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What to do when someone dies

If someone dies at home:

Call the family doctor and nearest relative immediately. If the death was expected, the doctor will give you a medical certificate showing the cause of death. They’ll also give you a formal notice saying they’ve signed the medical certificate and telling you how to register the death. If the person is to be cremated, you’ll need two certificates signed by different doctors.

If someone dies in hospital:

The hospital will usually issue a medical certificate and formal notice. The body will usually be kept in the hospital mortuary until the funeral directors or relatives arrange a chapel of rest, or for the body to be taken home.

Unexpected death

If someone dies unexpectedly, or the family doctor hasn’t seen them in the last 14 days, the death is reported to a coroner. A coroner is a doctor or lawyer responsible for investigating unexpected deaths. They may call for a post-mortem or inquest. This may take some time, so the funeral may need to be delayed.

Death abroad

If someone dies abroad, register the death according to the regulations of the country and get a consulate death certificate. Register it with the British Consul in the country too, so a record can be kept in the UK.

The GOV.UK website offers two leaflets which explain the practical support British consular staff can offer and what you need to do.

Registering a death

You need to register the death within five days. You can use any register office but it’s best to use the one in the area where the person died, otherwise the process might take longer.

You’ll need to take with you the medical certificate showing the cause of death, signed by a doctor. If possible, also take the person’s:

  • birth certificate
  • NHS medical card or number
  • marriage or civil partnership certificate.

You will have to tell the registrar:

  • the person’s full name (and any other names they had, such as a maiden name)
  • the person’s date and place of birth
  • their date and place of death
  • their usual address
  • their most recent occupation
  • whether or not they were receiving any benefits, including State Pension
    the name, occupation and date of birth of their spouse or civil partner

The registrar will give you:

  • a certificate for burial or cremation (known as the Green Form)
  • a certificate of registration of death (form BD8). You should fill this out and return it in the pre-paid envelope if the person was receiving State Pension or any benefits
  • leaflets about bereavement benefits
  • a death certificate, for which there will be a charge.

You can buy extra death certificates – these will be needed for the will and any claims to pensions, savings, etc.

It’s best to pay for several copies, as copies required at a later date may be more expensive. Ordinary photocopies aren’t accepted by some organisations, such as banks or life insurance companies.

Who to tell about the death

When someone dies, you must contact certain organisations to inform them as soon as possible. You need to:

You may need to contact other organisations as well, such as:

  • pension scheme provider
  • insurance company
  • bank and building society
  • employer
  • mortgage provider, housing association or council housing office
  • social services
  • utility companies
  • GP, dentist, optician and anyone else providing medical care
  • any charities, organisations or magazine subscriptions the deceased person made regular payments to

You could also register the name and address of the deceased person with the Bereavement Register, which tries to put a stop to post being sent to people who have died.

Tell Us Once service

The government's free Tell Us Once service lets you report a death to several government departments in one go, either online or by telephone. You will need a Tell Us Once reference number from the registrar when you register the death.

The service isn’t available in every area. Local authorities that offer the service should explain it to you when you meet with the registrar.

Taking over the purse strings after your partner dies

If you have lost a partner who you depended on to manage your finances, you may suddenly find yourself having to take on a host of financial issues that you've never dealt with before. This video from the Money Advice Service explains what you need to do.

Organ donation and medical research

If the person carried a donor card, was listed on the NHS Organ Donor Register, or told you or someone else they wanted their organs to be donated, you should tell the hospital staff or GP.

The sooner you tell them, the more likely it is the deceased person’s wishes can be carried out, as organs need to be removed quickly. If the death is to be reported to the coroner, you may need the coroner’s consent.

The person who died may have made a special request to have their body donated to medical science. They will have made arrangements with their nearest medical school and told their family and GP. A member of the family should contact the medical school for advice.

Arranging a funeral

If you’re arranging the funeral, start by thinking about what sort of funeral the person would have wanted. They may have left instructions in their will or a letter about their wishes.

If there aren’t any clear wishes, the executor or nearest relative will usually decide if the body will be cremated or buried and what type of funeral will take place.

Most people use a funeral director. Choose one who’s a member of either The National Association of Funeral Directors or the National Society of Allied and Independent Funeral Directors. Get more than one quote to compare costs.

A quote for a respectful, basic funeral will include:

  • the funeral director’s services
  • transfer of the deceased person from the place of death, and care of them before the funeral
  • a hearse to the nearest crematorium or cemetery
  • all necessary arrangements and paperwork.

There may be extra charges for crematorium and cemetery fees, embalming and flowers.

You don’t have to use a funeral director if you don’t want to – you can have a ‘do-it-yourself’ (DIY) funeral. DIY funerals can be less expensive and more personal and intimate, although you will have more to organise.

Contact your local council if you want to arrange a funeral in your local cemetery or crematorium.

Paying for a funeral

Arranging a funeral can be stressful and expensive. If you're paying for the funeral, think carefully about what you can afford.

