What to do when someone dies

Losing someone close to us is arguably one of the most difficult experiences we can go through, but a bereavement can be made even more traumatic when we don’t know what practical steps to take or where to turn to first, especially if the death comes unexpectedly. This article details some of the key things you need to do when someone dies.

First steps

If the person died in a hospital or hospice:

  • A doctor will issue a medical certificate of the cause of death which will enable the death to be officially registered. You will need to give this certificate to the registry office when you register the death. The deceased person will usually be taken to the hospital or hospice mortuary pending the arrival of the family’s chosen funeral director. Some families also prefer to take their loved one home for viewing, and the hospital or hospice will advise you on the legalities and practicalities of this.

If the person’s death was expected and took place outside of a hospital (for example, the person had a terminal illness and died at home):

  • You must contact the deceased’s GP who will attend the location of death to issue a medical certificate of the cause of death. You will need to give this certificate to the registry office when you register the death.
  • In the event that the death occurs outside of the GP surgery’s normal working hours, you will be able to speak to their night service and they will arrange for a doctor to attend the place of death.
  • If there are no unexplained circumstances for the death, it is most likely that there will be no requirement for a post-mortem. Your GP will advise on this at the time of issuing the death certificate. In this instance, you should contact your chosen funeral director to arrange for the deceased person to be taken to the funeral home while funeral arrangements are made

If the person died unexpectedly at home:

  • Contact 111 and the advisor will confirm next steps. An unexpected death may need to be reported to a coroner who may request a post-mortem and/or inquest to find out the cause of death. This can take time, so the funeral may need to be delayed.

If the person died abroad:

  • You must register the death according to the regulations of the country. It’s important that you also register the death with the country’s British Consul so that you can obtain a consulate death certificate which will allow a record to be kept in the UK. Guidance can be found here.

Registering a death

The law requires you to register the death within five calendar days in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland and eight calendar days in Scotland. You must first locate a registry office close to the address where the person died. If you’re unsure of where the nearest office is in England and Wales, you can do an online search by postcode here, or check listings in Scotland and Northern Ireland.

You will need to attend the registry office in person, and you’ll require the following:

  • The medical certificate showing the cause of death – this needs to be signed by a doctor.
  • The deceased person’s:
    • Birth certificate
    • NHS medical card or number
    • Marriage or civil partnership certificate, if applicable
    • Driving licence, if applicable
    • Proof of address – you can take a utility bill or bank statement.

If you cannot locate some or all of these items, it is recommended that you call the applicable registry office for advice.

  • You will also need to advise the registrar of the following:
    • The deceased person’s full name and any other names they had, such as their maiden name
    • Their date and place of birth
    • Their date and place of death
    • Their usual address
    • Their most recent occupation even if they were retired at the time of death
    • Whether or not they were receiving any benefits at the time of their death such as State Pension or Universal Credit
    • The name, occupation and date of birth of their spouse or civil partner, if applicable.

What happens next

Once you have provided the required information, the registrar will give you a range of documents including:

  • A death certificate. Please note that there is a charge for death certificates. Because you might need more than one death certificate (the deceased’s bank will require one, for example) it’s advisable to purchase several copies at this stage as photocopies are rarely accepted by official institutions.
  • Information about bereavement benefits you might be entitled to.
  • A certificate for burial or cremation (Green Form).
  • A certificate of registration of death (Form BD8). You must complete the BD8 and return it in the pre-paid envelope if the person was receiving State Pension or any benefits.

Who you need to inform about the death

It’s important to inform the following as soon as you can (some will require a death certificate):

  • The deceased’s employer, if applicable.
  • The deceased’s solicitor, if applicable.
  • HMRC for tax purposes.
  • Office of the Public Guardian. If the deceased had a lasting power of attorney or enduring power of attorney, the named attorney must send this to the office with a copy of the death certificate.
  • Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) and Her Majesty’s Passport Office (HMPO). You will need to return the person’s driving licence to the DVLA and the passport to HMPO. This can be done by registered post.
  • Pension scheme providers.
  • Insurance companies.
  • The bank or building society.
  • Mortgage provider, housing association or council housing office.
  • Utility companies.
  • Social services if the deceased was under their care.
  • GP, dentist, optician, and any other relevant healthcare providers.
  • Local services such as libraries, electoral services and council tax services.
  • Any services for which the deceased paid by standing order or direct debit.

It’s also advisable to contact the Bereavement Register to ensure that the person is removed from any mailing lists they were on.

Using the Tell Us Once service

This is a service which can be used to report a death to several UK government departments at once. Although it’s offered by most local authorities, you will need to check availability in the deceased’s local area. You can arrange for an appointment to take place when you register the death, or you can access the service online or over the phone. Please note that whichever way you access the service, you will require a Tell Us Once reference number from the registrar.

Arranging a funeral

You might know about the deceased person’s wishes for their funeral, either because they told you, or because they’ve detailed these in a will or other document. If they didn’t express any preference, the executor or the nearest relative will usually decide if the body will be cremated or buried, and what type of funeral will take place.

You can ask friends for recommendations. If the deceased was part of a faith group, you might want to contact their faith leader for suggestions. The deceased might also have had a pre-paid funeral plan, in which case, the process will be much easier.

Whatever funeral home you choose, make sure that they are registered with the National Association of Funeral Directors or National Society of Allied and Independent Funeral Directors. This will ensure that they comply with the industry’s best practice guidelines.

According to a recent survey, the average cost of a funeral in the UK is £3,946 for a cremation and £4,893 for a burial. These costs vary significantly depending on where you are in the country so it’s important to get more than one quote. The pressure to ensure the deceased person’s wishes are met can sometimes lead to people overcommitting financially to aspects of the funeral including, flowers, choice of coffin, the hearse and limousines. A reputable funeral director will provide you with a written quotation for everything you wish to include. Note that there may be additional charges for clergy, a choir, and crematorium so make sure that you understand what these are. You may also be asked to pay for these particular services upfront.

You can also arrange a funeral without a funeral director. Contact your local council if you want to arrange a funeral in your local cemetery or crematorium – they will be able to advise you on what you need to do, and how much it will cost. You can find information on arranging a funeral yourself by visiting the Funeral Guide.

Paying for a funeral

Funerals are expensive so you might want to share the cost with family and friends. If the deceased had a life insurance policy, you might be able to use some of the proceeds, or they might have a death in service payment due from their employer. You may also be able to get a funeral payment from the Social Fund if you’re on a low income and meet the criteria. For example, you must be claiming Pension Credit or certain other means-tested benefits and have had a close relationship with the person (e.g. parent, spouse, sibling or partner).

You might also be eligible for help towards the cost of a funeral from retailTRUST. Click here for more details.

Further advice on arranging a funeral: