Unfortunately, death is a natural part of life and at some point, we will all experience the loss of a loved one, whether that’s a family member or friend. If you’re looking for advice and guidance on what to do when someone dies, our comprehensive guide below, should help provide you with the answers you need. Please do contact us directly however, if you can’t find the answer you’re looking for.
If you’re reading this because a loved one has recently passed away, we’d like to offer our sincerest sympathies at this extremely difficult time. We hope that if this guide is the first piece of information you’ve discovered since the death, it allows you to begin organising the funeral – and more importantly, celebrating the life of your loved one.
This guide will discuss:
- Important information
- Places where a person can die
- How do I register a death?
- Who needs to be informed?
- How do I arrange a funeral?
- Dealing with their will
- What to do if someone doesn’t have a will
- Further resources
The death of a loved one can be a very difficult and confusing time,grief is a very challenging and sometimes overwhelming experience. In order to begin the more formal parts of the process of laying someone to rest, it can help to have all the relevant information to hand. Although not all of these pieces of information will be relevant to your managing a loved one’s death, they could be needed. This includes:
- National Insurance number
- Date of birth
- Place of birth
- Birth certificate
- Driving licence
- Occupation / last known occupation
- Marriage or civil partnership details
- Death certificate of spouse / partner (if applicable)
- Organ donor card
- NHS / medical number
- Next of kin details
We’re aware that not all of these documents and pieces of information will be easy to locate, so ensuring you have as much information about the person as possible is the best approach to take.
Depending on where a person dies can affect how the process of registering the death moves forward.
If someone dies at home, whether it was expected or not, you will need to contact a doctor in order to register the death. This can be the individual’s registered GP, or any other available GP from their registered practice. If the death was expected, it’s not uncommon to spend some time with the individual who has passed away, before the doctor is contacted.
If you’re religious, you may have a process which you need to follow to adhere to any guidelines.
Often, it’s likely an ambulance will have been called to attend to the individual if the death was unexpected. This then means the death will be registered through hospital procedures. You can find out more about this below, in the ‘unexpected’ section.
In a nursing home
Again, a doctor should be notified in order to certify the death. This may be the individual’s registered GP, but will more than likely be whichever GP is on call for the nursing home. The doctor will assess the individual and create the medical certificate, which will outline the cause of death.
Hospitals have bereavement teams on hand to ensure you’re made aware and supported through a death. The individual who has passed away will be placed in the hospital mortuary and only removed once funeral arrangements have been organised. Often, funeral directors, such as Voyage, can directly liaise with hospitals to ensure your wishes are met and respected.
If your loved one has spent time in a hospice, it’s likely that the death was expected. You may already be familiar with their bereavement support teams, who will ensure you receive the appropriate help and guidance through this difficult time. The deceased individual will be placed in the hospice morgue, or moved to the nearest hospital mortuary if the hospice does not have one. Again, your funeral director can work with the hospice directly to ensure funeral proceedings go ahead.
If a loved one dies in another country, there are different steps that need to be followed. You still need to register the death, but with the local authorities of that country. If the individual was living abroad in a Commonwealth country or EEA country, you can use the UK government’s Tell Us Once service, which will help with notifying pension providers and more.
In order to bring the body back to England, you must gain permission from the coroner who dealt with the death. As the death has already been registered in another country, you won’t need to register it again in England, but you will need to take the certificate to a register office, near to where you plan on holding the funeral.
If the individual was cremated, you will need the death certificate and cremation certificate in order to remove the ashes from the country.
An unexpected death is often one in which the individual was generally fit and healthy. Usually, an ambulance will be called or you can call 111 to ask for advice on next steps. The death will then be reported to a coroner who may request a post-mortem to discover the cause of death, particularly if it is deemed suspicious. You can find more information out about what this process is on GOV.UK. Once the cause of death has been established and documented, the body will be released to you, and you will be able to arrange a funeral.
