things change in the lives of their family and friends. Sorrow and other responses to death vary and are highly personal. Such responses frequently relate to the manner of the death, which might be sudden or over an extended period of time.


  • When death occurs in a health institution, or outside such institution where the relatives are not present, they will be contacted as soon as possible. In the case of an accident, a church minister or a specially summoned police officer will be in charge of notifying the relatives.
  • When absent relatives must be notified of a death the relevant parish minister is usually contacted and requested to notify them.
  • When there is a fatal accident, news reporters and media representatives shall collaborate with ministers or police on the public disclosure of the identity of the deceased. The general rule is that the name of the deceased will not be reported until most or all of the closest relatives have been contacted.
  • After the death, the relatives contact a minister, the head of a religious association or an undertaker for guidance on the next steps.
  • Enquiries must be made concerning any special wishes that the deceased may have stated as regards treatment at the end of life and funeral. The wishes of the deceased regarding the funeral take precedence over the wishes of the relatives. In particular, any wishes based on the religious understanding of the deceased must be respected.
  • If these do not correspond with the religious ideas of the relatives, the funeral will generally take place in accordance with the religious ideas of the deceased, but a memorial service may be held based on the religious understanding of the relatives.
  • In particular, a request for cremation must be respected. If a religious minister or other party visiting the sick and dying becomes aware that the person in question has changed his or her mind with respect to the funeral arrangements, such party shall ensure that the will of the deceased is confirmed, either with a written statement or the confirmation of summoned witnesses.

Death outside institutions

  • Where death occurs outside an institution, or where the deceased has not received the care of health workers, the police are called in, along with ambulance staff and a doctor to confirm the death.
  • The police will investigate the scene and decide, in consultation with the doctor, whether it is possible to make a pronouncement on the cause of death. If this is not possible a forensic autopsy shall be performed according to the law.
  • When a death has been confirmed, and the investigation of the police and the doctor has been completed, the police may permit the deceased to be prepared at home, if that is where the death occurred.
  • The police are responsible for transporting the deceased to a mortuary. A funeral services company or other duly authorised entity is often commissioned for the transport.
  • Relatives are normally asked if they want to summon a religious minister and a close relative or friend to support them.
  • Sometimes there is an opportunity to hold a quiet moment of farewell before the deceased is transferred to the mortuary. Such moments can be precious.

Post mortem examination and autopsy

  • A post mortem examination is an examination by a medical doctor to investigate how a death occurred.
  • A forensic medical autopsy is a joint examination by the police and a medical doctor to investigate how a death occurred.
  • There are two kinds of autopsies performed: an autopsy performed for medical purposes, and forensic autopsies.
  • Following the post mortem examination, an autopsy may be performed on the body for medical purposes, if the deceased gave permission for this.
  • The next of kin may also approve the autopsy, if it is proven that it is not against the will of the deceased.
  • If the police investigation of the scene shows that the death may be traced to criminal conduct, or if the cause of death cannot be determined, a forensic autopsy will be performed at the initiative of the police.
  • The consent of the next of kin or a court order is required for a forensic autopsy.
  • The removal of organs is not permitted in a forensic autopsy if it is considered that such removal may affect the outcome of the autopsy.

Living will/organ donation

  • A living will is a document that states an individual's wishes regarding treatment at the end of life in the event that he or she is unable, due to a mental or physical condition, to participate in making decisions.
  • Organ donation means that organs or other biological materials are removed from a deceased person and implanted in a patient in need of those organs or materials.
  • The Directorate of Health is responsible for issuing organ donation cards, which people can fill in at their discretion. It is recommended that organ donor cards are stored together with other forms of personal identification.
  • If the deceased is an organ donor, then the organ that he or she gave permission to use may be removed immediately following confirmation of death. If the wishes of the deceased regarding organ donation are unknown, the decision will rest with the next of kin.

Death certificate

  • A death certificate is, firstly, a notification to the National Registry concerning the cause of death and the identity of the deceased and, secondly, a notification to the district magistrate concerning the death.
  • The corpse is examined, depending on how the death occurred, by a doctor or head physician at the relevant health care institute, the deceased's doctor or a District Physician, or sometimes by the police. A doctor writes the death certificate.
    1. The death certificate is delivered to the next of kin of the deceased, either at the health care institution or by the doctor who examined the deceased.
    2. The relative delivers the death certificate to the district magistrate in the district where the deceased had legal residence on the day of death or where the estate will be settled.
    3. The district magistrate then gives the relative a statement confirming the receipt of the death certificate.
    4. The relative gives the statement of confirmation either to a church minister, the head of a religious association, or to an undertaker. Without this document the funeral cannot take place.
    5. The district magistrate sends the death certificate to the National Registry.
  • If the deceased passed away while abroad, a death certificate or similar foreign certificate is given to the district magistrate in the district where the funeral will take place or where the estate of the deceased will be settled.
  • If it is impossible to produce a death certificate the district magistrate can receive a notification of death, if it is accompanied by any of the following items of evidence:
  • An official certificate signed by an individual who, because of his or her status as public servant, is competent to testify to a death that has occurred.
  • A police report that has been prepared here in Iceland and which confirms the occurrence of a death or a court judgment rendered in Iceland concerning the death of a disappeared person.
  • A court ruling delivered in Iceland stating that the inheritance of a disappeared person may be apportioned as if the person were deceased. Corresponding foreign documentary evidence.
  • In the event of stillbirth, a death certificate does not have to be issued; the health care institute notifies the National Registry of the stillbirth in a special form.

The transport of deceased persons from one region to another or between different countries

  • If the deceased needs to be transported from one part of a country to another, or from one country to another, the same rules concerning death certificates apply as stated in the chapter on death certificates. Funeral service companies will be able to arrange transport from one part of the country to another for the relatives.
  • If a corpse has to be transported out of the country, a relative shall deliver the death certificate to the district magistrate in the district where the person died. The district magistrate gives a certified copy of the death certificate to the person who is going to take care of the transportation of the corpse, and the certified copy will accompany the corpse.
  • Funeral service companies offer to arrange, on behalf of the relatives, the transportation of the body from one country to another, and any other matters that are connected with transportation.

Notices to the media

  • It is desirable that the relatives notify other relatives and friends of the deceased of the death before the death is publicly announced.
  • Deaths and funerals can be announced publicly in three venues: the State Broadcasting Service, Morgunbladid newspaper, and Fréttabladid newspaper. Relatives should bear in mind that it is necessary to contact the media in good time.
  • A death notice is usually published a few days after the death, and a funeral notice several days before the funeral. Some people choose to publish the death notice and funeral notice together.
  • If the wish of the deceased was for a private funeral, the notice is not published until after the ceremony.

Laws and regulations