What to do when someone dies

The days and weeks after the death of a loved one are particularly traumatic.

Not only are you confronted with a devastating sense of loss and grief, but to then face a seemingly endless list of administrative tasks can be simply overwhelming.

Here, we look at the steps you need to take when someone dies, both immediately after the event, as well as in the weeks and months afterwards. If possible, make sure you have the support of family or friends. Sharing out what needs to be done can help it feel a little more manageable and can help bring you together at a difficult time.

Report the death, if this isn’t done automatically

If the person has died at home, and their death was expected: You should contact their GP, and their closest relative, if that isn’t you. The doctor should issue a Medical Certificate Cause of Death, which enables you to then register the death at the Register Office, so that a death certificate can be provided. If you don’t know who their GP is, call the NHS helpline on 111 and let them know what’s happened. You’ll also need to contact a funeral director so that they can arrange to transfer your loved one to the funeral home.

If the person died at home unexpectedly: Call 111 and seek advice. If the cause of death is unclear, or if the person who died had not seen their doctor in the last 14 days, the death may need to be referred to a coroner. In rare cases, if the coroner cannot determine the cause of death themselves, they might need to refer the death for a post-mortem examination, to establish the cause of death. In this case, the funeral may need to be delayed while the post-mortem is carried out. A doctor will issue a medical certificate once the cause of death is determined. See Gov.uk or Scottish Gov for more information about post-mortems, and what is involved in the process.

If the person dies in a hospice or hospital: The hospital typically issues the medical certificate, so the death can be registered, and lets you know the next steps you need to take. If they are an organ donor and die in hospital, then the hospital will check on the Organ Donor Register as part of the process. However, deaths outside of a hospital don’t qualify for organ donation. Usually, the body is kept in the hospital mortuary until funeral directors or relatives arrange for it to be taken away.

If the person dies abroad: You will need to register the death according to the regulations of the country where they died, and also with the British Consul there to get a consulate death certificate to register the death in the UK. The government has online leaflets that tell you what to do when someone dies abroad at Gov.uk.

Where will the body be kept before the funeral?

When someone dies the body may be kept in a hospital mortuary until the funeral. It may also be kept at an undertaker’s mortuary, if there’s no need for a post-mortem. If you wish, you may also be able to keep the body at home, however the funeral director will likely recommend it is embalmed first.

Bear in mind you won’t be able to keep the body at home if your loved one has died with Covid-19, so that the virus isn’t spread (see our later section on Coronavirus-related deaths). Find out more about what happens when someone dies during the Coronavirus pandemic here.

Where you choose to keep the body may depend on the person who’s died beliefs or your religion. For example, the body is never left alone in Judaism. A senior member of their religion should be able to advise if you’re not sure.

If they wanted to donate their body for medical research: The person who has died should have arranged to donate their body with a particular institution. Bear in mind bodies may be refused if they aren’t suitable for research, perhaps because a post-mortem has taken place or the person who has died suffered from a particular medical condition, and if this is the case you may need to make alternative plans for a cremation or burial.

Get in touch with their family and friends

This can be a traumatic and emotional step, but you or somebody will need to notify people closest to the person who has died. This may include dependants, such as a spouse or child, along with parents or carers and close friends. Make a list of who needs to know and, if you can, divide up the responsibility of letting them know with other friends and family to help share the burden. Whilst everyone you speak to will want to do all they can to help, it can be particularly tough going through the same conversation with lots of people, when you are still grieving yourself.

You may need to let their employer, or professional contacts know too, as well as your own employer, so you can arrange to take some compassionate leave to help.

Register the death

A death should be registered within five days if you live in England, Wales or Northern Ireland, or within eight days if you live in Scotland. Registration can be delayed for another nine days if you notify the registrar that a Medical Certificate Cause of Death has been issued. If the death has been reported to the coroner you won’t be able to register it until the coroner has finished his or her investigations.

It’s best to find a register office in the area that someone has died:

What information do I need when registering a death?

