According to a senior officer at the Zhongshan office, when someone passes away, family members must file the necessary paperwork within 30 days of the death.
Family members must file a “registration of death” to remove the name of the deceased from the household registry, as required by law. They must bring either a death, autopsy or cremation certificate to register, the officer said.
However, some people fail to register the death within the timeframe required or do not know what documents they need, and this has led to problems of discrepancies in the population registry data, the officer said.
According to Yang, his division monitors senior citizens over the age of 80. Individuals may be listed as “probable deceased elders” when they fail to pick up a new ID or pay their National Health Insurance premium and have no record of exiting the country or a funereal record.
Officers like Yang are then tasked with inspecting the status of these senior citizens. This requires the skills and acumen of a criminal investigator, sifting through all the available clues to verify if the individual is dead or alive.
Yang recounted a case last year of a man surnamed Wang (王), who had not been heard from for years. Yang started by visiting Wang’s relatives: an elder sister and three stepbrothers.
Yang later received a phone call from the wife of one of the stepbrothers, who told him that Wang had died about 40 years ago. She said Wang had liver disease and died suddenly on a roadside. Several friends helped arrange his funeral, she said.
In cases such as this where no death certificate has been issued, Yang said regulations require that two relatives of the deceased must visit the local police precinct and file a “Written Record of Eyewitness to Death.” This must be accompanied by a photograph of the grave’s tombstone or the urn containing the deceased’s ashes.
Yang talked to Wang’s family and friends, who could only tell him that they remember his cremated urn was lodged in a columbarium in New Taipei City’s (新北市) Bali District (八里).
Yang called up all the columbaria in Bali one by one and was finally able to locate Wang’s urn, helping the family to complete his death registry.
It is these officers’ duty to maintain accurate population statistics, but the work can be arduous and painstaking. At times, they even have unexpected outcomes.
Wang Chiu-yung (王秋蓉), who works at the Daan household registration office, once helped locate the body of a person who had been registered as missing for many years, just as the corpse was being prepared for cremation.
Through her efforts, the family was able to fulfill their wish of seeing the deceased relative one last time before cremation and give them closure.