What do you do when someone dies

13 August 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, there are a number of things you will need to do depending on whether the death was expected or unexpected.

An unexpected death at home

If the death was unexpected, 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.

If the death happens at home and was expected

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 if the death happens in hospital or in a care home/hospice

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.

Reporting a death abroad

Contact the British Consulate. If you’re on a package holiday, please tell your tour operator.

What happens next

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.

In the days following the death

The registration of the death is the formal record of the death. It is done by the Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages and you will find the address of the nearest register office in the telephone directory. You should check the opening hours of the office you wish to go to. Some offices have an appointments system.

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.

If they lived in England, Wales or Northern Ireland, you have five days (not working days) to register the death. However, registration can be delayed for another nine days if the registrar is told that a medical certificate has been issued. If the death has been reported to the coroner, you cannot register it until the coroner’s investigations are finished.

If they lived in Scotland, you have eight days (working days) to register the death.

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. You must take with you the medical certificate of death, since the death cannot be registered until the registrar has seen this. If possible, you should also take the person’s NHS medical card and birth and marriage certificates.

The registrar will want from you the following information:

  • Date and place of death
  • 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
  • Whether the person was receiving a pension or other social security benefits

What You Need to Register a Death

  • 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 please take 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)
  • Death certificate.

The death certificate 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. You may need several copies of the certificate, for which there will be a charge. It is a criminal offence not to register a death.

Arranging a funeral

Arranging a funeral for your loved one can come with its own difficulties, especially at an already challenging time. The following information can give you an understanding of what to do next, what’s involved and how to deal with any problems.

Most funerals are arranged by the nearest relatives and if not, by a close friend. If there is no one, the local or health authority will arrange a simple funeral.

The person may have left instructions about the type of funeral and burial they wanted. There is no legal obligation for these instructions to be followed, but they usually are.

How funerals are arranged

Most funerals are arranged through a funeral director. Find one who belongs to one of the professional associations, such as:

  • National Association of Funeral Directors (NAFD)
  • The Society of Allied and Independent Funeral Directors (SAIF).

These associations have codes of practice and complaints procedures. Some local authorities also run their own funeral services by arrangement with local funeral director firms.

Arranging a funeral without a funeral director

You can arrange a funeral without a funeral director. If you want to do this, the Natural Death Centre or Cemeteries and Crematorium department of your local authority can offer help and guidance.

Dealing with funeral costs

If you arrange the funeral with a funeral director, you’re responsible for the costs. You should ask to see a price list before choosing a funeral, or explain how much you have to spend and see what services are possible.

You might be able to get help paying for the funeral if you’re on benefits. Check if you can get a Funeral Expenses Payment on GOV.UK.

Getting a written estimate

Once you’ve chosen the funeral, you should be given a written estimate which provides a breakdown of all of the costs involved. Ask for one if it’s not provided.

If you want to compare costs, you can contact other funeral directors, or ask someone else to help you with this.

Services provided by funeral directors

A basic funeral is likely to include:

  • A plain, lined coffin
  • Transport of the body of the person who has died to the funeral director’s premises, usually up to ten miles from wherever the death occurred
  • The care of the person who has died until the funeral. This will include washing and dressing the person who has died and laying the body out, but will not include embalming
  • Providing a hearse to take the body to the nearest crematorium or burial ground
  • Providing the necessary people to carry the coffin.

Other services funeral directors could provide:

  • Flowers
  • A more expensive coffin and fittings
  • Press notices
  • A medical certificate required for cremation, and any doctor’s fees for signing this
  • An organist
  • Fees for religious services
  • A burial or crematorium fee. The burial fee will usually include the costs of preparing the grave
  • Extra cars
  • Embalming
  • Extra services provided by the funeral director; for example, use of the chapel of rest, transport from the mortuary, or special viewing arrangements
  • The cost of journeys of more than ten miles to the funeral director’s premises
  • A memorial/funeral service
  • Catering arrangements
  • Stationery.