When registering a death, you will need to take the Medical Certificate of Cause of Death. It can help speed the registration process along if you’re also able to present some or all of the following:
  • proof of the deceased’s address and passport
  • their NHS medical card
  • their birth and marriage/civil partnership certificates
  • their driving licence
If you don’t have these documents, contact the register office to find out what you should do. You will need to give the registrar the following details:
  • The person’s name (including maiden name, if this applies)
  • Their date and place of birth
  • Their date and place of death
  • Their address
  • Their current or previous occupation
  • Any benefits their received, including the state pension
  • The name, occupation, and date of birth of any spouse or civil partner
What you will receive from the registrar:
  • A certificate for burial or cremation. This gives permission for a burial to be carried out, or for an application for a cremation to be made.
  • A death certificate. This is a certified copy of what is written in the death register. You’ll need it for the will and is needed for the will and to make a claim on any pension or savings.
  • Leaflets about bereavement benefits
  • A certificate of registration of death. In England and Wales this is known as Form BD8, Form 3344SI in Scotland or Form 36/BD8 in Northern Ireland). If the person who died was receiving any benefits or State Pension, this form can be used to ensure that those payments are adjusted. This won’t be necessary if you use the Government’s Tell Us Once (see below).
  • A Tell us Once reference number (see below)

Who can register a death?

You’ll typically need to be a relative to register a death. However, it’s possible that someone else may do this, depending on the circumstances and where the death took place. You can use this tool at Gov.uk to find out who can register the death, and what documents will be needed.

The cost: Registering a death is free. However, to get a death certificate you’ll pay £11 in England and Wales or £8 in Northern Ireland, and £10 in Scotland. You can buy extra copies of a death certificate at this stage – the cost may rise by a few pounds per certificate – but it can be very helpful to buy several extra copies of the death certificate, as you will need them for the will and any claims relating to pensions, savings and investments. Most organisations will want to see the original death certificate, and not a photocopy, and so having several death certificates means you can send them all off to the various different places at the same time. .

Report the death to government departments

When a person dies, you must get in touch with several government services as soon as possible to let them know of the death.

You can use the Tell Us Once service to notify a range of government departments of the death at the same time. To use it, you need a reference number from the registrar when you register the death, and various other details that are listed on the service. 

The Tell Us Once service is offered by most local authorities in England, Wales and Scotland. If the service is not offered by your local authority you will need to notify these departments individually. In Northern Ireland, you’ll need to get in touch with the Bereavement Service to report the death of someone who was receiving social security benefits.

Government services that need to be notified include:

  • HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) for their taxes
  • Department for Work and pensions (DWP) to stop any state pension payments and benefits
  • UK Identity and Passport Service for their passport
  • Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) to cancel their driving licence, car tax and car registration documents
  • National insurance contributions office if the deceased was self-employed
  • Child Benefit Office (if they were claiming child benefit)
  • Local authority for electoral register, council tax, parking permits and housing benefits
  • Public sector or armed forces pension scheme for their pension

Notifying banks and other organisations

If you’ve been appointed an executor by the person who’s died, you’ll need to notify several other organisations of the death. There will most likely be a long list of businesses, including banks, companies and utility providers. When contacting any institutions involved with finances, it’s vital to ask for a probate valuation (the value of the account at the date of death.)

Make a thorough list as a starting point, which should include the following:

  • Banks and/or building societies
  • Savings providers
  • Mortgage, loan, credit card and/or store card providers
  • Insurance companies – This may include, for example, home, car, travel, private medical, critical illness and/or income protection insurance.
  • Pension provider
  • Any other financial company the deceased had an agreement with – such as a car leasing agreement, or other loan.
  • Social services
  • Utility providers – Including gas, electricity, water, and mobile phone contract (most providers will cancel when asked if the contract holder has passed away).
  • GP, dentist and any one involved in their medical card
  • Any subscription services they may have had
  • Sign up to The Bereavement Register – this will ensure their details are removed from any mailing lists 

If you were privately renting a home together: If the lease is in the deceased’s name, you’ll need to let the landlord know and ask for it to be transferred to your name.

If they have a Lasting or Enduring Power of Attorney: If you acted as their attorney, this will need to be sent back to the Office of the Public Guardian, along with a death certificate.

Organising the funeral

Once you have registered the death and you’ve started the necessary administrative tasks, you can start making the funeral arrangements. Most people do this through a funeral director, but it’s also possible to arrange the funeral yourself if you wish.

The person may have left specific instructions in their will or a letter of wishes stating what they wanted for their funeral, including, for example, whether they want to be buried or cremated, and any particular hymns or requests they would like for their service.

