Skip to main content

Unraveling the Meaning of “Unnatural Causes” on a Death Certificate: Implications for Reporting the Estate

The passing of a loved one is a deeply emotional and often complicated experience. When a death certificate indicates “unnatural causes,” it adds another layer of complexity to an already challenging situation. In this article, we will explore what it means when a death certificate mentions “unnatural causes,” specifically in the context of reporting the deceased’s estate in South Africa.

Understanding “Unnatural Causes” on a Death Certificate

When a death occurs, a medical practitioner, often a doctor or forensic pathologist, is responsible for certifying the cause of death. The cause of death is categorized into two primary types: natural and unnatural.

  • Natural Causes: This category includes deaths resulting from medical conditions such as illnesses, diseases, or age-related factors. Common examples are heart disease, cancer, or complications from diabetes.
  • Unnatural Causes: Deaths classified as unnatural are those that occur due to external factors, events, or circumstances. This category encompasses a wide range of situations, including accidents, homicides, suicides, drug overdoses, and other non-medical causes.

When a death certificate lists “unnatural causes” as the cause of death, it signifies that the deceased’s passing resulted from circumstances beyond typical natural causes like illness or old age. This classification is essential for various reasons, including legal and insurance purposes.

Implications for Reporting the Estate

Reporting the estate of a deceased individual involves a series of legal and administrative steps to settle their affairs. When the cause of death is “unnatural,” several implications come into play:

  1. Investigation and Inquest: In cases of unnatural deaths, there may be investigations and, in some instances, inquests to determine the exact circumstances leading to the individual’s passing. These investigations are conducted by relevant authorities, such as the police or a coroner, to establish the cause and circumstances of the death.
  2. Insurance Claims: If the deceased had life insurance policies, the insurer may conduct a thorough investigation to assess the circumstances surrounding the unnatural death. Insurance claims may be subject to additional scrutiny, and the payout may depend on the outcome of investigations.
  3. Estate Administration: The executor or administrator of the deceased’s estate must navigate potential legal complexities associated with unnatural deaths. This can include addressing legal liabilities, such as outstanding debts or legal actions resulting from the circumstances of the death.
  4. Distribution of Assets: The distribution of the deceased’s assets may be impacted by the classification of an unnatural death. For instance, if the death was a result of a criminal act, the assets may be frozen pending the resolution of legal proceedings.
  5. Complications with Beneficiaries: Beneficiaries of the deceased’s estate may face delays in receiving their inheritances due to ongoing investigations or legal disputes related to the unnatural death.
  6. Legal Counsel: In cases of unnatural deaths, it is highly advisable to seek legal counsel. An experienced attorney can guide the executor or administrator through the estate administration process, help address any legal issues, and ensure that the deceased’s wishes are carried out as much as possible.
  7. Emotional Considerations: Dealing with an unnatural death can be emotionally taxing. Executors and administrators should be prepared to provide support and guidance to family members during this challenging time.


When a death certificate cites “unnatural causes,” it signifies that the individual’s passing was due to circumstances beyond natural causes, such as illnesses or age-related factors. This classification can have far-reaching implications for estate reporting, including legal complexities, investigations, and potential delays in asset distribution.

Navigating the estate reporting process in the aftermath of an unnatural death requires careful consideration of legal and administrative aspects. Seeking the guidance of an experienced attorney is essential to ensure that the deceased’s wishes are respected, and the estate is handled effectively and in compliance with South African laws and regulations. While it may be a challenging journey, with the right support, the estate can be settled, providing some closure for the family and loved ones of the deceased.

AED Attorneys understands that every situation is unique, and although they strive to ensure that the information contained herein is accurate at the time of publishing, it cannot be guaranteed to be without errors or omissions. As a result, AED Attorneys, its employees, independent contractors, associates or third parties will under no circumstances accept liability or be held liable for any innocent or negligent actions or omissions in this article, which may result in any harm or liability flowing from the use of or the inability to use the information provided.