Although death is a certainty, most of us are not sure what do when it actually happens. It’s not something you tend to research in advance and therefore when it happens, you might not be aware that when someone dies you will need to inform a number of people and organisations and complete certain documents needed by law. Some you can do yourself and others will need to be done by the executor or administrator of the estate. Be assured that there is lots of help available and below we have detailed in five simple steps what to do when someone dies.
- Obtaining the death certificate
- How to register a death
- Organisations you need to contact
- Administer the estate
- Start Funeral Arrangements
1) Obtaining the Death Certificate
When someone dies a doctor should be called to issue a certificate stating the cause of death, along with a document outlining who is eligible to register the death. If your parent or loved one is in a nursing home, the Doctor will probably already have been called and you may have had some initial conversations about what to do next.
Depending on the circumstances, 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 coroners office will be able to give you instructions regarding registering the death.
2) How to register a death
A death should be registered within five days from when it occurred. This period can be extended in special circumstances and if the coroner is involved – see below for further information.
Norfolk is a single district and you can register a death at any registration office in Norfolk. Visit Norfolk County Council website HERE – for their online appointment system or you can call the council’s customer service centre – 0344 8008020.
If the death occurred at the Norfolk & Norwich Hospital, there is now a registrar on site, which can make things a little easier for you.
People who can register a death, in order of priority
- 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 body
- The person in charge of the body
Note – there is no provision for a partner who is not married to/in a civil partnership with the deceased to be recorded as the deceased’s partner on the death registration. However, they can qualify as informant as ‘present at the death’ or ‘causing the body to be buried/cremated’.
What to take with you
You will need the death certificate from the doctor or confirmation from the coroners office that the relevant paperwork has been issued to the registration office.
If possible, the deceased’s – birth certificate, marriage/civil partner certificate and NHS medical card.
You will need to be able to give the registrar the following information about the deceased
- 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 be expected to share the following information about yourself
- Your relationship with the deceased
- Your full name and address
Documents you will receive from the registrar
- A ceritficate for burial or cremation called a green form.
- 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 can buy death certificates which will be needed to sort out the deceased’s affairs – anything which needs to be closed down or claimed, for example bank accounts. They must be originals not photocopies.
What happens when a death is referred to a coroner?
A death might be referred for a number of reasons such as the doctor might be unsure of the exact cause of death or the person dies earlier than expected. The person might have suffered from an industrial disease, died during a surgical procedure or before recovery from anaesthetic.
If the coroner determines the death is the result of natural causes, additional paperwork giving the cause of death will be sent to the registrar on completion of the enquiry, usually within 24 hours.
If the coroner requires a post mortem examination, they will issue paperwork in place of the doctors medical certificate you will be able to register the death once the registrar has received the paperwork, usually within a few days.
If the cause of death takes longer to establish, the coroner will issue an interim certificate relating to the death, so you can settle some of the deceased’s affairs.
If the death is deemed unnatural, unknown or unexplained, the coroner will decide to hold an inquest and the registration will be delayed.
Inquests will be held to investigate any death which;
- Is of a sudden cause
- Is violent, unnatural or suspicious
- Is due to accident or industrial disease
- Occurs during an operation or before recovery from anaesthetic
- Occurs in legal custody
An inquest is not a trial, it is a public court hearing held by the coroner in order to establish who died, and how, when and where the death occurred.
If the death occurred in prison or custody or resulted from an accident at work, there will usually be a jury present.
Upon their conclusion, the findings will allow the cause of death to be registered. More information regarding the Norfolk Coroner’s Service can be found here – www.norfolk.gov.uk/coroners
3) Organisations you need to contact
When someone dies, there’s lots of things that need to be done, at a time when you probably feel least like doing them.
The Tell Us Once service is a helpful way of reporting a death to all government organisations in one go.
The registrar will tell you about using Tell Us Once and give you a unique reference number to access the service online or by phone. The following information is required to register:
- 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).
Tell Us Once will notify:
- 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
4) Managing the estate
When someone dies, it’s important to locate their will as this might have important information regarding how they want to be laid to rest. The will should be held by their solicitor but family members might also hold a copy.
The executor is usually nominated in the will – this is the person they have appointed to administer their estate. If this is not you, you will need to contact the executor straight away to start the process of obtaining probate.
Probate is the process of officially proving that a will is valid and a grant of probate is a legal document allowing the people named in it to collect and distribute the deceased’s estate – this includes their money, property and possessions.
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.
If someone dies without a will, this is called intestate.
If there is no will, administer is the term given to one of the deceased’s closest relatives or the legal representative of the deceased. They can apply to the Probate Registry for a letter of administration, which will give them the permission to administer the estate.
In complex situations is a good idea to get legal advice. Start by visiting our Legal Matters section for excellent advice from our sponsors Ashtons Legal.
For more information and to apply – call the Probate & Inheritance Tax helpline 0300 1231072 or visit www.hrmc.gov.uk
5) Funeral Arrangements
Before you start arranging a funeral, it’s a good idea to check the will for any special requests, such as burial or cremation.
You can organise a funeral with or without the help of a funeral director and personalise it as much as you wish regarding music, readings, transport and flowers.
Most people choose to use a funeral director as they can help with all the planning during this difficult time. They can advise on things such as
- Where the deceased should rest before the funeral
- Time and place of funeral
- Type of service – religious or other
Our section sponsor Gordon Barber have written a Comprehensive Guide to Funeral Planning, click HERE to read all about how to plan a funeral.
You might be interested to read a really lovely blog on organising a funeral.
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.