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5 important things to do when someone dies

5 important things to do when someone dies

Not many of us are prepared for death or the administration that is required when someone dies.  There is an initial process to follow and paperwork to be done, certainly to be able to arrange the burial or cremation, but also some immediate practical administration. The professionals you may encounter at this time – from doctors to undertakers, registrars to vicars or priests – will help guide you through the process.

To keep it simple, we have created our Age Space Guide to the 5 most important things to do when someone dies.

1.Confirmation of cause of death from a Doctor

A death certificate is the initial priority as it will enable everything else to happen.  A Doctor needs to confirm the cause of death and provide this in the form of a medical certificate. This will happen naturally in hospital or in a care home.  If your relative dies at home, then you will need to call the GP to come out. If this happens in the middle of the night, you can also call 111 and an on-call doctor will visit to confirm the cause of death.    

If a Doctor wasn’t present at the death, or the death was unexpected, there may have to be an inquest. The doctor will send a report of the cause of death to the coroner who will decide. This is not something to worry about, although it sounds alarming. The coroner’s office will be able to give you instructions regarding registering the death. We have information on what happens if there is an inquest you may find useful here.

The body will need to be taken to a funeral director or undertaker. Funeral directors and undertakers have a wealth of information regarding the whole process of death, and will be sympathetic to your needs and wishes. 

The burial or cremation will take a bit of time to arrange but will not be able to take place before the funeral director has received a ‘green form’ which you will receive after you have registered the death. Don’t worry – this is just the process – but useful to know.

2. Register the death

You have to register the death within five days of its occurrence so that a death certificate can be issued. You will need to make an appointment with a local registrar in order to do this. During the pandemic, registration over the phone became the norm, and this looks set to continue; the information required to register a death remains the same whether it is done in person or the phone.  

5 things to do when someone dies

The GP or the undertaker may be able to give you the details of the registrar in your relative’s area.  Alternatively you can look online, either the local authority website, or by typing in the postcode (of your relatives’ home address) on the .Gov website here. 

People who can register a death, in order of priority are:

  • A relative – by blood, marriage or civil partnership  
  • Someone present at the death  
  • The occupier of the nursing/residential home/official from hospital where the death took place 
  • The person who found the deceased 
  • The person in charge of the deceased (undertaker etc)  

There is no provision for a partner who is not married to/in a civil partnership with the deceased to be recorded as their partner on the death registration. However, they can qualify as ‘present at the death’ or ‘causing the body to be buried/cremated’. 

The registration process will take about half an hour and you will be provided with a list of the required information beforehand.

You will need the certificate from the doctor and if possible also the birth certificate, marriage/civil partner certificate and NHS medical card. 

The registrar will ask for the following information about your parent or relative:

  • The date and place of death  
  • Full name and any other names they are known by or have been known by e.g. maiden name 
  • Their date and place of birth  
  • Last main paid occupation  
  • Full name of their spouse or civil partner and date of birth 
  • Their address 
  • Details of any public sector pensions e.g. civil service, teacher or armed forces

You will also be asked to confirm details about yourself – your full name and address – as well as your relationship with the deceased.  

Once the registrar has logged the registration of death, you will receive the following:

  • A certificate for burial or cremation called a 'green form' (you will need to send this on to the funeral director/undertaker)
  • A certificate of registration of death issued to inform the Department for Work and Pensions.  
  • Tell Us Once– unique reference number to use this free service (see below). 

You will most likely need a number of originals of the death certificate to be able to sort out your relative’s affairs – particularly in closing down bank accounts or other financial services.  They must be originals and the registrar will advise you on the cost of each original. You can purchase additional certificates at a later date if required.

3. Organising the funeral

The Funeral director or undertaker will receive the green form to enable them to proceed with the burial or cremation. But you will probably have started making the arrangements before the forms are received.

Such a difficult time for you and your family, the planning of the funeral and burial provides the opportunity to mourn, but also remember and celebrate the life. There is lots of help available to you – from the kind of service you may want, to what sort of coffin you want.

You might be interested to read a personal account of organising a funeral

4. Who to inform when someone dies

There will be people and organisations to make contact with over the coming weeks and months.   

Tell Us Once is a really useful Government resource to report the death to all government and local government organisations in one go. The registrar will give you a unique reference number to access the service online or by phone. 

5 things to do when someone dies

The following information is required to register with Tell Us Once:

  • Date of birth 
  • National insurance number 
  • Driving licence number 
  • Passport number 
  • Details of any benefits or entitlements such as State Pension 
  • Details of any local council services eg Blue Badge 
  • Name and address of next of kin 
  • Name, address and contact details of the person or company dealing with their estate – their Executor/Administrator (you will need their permission to provide their details).

Once you have registered with Tell Us Once the service will notify the following Govt departments:

  • HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) 
  • Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) 
  • DVLA and the Passport Office 
  • The Local Council – housing benefit, council tax, library service etc  

There will still be a number of organisations that you will need to notify, close down accounts, cancel insurances, subscriptions, payments etc...

  • Company pensions/personal pension providers 
  • Banks and building societies (including joint accounts) 
  • Company registrars of shareholdings 
  • Credit card companies 
  • Doctor’s surgery and hospital attended by the deceased 
  • Insurance companies 
  • Loan companies 
  • Mortgage provider  
  • Housing association, land lord, local authority 
  • Utilities  
  • Doctor/Dentist 
  • Employer
  • TV / Phone contracts

The Death Notification Service can also contacts a number of organisations on your behalf.  Have a look at their member companies to see if it would be useful for you.

If you are having to cancel policies or accounts one by one, many larger companies have a “bereavement department” which deal solely with these sort of enquiries. 

All of this will take a bit of time.  Perhaps you can divide the tasks with other family members – or certainly do a little bit at a time. 

5. Locating the Will

When someone dies, it’s important to locate their Will as this will contain last wishes and other important information including for example any funeral wishes they may have. The Will should be held by their solicitor but family members might also have a copy.  

will-writing Will considerations

The executor is usually nominated in the Will – this is the person they have appointed to administer their estate (the assets they leave). If this is not you, you will need to contact the executor straight away to start the process of obtaining probate.

In England and Wales probate is the word normally used to describe the legal and financial processes involved in dealing with the property, money and possessions (called the assets) of a person who has died.

Before the next of kin or executor named in the Will can claim, transfer, sell or distribute any of the deceased’s assets they might have to apply for a grant of probate.

A grant of probate is not always needed. If a home and bank accounts are jointly owned and is passing by survivorship to the other joint owner. In such cases, production of a death certificate may be sufficient.  

If amounts of money are small, some institutions may release monies without a grant being produced.  

It is only called a grant of probate if the person left a Will. If they didn’t leave a Will, a grant of letters of administration is used instead. Both documents work in much the same way, giving a named person legal authority to deal with the estate of the person who died.

Looking after yourself and your family

At such a difficult time it is so important to try and look after yourself and your family.  Everyone deals with bereavement and grief differently and there is no timeframe, or cure. 

Read our guide to UK Bereavement Support Groups and Services to find out more.

If a parent survives the other then how best to look after them?

Julia Samuel MBE is a specialist bereavement counsellor and we had the pleasure of interviewing her a while back and this is what she had to say about grief

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