What to do when someone dies
Updated: Oct 13
When a relative or close friend dies, it can be overwhelming and difficult enough, without the added worry of following certain procedures and dealing with set deadlines, such as registering the death and applying for probate. The following guidance should help simplify this process for you, and provide you with a step by step guide with what you need to do when someone dies.
There are some initial steps that are required once someone has died, this includes Registering the Death which is an essential step to allow the Executor(s) or administrators to deal with the deceased’s estate, and to ensure that organisations such as financial institutions, the government and employers know of the death.
When someone dies, the first thing you will need to receive is the medical certificate. This is an essential document that is needed to be able to register the death, which you will need to do to be able to inform organisations of the death.
The medical certificate may be given to you in hospital, if this is where the person has died. However, if the person has died at home, you will need to call the person’s GP. You will then receive the medical certificate immediately, at no cost.
If there is a coroner’s inquest, there may be a delay receiving the medical certificate. However, this will be taken into account and also delay future deadlines, so you do not need to worry.
Registering the death
Once the death has been confirmed and you have received the Medical Certificate, the death should then be registered within 5 days. It is possible to delay this for a further 9 days if the registrar receives confirmation that the medical cause of death certificate has been signed by a doctor. If there is the involvement of the coroner, which means the death cannot be registered until the coroner has conducted their investigations, the delay incurred is not counted within the 5-14 days.
To Register the Death, you will first need to make an appointment with the Registrar in the district where the death occurred. If this is not possible, you may register the death at a different office, and the details will then be passed to the correct office.
Who can register a death?
The death must also be registered by a relative or another individual who is qualified by law to register a death. This may be:
Someone who was present at the death
The occupier of the house or an official from the public building where the death occurred (such as the hospital)
The person making arrangements with the funeral director
However, a relative of the deceased is the most preferable person to carry out the registration.
What do I need to take to the registrar?
The following information will be requested by the registrar to be able to register the death:
Date and place of death
The address of the person
The deceased’s full names (including any other names by which the deceased was known, such as maiden name and any former married names)
Where and when they were born
Details of spouse or civil partner
Whether they had any government pension or benefits
The registrar will require the medical certificate and certain information from you about the deceased. Therefore, if possible you should take the following documents with you, to help with providing the information.
Council tax bill
Marriage or civil partnership certificate
National Insurance number of the deceased and the number of a surviving spouse/civil partner
Proof of address
While all of these documents are not essential, they will help in providing a lot of the additional information that is required for registration.
After registering the death
After the death has been registered, you will receive the death certificate. This proves the death has been registered, and this document will be essential when dealing with the estate of the deceased, and informing organisations of the death.
You will need to purchase the death certificate, and the current cost for this in England is £11. It is also advised that you ask for additional copies, this is because you will need the certificate to access things such as the deceased’s bank account, and pension or insurance policies. Extra certificates are more expensive to purchase at a later date, and may delay the process of sorting out the estate, so it is important that you get additional copies at an early stage.
There is no set deadline to hold a funeral, as there may be inquests into the death, and the requirement for a coroner to investigate the cause of death. However, a funeral will usually be held around one or two weeks after the death.
The funeral may only take place once the death has been registered. You may arrange the funeral yourself, or you may use a funeral director at an additional cost. A professional funeral director will usually be a member of either the National Association of Funeral Directors (NAFD) or the National Society of Allied and Independent Funeral Directors (SAIF), and they will be able to help with the arrangements of the funeral.
The funeral will also incur other costs such as crematorium or cemetery fees, newspaper announcements about the death, and local authority burial or cremation fees.
You should identify whether the deceased had any pre-paid funeral plan or an insurance policy that will help subsidise any costs related to the funeral. Along with this, you should look at the Will at this stage, as the deceased may have had certain requests or instructions regarding their funeral.
Funeral costs will usually be funded by the deceased’s estate. You may be able to access the deceased’s bank account to fund the funeral, however, this may not be possible before the Executor or administrator receives a Grant of Representation (either a Grant of Probate where there is a will and an Executor or a Grant of Letters of Administration where there is no will and an administrator) allowing them access to the deceased’s estate. Therefore, in this case you will need to fund the funeral. However, any costs related to the funeral, and any reasonable expenses incurred will be reimbursed to you from the deceased’s estate, at a later date.
The average funeral cost in the UK in 2019 was £4,417. If the deceased did not have an pre-paid funeral plan and does not have sufficient funds to cover funeral expenses, it may be possible to receive financial help. However, there is a 6 month deadline to apply for this, so get in contact with the Government Bereavement Service as soon as possible.
Tell Us Once
Tell Us Once is a useful and free service that allows you to inform a central and local government about a person’s death. You will be given a unique reference code from the registrar, once you register the death, and you will then be able to use the Tell Us Once service. This service must be used within 85 days from receiving the unique reference number.
Who does Tell Us Once notify?
Tell Us Once reduces the need for you to tell each organisation and institution individually. The service will notify:
HM Revenue and Customs, to deal with personal tax of the deceased
Department for Work and Pensions, to cancel any benefits and entitlements
Passport Office, to cancel the deceased British passport
Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency, to cancel the deceased licence and remove them as the keeper of up to five vehicles
The local council, to remove the deceased from the electoral register, and cancel housing benefits, council tax reduction, a blue badge
Veterans UK, to cancel Armed Forces Compensation Scheme payments
Public sector pension schemes, such as NHS Pension Scheme, Armed Forces Pension Scheme
These are the initial steps that are required to be carried out following the death of a person. Once you have carried out these initial steps you may continue to assess the deceased’s estate and apply for a grant of probate. This means applying for the legal right to deal with the deceased’s estate, which will allow a nominated person/people to pay creditors of the deceased and distribute the remaining estate to beneficiaries (those who are named in the Will or who are entitled to the estate because of the Rules of Intestacy). These will be further explained in a following blog post, or you can take a look at the brochure, which will give a brief overview of the following steps.
Changes due to COVID-19 (Coronavirus)
Coronavirus has inevitably brought with it some challenges for family and friends of someone who has passed away. When registering the death this may now be done by telephone rather than face to face, and you will still need to book an appointment for this within five days from the day the person died.
Funerals have also been affected, meaning they are being organised over email and telephone, and there are restrictions as to the number of people who may attend. The Government has put together some guidance for managing a funeral during the coronavirus pandemic which can be found here.
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