What To Do When Someone Dies

We generally expect that the death of a close friend or family member will be emotionally distressing. This is normal and natural.

Until we find ourselves responsible for making the funeral arrangements or helping someone with that responsibility, we often do not realise how many practical tasks there are to do when someone dies.

Looking after the person who has died

If the patient was in hospital at the time of death you will often be given an opportunity to spend some time with your relative on the ward before the body has to be moved to the mortuary. Most hospitals also have a viewing room. This is often called the chapel of rest. You will usually need an appointment to see someone in the viewing room, which is often arranged by the hospital’s bereavement service.

If someone has died at home or in a nursing home the death is often both natural and expected. It will usually be confirmed by a qualified professional. You may contact a funeral director when you are ready to do so. It is possible to keep the body at home but we would recommend you seek advice before deciding to do this.

If someone has died in a public place or at home and the death was not expected, the person may be taken to hospital by ambulance if resuscitation is attempted. The police will also attend and if death is confirmed at the scene they will notify the coroner. A funeral director will move the body for the coroner, usually to the nearest large hospital.

Getting a medical certificate

If the death is both expected and natural, a doctor who has been looking after the patient will be able to issue a medical certificate that states the cause of death. If the death was unexpected and the GP isn’t sure of the cause, they’ll need to report the death to the local coroner. This means it may take longer for a death certificate to be issued.

You’ll need to get a medical certificate before you can register the death, but you may be able to get an interim certificate from the coroner that can be used to notify some organisations of the death.

Registering the death

Norfolk Registrars Telephone Number: 0344 800 8020

Deaths in England, Wales and Northern Ireland should normally be notified to the Registrar of Births, Marriages & Deaths within 5 days of the death unless the local coroner is investigating it. You can do this at any Registrar Office but if you do it in the district where the person died, you’ll get the documents (death certificate) you need straight away. It might be a good idea to buy extra death certificates to help you sort of the deceased’s affairs.

If registration is delayed because of the involvement of the coroner this is not your fault and you do not need to worry.

You might need to make an appointment to register the death, so check your local council website for more details. If you register the death in another district, the documents will be sent to the office in the district where the person died. So it’ll be a few days before you get the death certificate. You can find full details on how to register a death at Gov.uk.

It is helpful to take the following with you, although not essential: birth and marriage certificates for the deceased, details of any state benefits, the NHS medical card and the National Insurance number of the deceased, and also that of a surviving husband, wife or civil partner.

Arranging a funeral

The funeral normally can’t be held until the death has been registered but you can start arranging it immediately. Most families choose to use a funeral director to organise it. If using a funeral director, you should get more than one quote to compare prices, as they will vary. Make sure you ask them to include all costs.

You may want to check whether the person who died had a pre-paid funeral plan which will set out some or all of what they wanted, whether they had told family or friends what they wanted or had given instructions in their Will.

Telling organisations that need to know

Contact any financial organisations such as banks, credit card companies, utility providers and so on, within a month. Banks should be contacted quickly to secure the estate and prevent fraud. If your loved one left a will, any outstanding bills or debts should be paid from the estate.

Most councils run a service called Tell Us Once, that your local registrar should tell you about when you register the death. This service lets you report the death to most organisations in one go, including: HM Revenue and Customs, Department for Work and Pensions, Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency, Passport Office and the local council.

It is also a good idea to redirect any post using a special circumstances form from Royal Mail so you can watch out for anything you may have missed.

Overview

Immediately after the death
  • Death is usually confirmed by a professional
  • The person who has died is moved to a mortuary or funeral director’s premises
Doctor issues Medical Certificate or Coroner investigates the death
  • Depending on the circumstances of the death
Registration of death
  • Documents are issued that allows the funeral to proceed and the estate to be administered
Funeral
Determine who should take the legal responsibility for administering the estate
Informing organisations of the death
  • Financial and legal
  • Central and local government
  • Health sector
Claim any benefits
  • This usually needs to happen within 3 months of the death