Managing an unattended death

If someone that you knew and/or loved has passed away, and not been found for a period of time, you might be responsible for cleaning up their estate. This is often called a “decomposition”. This is something that we do not recommend that untrained people do themselves – for safety reasons, for emotional reasons, and for regulatory reasons. Materials that have body fluids or material on it cannot be disposed of in regular landfills or tips, and strict processes must be followed.

We recommend that if you do┬ásome or all of these things, that you will be well placed to manage this situation, so that your lasting memories are of your loved one – not the circumstances surrounding their death.

Initial contact – Managing an unattended death

Make some calls to specialist crime and trauma scene (CTS) cleaners. Explain your situation to them. Ask them about ball-park costs, and how long it will take them to attend to your case if you should give them the work. If time is of importance to you, this might make a difference in who you would choose. Also, this conversation in important because you will get some idea of how they will be to deal with. While they are working on your case, you may need to be in contact with them quite a bit, as things occur to you, and additional tasks come to mind. Besides their professionalism, you will be more drawn to a company that you feel more comfortable. Ask to see a copy of their engagement contract so you can see the services that are included, and what is not.

Often unattended deaths are also accompanied by other issues, which may have resulted in additional complications. An example of this is a home (besides the scene) that requires a full clean from top-to-bottom. You might want this is you are going to move into the house afterwards, or perhaps you want to sell. Alternatively, you might end up with the legal requirement of returning a rented property to the owner, which must be in a habitable condition afterwards. In this case, a good specialist company will also have associated companies and tradespeople that can clean and repair beyond the immediate issue. Forensic Clean, for example, is sister company to Superhero in Disguise, and works closely with a large team of tradespeople who can transform properties and manage the full process if you so desire. There is a huge economy in using one company to manage this, as call-out fees and profit margins are minimised or eliminated by agreement.

Get it in writing – Managing an unattended death

Once you have chosen a company, make sure that you have a signed copy of the contract. This contract ensures that you will get the services specified, and shows intent between you and the company.

If you are intended to renovate the home afterwards, let your CTS cleaners know – it might be easier, cheaper and quicker to pull up carpets.

Access to the property – Managing an unattended death

Do you have keys to the property? Does anyone that you know of? Is a locksmith required to gain access?

If there are problems with access, you don’t have to manage this yourself necessarily. For example, the deceased might have trustees that manage it for you, or your CTS cleaners can do this for you.

Locating important papers – Managing an unattended death

Do you know if the deceased had insurance that might cover the costs of cleaning? What is the electricity company? Will power continue to be supplied to the property? Is there a Will? Where are sentiment papers and photographs?

You don’t have to know where they are, but if you do, you will get them much quicker. Your CTS cleaners can go straight in and get them for you. If you don’t know, a professional company will locate them as soon as possible, and bag and label them for you.

Sentimental items – Managing an unattended death

If you can, write a list of items that are sentimental or of value, and ask your CTS cleaners to locate, disinfect, and bag/label them for you.

Items that are “soft” (such as fabric items), may be tainted with a strong odour. Be aware of this when making up your list, if you do not want to deal with airing these things. Paying your CTS cleaners to do this for you is an (expensive) option.

Additional tasks – Managing an unattended death

There may be things that you would like your CTS cleaners to attend to while they have access to the property. The following are common:

  • Mail collection.
  • Junk mail removal.
  • Rubbish removal.
  • Gardening tasks (they will likely get in their associated tradespeople to attend to this).
  • Putting bins out.
  • Watering pot plants or gardens.
  • Assessing home damage.
  • Insurance documentation (all CTS cleaners should be able to document the process and provide this on request).
  • Full home cleaning.
  • Clutter-clearing.
  • Carpet steam cleaning.
  • Painting.

NOTE: Odour remediation should be part of the services that your CTS cleaners offer. Make sure that it is in the contract!

Assessing the property – Managing an unattended death

Once the CTS cleaning company has finished working at the property, it is a good idea to inspect it. That doesn’t necessarily have to be you! You just want to make sure that the services promised have actually been delivered. If you are not happy, have a discussion with the CTS cleaning company representative. They may have a good reason for not doing certain things – but if this is the case they should have informed you before final inspection!

Odour remediation

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