Usually, a death should be registered within five days of the individual passing. We’ve outlined the steps you should take in order to do this.
Find a register office
Although you can register the death of an individual at any register office in the UK, you should try to choose one which is within the area that you wish to hold the funeral or cremation. An appointment can be made at the register office, where you’ll attend and show the certificate of death. You may also need several items from the important information list above, including NHS number or medical card, birth certificate, and marriage / civil partnership licence. If you don’t have these documents to hand, don’t worry, you’ll still be able to register the death.
Prepare information about person
Before you attend your appointment, it’s a helpful idea to make a note of any information the register office may need, such as their full name, date and place of birth, last known address, occupation (if applicable), and information about their current spouse or partner or if that person has died.
What you’ll receive
You will only receive an actual copy of the death certificate if you pay for it, which usually costs £11 in England and Wales, £12 in Scotland, or £15 in Northern Ireland. Remember, photocopies of death certificates are not always accepted, especially in regards to legal, financial, and insurance companies, who will require an actual copy. You can find out more about the cost of death certificates on GOV.UK.
Make sure you get as many copies as you think you may need, as it can be difficult to get these after your appointment.
Numerous authorities and companies need to be made aware of the death of an individual. Often this is one of the most difficult processes when dealing with a death, as it means repeating the same information to a number of different agencies.
Some local authorities have a service called ‘Tell Us Once’. It means you only have to contact them once in order for them to notify other services, such as council tax, DVLA, HMRC, and the Passport office. Unfortunately, some local authorities do not implement the Tell Us Once service, which means you will have to contact each department separately.
Although this can seem like an upsetting and unnecessary process, it’s important that they’re informed, so you won’t be chased for unpaid bills or tax evasion, which can be even more upsetting and stressful.
Not all of these services and departments will be relevant for each individual, but it’s a good place to start and use as a checklist.
- UK Passport Agency
- Bank / building society
- Social services
- Council services
- Pension provider
- GP / dentist / other medical personnel
- Mortgage provider
- Subscription services
- Insurance (car, contents, home etc.)
- Finance (furniture, car, store cards etc.)
Arranging a funeral can be a difficult process, regardless of the person it’s for and the circumstances in which they died. We’ve provided a few pointers below on how to arrange a funeral – but we can provide additional and more in-depth advice if you contact us directly.
If an older person has passed away, they may have already left their wishes for their funeral in their will or as a separate document. It’s important to find this out before you start planning, so you can best accommodate their requests.
However, if there isn’t a plan, it’s up to you and your loved ones to make the most appropriate decisions for the deceased.
A funeral director will be able to sit down with you and talk through all your options, whether you would like a cremation or full funeral service. Choosing a funeral director is a very personal choice and you should take your time deciding which is the right one for you and your family. You may have a family funeral director who has organised previous services for you or perhaps you’re looking for something a little more bespoke. Speak to a few funeral directors if possible, to really gauge exactly what you require.
You can take a look at what types of funerals there are available on our funeral options page, but these usually consist of:
- Direct to crematorium
- Full funeral service
A will indicates where the deceased’s estate will be distributed. Usually a solicitor will help you decide how to interpret the will, especially if the estate is worth a lot of money or there are many assets to distribute. If the estate is small, you should be able to organise this yourself, without the high costs of a solicitor.
If you are in doubt however, it’s best to seek the advice of a legal professional, to avoid family disagreements and confrontation. In most cases, a family member will have been appointed the executor of the will.
If your loved one hasn’t made a will before their death, it can be a more difficult and a longer process to deal with, than if they had. You can find a detailed guide on how to sort out an estate without a will from the Money Advice Service.
You’ll more than likely need a solicitor or probate specialist in order to help decide who the estate lies with and how this is distributed fairly. We would particularly advise this if you have a complicated family set up.
We believe the below resources will be helpful when researching what to do when someone dies. This list will be updated regularly and amended as and when is necessary.