Losing someone you love is always incredibly difficult, and dealing with all the admin afterwards can feel like an impossible task.

Unfortunately, however, there are some really important administrative tasks that need to be done in the days and weeks after your loved one has passed, starting with getting a death certificate.

To help make things easier, we’ll walk you through everything you need to know about death certificates and crucially, how to go about getting one.

What is a death certificate?

A death certificate is a legal document that is issued following the registration of someone’s death and signifies that the death has been formally recorded by the government. 

The main purpose of a death certificate is to prove to businesses, banks and organisations that the person has passed away. If you are the person responsible for sorting out the estate of the person who has died, a death certificate will be essential for things like accessing their pension savings, closing bank accounts, and so on.

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Who provides death certificates?

The local authority where your loved one died is responsible for providing you with a death certificate. You’ll need to register the death with them at a pre-arranged appointment, and once you’ve attended this with the relevant evidence, you’ll be provided with the death certificate.

How to get a death certificate

As mentioned, you’ll only be issued with a death certificate once you’ve registered the person’s death, so you’ll need to go through the registration process first.

It’s a legal requirement to register someone’s death within five days of their passing, including bank holidays and weekends, so it’s important not to delay this. Usually, family members are required to register a death, but if a relative isn’t able to do it then someone else will be able to provided they:

  • Were present at the time of death
  • Are an administrator from the hospital (if the person died in hospital)
  • Are in charge of making funeral arrangements.

Here’s a step by step guide to how to register someone’s death:

Find the local authority

You need to register the person’s death with the local authority in which they died, and not the one where they lived (unless they’re the same).

You can find which local authority you need to register the death with using this tool. Simply enter the address where the person died to find the relevant authority.

Arrange an appointment to register the death

Most local authorities will need you to attend an appointment in person to register the death of your loved one. How to do this will vary from place to place, but generally the easiest way to do it is to arrange an appointment online via the authority’s website.

Most local authority websites will have a section called something like “births, ceremonies and deaths”, and in this section, you’ll see the option to register a death. This will normally provide details of how to arrange an appointment and the information you’ll need to bring with you.

Attend the appointment and register the death

You’ll then need to attend the appointment and provide the registrar with the information they have requested, which we cover in detail below.

If the registrar has everything they need from you and is able to register the death, then you’ll be given the death certificate(s) and a certificate for a burial or cremation to give to the funeral director or crematorium.

What information do you need to get a death certificate?

Before you attend the appointment to register the death of a loved one, you’ll be asked to bring a number of pieces of information with you. These might include things like the person’s:

  • Birth certificate
  • Council Tax bill
  • Driving licence
  • Marriage or civil partnership certificate
  • NHS medical card
  • Passport
  • Proof of address (eg utility bill)

The registrar will need these documents to verify the following:

  • the person’s full name at the time of death
  • any names previously used, eg maiden name
  • the person’s date and place of birth
  • their last address

The registrar will also want to know the occupation of the person who has died, the details of a surviving or late spouse or civil partner and whether the person was receiving State Pension payments or any other benefits. If you have any documents to support these points, it could be a good idea to bring these documents with you to your appointment. If you don’t have any of the above, it’s best to ask the register office what you should do.

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How much do death certificates cost?

How much a death certificate costs depends on where you’re registering the death. In England and Wales, the cost per copy is £11, in Northern Ireland, it’s £8 and £10 in Scotland.

How many death certificates do I need?

You’ll usually need to get several copies of a death certificate, as each business, bank or organisation will want an original copy, rather than a duplicate when you notify them that the person has died.

If possible, take a quick look at the number of bank accounts, insurance policies or pensions that the person has and get this number of certificates. Of course, there’s not always time to do this before you register the death, and you can always buy more later, but it’s a good idea to get more than you think you’ll need at this point to avoid delays later on.

Where to go for help

Managing administrative tasks in the days after a loved one has died can feel like a huge task, so If you aren’t sure what to do at any point, or are worried you have missed something relating to registering the person’s death, contact the relevant registry office for advice.

Don’t be afraid to reach out for help if you need it, local authorities understand how difficult this process can be when you’re grieving, so many also have bereavement services that can help you manage it. If the authority doesn’t offer this type of service themselves, they’ll usually be able to refer you to an organisation that can help.

If you’d like to speak to someone non-judgemental and impartial about how you are feeling, you could try contacting Cruse Bereavement Care on 0808 808 1677 or [email protected].

Bereavement.co.uk also has online support forums, where you can swap messages with other people who are dealing with similar emotions.

It may also be worth talking to your doctor or GP who will be able to let you know what support may be available to you.

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