What do you do when someone dies

15 December 2020


Dealing with the aftermath of a death is never easy, especially if it’s someone close to you. And while it can be difficult to focus on formalities at a time of mourning, there are several logistical obligations you will need to fulfil when the time is right. Read our guide on what to do when someone dies.

What to do when someone dies at home

If a loved one dies at home, your first steps should be determined by the circumstances of the death. If the death of a loved one is expected – for example, following a terminal illness – you will need to call their GP or the NHS helpline (dial 111) as soon as possible. If you are not the deceased’s next of kin or closest relative, you should also notify them immediately too.

If the cause of death is known, the doctor will issue a Medical Certificate of Cause of Death, allowing you to register the death. You should also contact a funeral director immediately to arrange for them to bring your loved one into their care.

What happens when someone dies unexpectedly at home?

You will need to call the police and ambulance services immediately by dialling 999. The operator will provide instructions on what you need to do, including establishing whether you can try to resuscitate the person. The paramedics, upon arrival, will either attempt resuscitation, or confirm the death.

If the cause of death is unknown, it is important you leave the area untouched (apart from any attempt at resuscitation). Call emergency services for assistance. An ambulance will normally take the deceased to the hospital mortuary. The police may make sure that the death was not suspicious.


What happens when someone dies in a hospital?

In this scenario, the hospital will usually issue a medical certificate and formal notice. The deceased will usually be kept in the hospital mortuary until the funeral directors or relatives arrange a chapel of rest, or for the body to be taken home.

Before a death can be formally registered, a doctor will need to issue a medical certificate giving the cause of death. In hospital, this is usually done by a hospital doctor, who will hand the certificate to you in a sealed envelope addressed to the Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages. You will also be given a notice, explaining how to register the death. There is no charge for either of these. If the person has not been seen by a hospital doctor, their GP may be able to issue a certificate instead. A hospital may ask you for permission to carry out a post-mortem examination to learn more about the cause of death. You do not have to agree to this.


What if someone dies in a care home/hospice?

You’ll be contacted by care home staff if you’re not present when your loved one passes away, and you can request to see them one last time in a private space in the facility. Usually, the care home staff will notify the GP so that the death is certified, and can liaise with the funeral director on your behalf. Only in cases where the death is unexpected or suspicious will the care home contact a coroner, in which case the funeral can’t take place until the cause of death has been determined.


Who to inform when someone dies while overseas

In the unfortunate circumstances of someone passing away while abroad, you should contact the British Consulate. If you’re on a package holiday, please tell your tour operator. The British Consulate will help you with all the arrangements, including dealing with the authorities, registering the death and repatriating the deceased back home. It is important to note that a funeral cannot be conducted until the coroner’s inquest has been completed and cause of death established.

What to do in the days after someone dies

You will need to register the death within five days (note – not working days) if you live in England, Wales or Northern Ireland, or 8 working days in Scotland. You can find your nearest register office online.

The death should be registered by one of the following (in order of priority):

  • A relative who was present at the death
  • A relative present during the person’s last illness
  • A relative living in the district where the death took place
  • Anyone else present at the death
  • An owner or occupier of the building where the death took place and who was aware of the death
  • The person arranging the funeral (but not the funeral director)

You cannot delegate responsibility for registering the death to anyone else.

If the death took place in hospital or in a nursing home, it must be registered at the register office for the district in which the hospital or home is situated.

Checklist for registering a death

When someone dies, here’s what you’ll need in order to register the death at the register office:

  • The full name of the person (including maiden name) and their last address
  • The person’s date and place of birth
  • The person’s job
  • The full name, date of birth and job of a living or dead spouse or civil partner
  • If the person was still married, the date of birth of their husband or wife
  • Information about whether the person was receiving a pension or other social security benefits.
  • An NHS card (sometimes known as a medical card) or number
  • Birth certificate
  • Driving licence
  • Council Tax bill
  • Marriage or civil partnership certificate (if applicable)
  • If possible, the National Insurance number of the deceased and the number of a surviving spouse or civil partner.
  • Passport Proof of address (e.g. utility bill)
  • Medical certificate.


What’s different between medical certificates and death certificates?

The medical certificate is issued when someone dies and gives details about the cause of death. In contrast, the death certificate is what you receive when you register the death, and is a copy of the entry made by the registrar in the death register. This certificate is needed to deal with money or property left by the person who has died, including dealing with the will. While it’s free to register a death, you will need to pay a charge for extra copies of the death certificate.

What’s different between medical certificates and death certificates?

How to arrange a funeral

One of the most obvious things to do when someone dies is to plan the funeral. Arranging a funeral for your loved one can come with its own difficulties, especially at an already challenging time, but here are some quick tips for what you can do:

  • Consider using a funeral director from an accredited association like the National Association of Funeral Directors (NAFD) and the Society of Allied and Independent Funeral Directors (SAIF).
  • Check if you are eligible for state support on GOV.UK.
  • If the deceased had an Over 50s Fixed Insurance policy, you can make a claim so some of the money can be used towards funeral costs.

For more information, read our guide on how to arrange a funeral.

Who to tell when someone dies

When someone dies, it’s difficult to know who to tell first, especially if the news comes as a shock. But aside from telling close friends and family, in practical terms you should start by informing the deceased’s doctor, and to cancel any appointments with medical staff. You should then inform the funeral director, register office and any employer if the deceased was still working. Following this, you should notify government departments such as HMRC, the Department for Work and Pensions and the Passport Office when someone dies.

How to handle the estate

Following someone’s death, you may be tasked with handling their estate, which is essentially everything owned by a person who has died. The estate may be made up of the following:

  • Money in a bank or building society account. This could include money paid out on a life insurance policy.
  • Money owed to the person who has died.
  • Assets – for example, their home.
  • Personal possessions – for example, their car or jewellery.

If the person who died owes money or has undisclosed debts – for example, on a credit card, for fuel, rent or a mortgage – this comes out of the estate.

The estate of the person who has died is usually passed to surviving relatives and friends, either according to instructions in the will, or if the person dies without leaving a will, according to certain legal rules called the rules of intestacy.

Read our guide to writing a will, including what happens if someone dies without one.

What if I’m the executor of the will?

An executor is someone who is named in the will as responsible for dealing with the estate. The executors of a will are among the most important people to inform when someone dies.

As an executor, you may have to apply for a special legal authority before you can deal with the estate – this is called probate. Although there are some exceptions, it is usually against the law for you to start sharing out the estate or to get money from the estate until you have a Grant of Probate or ‘letters of administration (if there is not a will)’. Read more about what your responsibilities entail as the executor of a will.

How to redirect post after someone has died

When someone has died, you can use the Royal Mail Redirection service to ensure you receive the deceased person’s mail for up to four years. You will need to provide valid identification, such as the original death certificate, when you complete the ‘special circumstances’ form. You can apply at a Post Office branch or by post. The amount you pay will depend on the duration of the redirection service and the location of your property.

You may also want check what to do with the digital legacy of the deceased person.

Need more support?

Knowing what to do when someone dies is one of the hardest things in life, so you can be forgiven if it all gets overwhelming at times. For more emotional or practical support on what to do when someone dies, the likes of Citizens Advice and GOV.UK have information that can help. For our part, you can contact Legal & General on 0800 137 1010800 137 101 for all bereavement claims – our team will be sensitive to your situation as we know this can be a difficult time.

Find out more about our Over 50 Life Insurance