Check whether there’s a funeral plan in place: You may find that the person who’s died had a burial or cremation plan set up,which should mean that the cost of the funeral has been covered in advance. If you are struggling to find the plan but believe there is one in place, there is a Trace Your Plan form available from the Funeral Planning Authority, which will search registered providers. You may also find that a plan has been written into their will, or that it’s with their solicitor.

Finding a funeral director

A funeral director can help with a variety of tasks, including planning the service,embalming and preparing the body, alongside general support and guidance. When choosing a funeral director, check that they are a member of the National Association of Funeral Directors, the National Federation of Funeral Directors, or the Society of Allied and Independent Funeral Directors. These all have codes of practice they adhere to and price details for a wide range of funeral directors.

The cost: This depends on a number of factors, but costs for using a funeral director according to SunLife’s 2020 Cost of Dying report are typically £2,771. SunLife puts the average cost of a funeral, including funeral director’s fees, at £4,417. However, of course, costs will vary depending on where it takes place, its size, and other details.

Things to consider when planning a funeral

Organising a funeral can be a big task, so you should consider sharing tasks with family and friends if possible. Here are some of the things you’ll need to think about:
  • Whether the person will be buried or cremated, if the will doesn’t clearly state their wishes
  • Any burial rites that may be needed, if they were religious. Their church, mosque or synagogue, for example, should be able to provide information on this.
  • Any food and drink that may be needed for after the service.
  • Designing the service sheets – including which readings and music to include.
  • Which flowers to have at the service, who will supply these and where they might be taken after the service.

DIY funerals

You can also choose to organise the funeral yourself, without using a funeral director. This is often done when the person who has died has made their wishes clear, so you do not need the input of a funeral director to help you plan the funeral. You can get in touch with your local council if you want to arrange a funeral at your local cemetery or crematorium.

Dealing with their estate

You will need to locate the person’s will, if there is one in place, to start the process of dealing with their estate and who is being left any money, property and particular possessions. This may be stored with their other financial information in a filing cabinet, for example. Check with their solicitor as they might have the will. You can also check with the Probate Registry for £10 to see if there is a will registered in their name.

If you’ve been made an executor of the will by the person who’s died, you will be responsible for sorting out the person’s estate. The executor is the person who’s responsible for dealing with all the person’s finances and possessions. This process is known as ‘probate’ and can take months or even years to complete.

If there isn’t a will in place: An administrator will need to be appointed. More details on how an administrator is appointed can be found at Gov.uk. If there’s no will in place, this is known as dying ‘intestate’. For more information on what happens when someone dies ‘intestate’ you can read the Money Advice Service article Sorting out the estate when there isn’t a will.

Applying for a grant of probate: If you’re dealing with the estate, you’ll need to apply for a document called a ‘grant of probate’, showing you have the authority to access money, and share out assets. This involves completing a probate application form and inheritance tax form, which can both be done online. You can get help filling in these forms from the Government’s probate and/or inheritance tax helplines.

Appointing a probate specialist: In many cases you may need a probate specialist to help with dealing with the estate, particularly if there’s an inheritance tax liability or if the estate is complicated. This may be a solicitor or accountant. For more information go to When to use a probate solicitor or specialist

Where to go for help

The period following a person’s death can be a deeply upsetting time, and involve a range of frightening emotions, including shock, anger and extreme emotional pain. Whilst we certainly don’t have all the answers, and there is no right or wrong way to grieve, we have put together a guide on coping with loss in case it is helpful.

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 are also currently running bereavement support groups via video link at 8pm every evening during the pandemic. If you don’t feel up to joining a video meeting, they also have online support forums, where you can swap messages with other people who are dealing with similar emotions.

  • Sleep can have a significant impact on how we feel both mentally and physically. For tips and advice on how to increase your chances of getting some proper rest, you might find our article Can’t sleep? Try these 8 tips… useful.
  • The NHS have a number of mental wellbeing audio guides that are designed to help boost your mood. You can try them, here.
  • If you are experiencing feelings of hopelessness and/or desperation, then volunteers at Samaritans and Silver Line are available to offer a listening ear and some kind words 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Contact Samaritans on 116 123 or Silver Line on 0800 470 8090.

It can also help to talk to your doctor or GP who will be able to let you know what help may be available to you.

 

Have you come through the recent death of a loved one? Do you have any additional suggestions that might help others? Email us at [email protected] or leave a comment below.

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