The funeral can be paid by:

  • you or other family members or friends
  • a lump sum from a life insurance policy or pension scheme the person paid into
  • a pre-paid funeral plan the person took out
  • the person’s estate (any money, property or assets they left). Funeral costs take precedence over other debts
  • money the person had in a bank or building society, although they don’t have to release the money until probate is granted. If there’s a delay, you may need to pay the costs in the meantime.

Help with funeral costs

You may be able to get a Funeral Payment from the Social Fund if you’re on a low income and meet the criteria.

You must be claiming Pension Credit or certain other means-tested benefits, and had a close relationship with the person who died – for example, you may have been their partner.

To apply, ask for form SF200 at your local Jobcentre Plus office or download it from GOV.UK. You can also call the DWP Bereavement Service on 0345 606 0265 to make a claim.

If you don’t qualify for a Funeral Payment, or it doesn’t cover the full costs of the funeral, you may be able to get a Budgeting Loan from the Social Fund. These are interest-free loans of between £100 and £1500 that you repay from your benefits.

To apply, ask for form SF500 at your local Jobcentre Plus office or download it from Gov.uk.

Dealing with the estate

When a person dies, someone has to sort out their estate – their money, property, possessions and debts.

If the deceased person left a will, this will explain what should happen to their estate. The will should specify who the executors are – the people who will sort out the estate.

They will need to apply for a grant of representation at the local Probate Registry to give them the legal right to do so. The right to deal with an estate is known as ‘probate’.

If the person didn’t leave a will, or the will is invalid or doesn’t specify executors, the person who deals with the estate is called an administrator. They will need to apply for ‘letters of administration’ at the local Probate Registry.

However, the law decides who will inherit the estate.

  • The person’s spouse or civil partner and children will automatically inherit all their personal possessions.
  • The spouse or civil partner inherits at least the first £250,000 of the estate.

The rules around anything over £250,000 are complex and you should take legal advice on this.

As the executor or administrator you have a legal responsibility to pay off any debts or outstanding payments before distributing the estate. It is recommended that you put a statutory advertisement (under the Trustee Act 1925 for England, or the Trustee Act 1958 in Northern Ireland) in The Gazette.

The purpose of publishing a deceased estates notice in The Gazette is to ensure that sufficient effort has been made to locate creditors prior to distributing the estate to beneficiaries and protecting the executor or trustee from being liable for any unidentified creditors.

You can use money from the estate to pay any fees as part of the probate process.

If the estate is very small – less than £5,000 – probate isn’t usually needed. In this case, you should write to the bank, building society, or the organisation holding the money.

Inheritance Tax

Inheritance Tax may have to be paid on the estate if it’s over a certain amount. The current threshold is £325,000. Anything over that threshold is taxed at 40%.

Most estates are valued at below the £325,000 limit so there isn’t any Inheritance Tax to pay. There is also no Inheritance Tax to pay on estates left to a spouse or civil partner, or to charity.

If the deceased person had a spouse or civil partner who died before them, their threshold could be worth up to £650,000 (twice the current threshold). Read more information on Inheritance Tax

Financial help

If your spouse or civil partner dies, you may be entitled to certain benefits based on their National Insurance contributions.

Bereavement Payment

Bereavement payment is a tax-free lump sum of £2,000. You may be entitled to claim it if your spouse or civil partner paid National Insurance contributions and:

  • they were not entitled to a Category A State Pension when they died

or

  • you were under State Pension age when they died

If you have dependent children, you may also be entitled to Widowed Parent’s Allowance. Read more information on Bereavement Payment

Bereavement Allowance

If you’re over 45 but under State Pension age and don’t have any dependent children, you may be entitled to Bereavement Allowance. This is paid for up to a year. Read more information on Bereavement Allowance

State Pension

You may be entitled to some basic State Pension based on your spouse or civil partner’s National Insurance (NI) contributions if you haven’t built up a full basic State Pension with your own NI contributions. You may also be entitled to their additional pension or Graduated Retirement Benefit.

Contact the DWP Bereavement Service for more advice.

War pensions

If your spouse or civil partner served in the armed forces, you may be entitled to help. Contact Veterans UK to find out more.

Changes to your tax allowance

If your spouse or civil partner has died, there may be changes to your tax allowance.

If you were getting Married Couple’s Allowance, you’ll get it for the rest of the tax year but not the year after.

If your spouse or civil partner was receiving Blind Person’s Allowance and they didn’t have enough income to use it all up in the year they died, you can ask HMRC to transfer what’s left to you for that tax year.

If you get extra income such as bereavement benefits or your spouse or civil partner’s pension or annuity, you may need to complete a Bereavement Benefit Coding Form to make sure you pay the right amount of tax. Contact HMRC for advice.

Further information

Downloads

Our Information guides are short and easy to digest, giving a comprehensive overview of the relevant topic. Factsheets are longer with more detail, and are aimed at professionals.

You can download other guides in our series from publications

For more information: Call Age UK Advice: 0800 169 2081

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