15 Mar 2023

What do you do when someone dies

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 (and who to inform) when someone dies.

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An illustrated checklist showing what’s needed to register a death

1. Inform next of kin

It may be your responsibility to figure out who to inform when someone dies. It can be difficult to contact family and close friends of the deceased. Marie Curie offers some advice on how to tell someone about a death.

2. Register the death

You won’t be able to arrange a funeral until you’ve registered the death. You can do this by contacting the register office in the location where the death occurred.

3. Manage the estate

If you’re a named executor, it will be your responsibility to manage the deceased’s financial affairs, settle any debts and distribute assets. You can also take the opportunity to close any accounts belonging to the deceased, and use the government’s Tell Us Once service so you can inform most government organisations in one simple process.

4. Plan the funeral

You can first check whether there is a pre-paid funeral plan in place by using the Funeral Planning Authority’s Trace Your Plan tool. Alternatively, the deceased may have savings or insurance set aside to help towards the cost. You may also need to carry out other duties, like checking a letter of wishes for any funeral preferences – like cremation versus burial – and appointing and paying a funeral director.

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. You may also need to secure the property and make sure any pets can be looked after.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

The medical certificate is issued when someone dies and gives details about the cause of death. It’s normally completed and sent to the register office by a doctor who cared for the deceased. 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?

What you’ll receive after registering a death 

In addition to the death certificate, there are two free certificates that you may be issued with after registering the death. 

  • Certificate for a Burial or Cremation. Sometimes known as the ‘green form’, you can give this certificate to a funeral director – or when applying to use a crematorium – which grants permission for the funeral to take place. 
  • Certificate of Registration of Death. This is sometimes referred to as the ‘white form’, and is issued when the deceased person is in receipt of a state pension or social security benefits. It should be sent to the Department of Work & Pensions using the address provided. 

If the funeral is due to take place overseas, you will need to inform the registrar, who will produce additional documentation rather than the ‘green form’. 

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 Life Insurance policy, you may be able to 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 does an executor do when someone dies? 

If you are the executor of a deceased person’s estate, you are legally responsible – from the date of death – for the estate’s assets, such as property, possessions and money. Your responsibility only ends once the administration period is over, after every beneficiary has received their inherited assets. An executor is someone who is named in the will as responsible for dealing with the estate, and therefore, it’s vitally important that executors are informed 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. 

What happens to a Lasting Power of Attorney on death? 

If you’ve been appointed as an ‘attorney’ using a Lasting Power of Attorney (LPA) document, this means you have the legal authority to make important decisions on behalf of the donor (the person who appointed you), including on issues like their finances, welfare and medical decisions. The LPA ends upon the death of the donor. You may have encountered the term ‘Enduring Power of Attorney’ (EPA), but these documents are only valid if the EPA was signed before 1st October 2007, when EPAs were replaced by LPAs. 

If you’re an attorney and either the donor or another attorney dies, you need to inform the Office of the Public Guardian (OPG) and send them the original LPA plus any certified copies. If the donor or a sole attorney dies, the OPG will cancel the LPA and destroy the document. The OPG can also update the LPA if there is a listed replacement attorney. Find out more on GOV.UK. 

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 137 101 for all bereavement claims – our team will be sensitive to your situation as we know this can be a difficult time.

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