Signing a contract

You may need to sign a contract with the funeral director. Make sure you read it carefully and ask the funeral director about anything you don’t understand.

Paying for the funeral

Some funeral directors might ask for a deposit before making the funeral arrangements.  

You may be offered a discount to pay for the funeral before or soon after it takes place. The deceased’s bank can and normally do release monies from the deceased’s account to help cover or pay in full the funeral fees.  

A life insurance company will normally release enough money to cover the funeral fees which are normally paid to the funeral directors.

If there is a legal claim for negligence against someone for the death, the cost of the funeral can be claimed as compensation. Otherwise, you may agree payment by instalment, or pay after the legal process of dealing with the person’s estate has been settled

Handling the estate

Everything owned by a person who has died is known as their estate. 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 to other people – for example, on a credit card, for fuel, for 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.

The Executor

The person dealing with the estate of the person who has died is called an executor or an administrator. An executor is someone who is named in the will as responsible for dealing with the estate. An executor may have to apply for a special legal authority before they can deal with the estate. This is called probate.

An administrator is someone who is responsible for dealing with an estate under certain circumstances; for example, if there is no will or the named executors aren’t willing to act. An administrator has to apply for letters of administration before they can deal with an estate.

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 probate or letters of administration

What is a grant of probate?

If the deceased has a will, the executor or administrator will apply for a Grant of Probate. The grant is a legal document which confirms that the executor has the authority to deal with the deceased person’s assets (property, money and belongings). This is called ‘administering the estate’.

What are letters of administration?

In some circumstances, someone who wants to deal with the estate of someone who has died will have to apply for letters of administration, rather than probate. This person is called an administrator. You have to apply for letters of administration if:

  • There is no will
  • A will is not valid
  • There are no executors named in the will
  • The executors cannot or are unwilling to act.

There are strict rules about who can be an administrator. If there is a valid will, you can apply for letters of administration if:

  • The person who died left all of their estate to you in the will, and the executors are not named, or cannot or are unwilling to act.

If there is no valid will, and you are the next-of-kin, you can apply to be an administrator in the following order of priority:

  • You are the married partner or civil partner of the person who has died
  • You are the child of the person who has died
  • You are the grandchild of the person who has died
  • You are the parent of the person who has died
  • You are the brother or sister of the person who has died
  • You are the nephew or niece of the person who has died
  • You are another relative of the person who has died.

An unmarried partner, or same-sex partner who has not registered a civil partnership and who has not been named in a will as an executor will not usually be able to act as an administrator.

You do not always need letters of administration to be able to deal with the estate of someone who has died.

Redirecting post after someone’s death

You can redirect the post of someone who has died by filling in a ‘special circumstances’ form and taking it to your local Post Office – you can’t do it online or by post. The Post Office will need to see a death certificate or proof of power of attorney.

You’ll have to pay a fee to redirect the post – you can find out how much it will cost on the Royal Mail website.

Stop receiving unwanted mail

You can stop unsolicited post being sent to someone who has died by registering with the Mailing Preference Service (MPS) and The Bereavement Register for free.

Registering with MPS will stop post being sent to someone who has died by companies who are members of the Direct Marketing Association.

You can sign up with the Mailing Preference Service online or by writing to them – let them know the name and address of the person who has died.

The Mailing Preference Service
FREEPOST 30
LON 20771
London
W1E 0ZT

You can sign up to The Bereavement Register by filling in their registration form, and then sending it through the post. Companies who check this register will stop sending post and leaflets to anyone listed.

The Bereavement Register
Freepost
1 Newhams Row
London
SE1 3UZ

What do I do if the person who died had a Lasting or Enduring Power of Attorney?

You should send any Lasting Power of Attorney or Enduring Power of Attorney they had back to the Office of the Public Guardian, along with a death certificate, if you were their attorney.

Need more support?

Dealing with death 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.

Find out more about our Over 50s Fixed Life Insurance