What to do when someone dies
When someone dies it can be a very emotional time and this can make it hard to know what practical things you need to do next.
Someone has died. What practical things do I need to do straight away?
When someone dies, the first steps you need to take will depend on how and where they died.
If someone dies at home and their death was expected
Call the family doctor and nearest relative.
If the death was expected, for example due to a terminal illness, 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.
Once the doctor has issued the medical certificate, and when you feel ready to do so, you can call a funeral director who will move the body to a funeral home.
If someone dies at home unexpectedly
Call 999 immediately and ask for advice.
An unexpected death may need to be 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 to find out the cause of death. This may take some time, so the funeral may need to be delayed.
If someone dies in hospital
The hospital will usually issue a medical certificate and formal notice. They will support you with the next steps you need to take.
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.
If someone dies abroad
If someone dies abroad, register the death according to the regulations of the country. Register it with the British Consul in the country too, so you can get a consulate death certificate and a record can be kept in the UK.
How do I register a death?
You need to register the death within five days. Here’s a step-by-step guide how to do that:
- Download and complete the Death registration form
- Provide the medical certificate of the cause of death, signed by a doctor
- Take the form and medical certificate to any District Registration Office in Northern Ireland
For more information read the NI Direct checklist
Who do I need to tell about the death?
When someone dies, you must get in touch with certain organisations to let them know as soon as possible.
- local services such as libraries, electoral services and council tax services
- the tax office
- the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA)
- the UK Passport Agency
- HMRC for tax purposes.
You'll need to return the driver's licence to the DVLA and the passport to HM Passport Office.
You may need to contact other organisations as well, such as:
- pension scheme provider
- insurance company
- bank and building society
- 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
- the Bereavement Register, which removes their details from mailing lists and stops most advertising mail
How do I go about arranging a funeral?
The person who died may have left funeral 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.
Ask funeral directors for quotations to help you decide which company to use. Ask for an itemised quote which includes:
- the funeral director’s services
- a coffin
- 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 third parties such as the crematorium, clergy and doctors. Funeral directors may ask for these fees to be paid upfront.
Arranging a funeral without a funeral director
You don’t have to use a funeral director if you don’t want to – you can have a ‘do-it-yourself’ funeral.
DIY funerals can be less expensive, more environmentally friendly as well as more personal and intimate.
This type of funeral often takes place when someone makes their wishes clear before their death and plans for it themselves, as it can involve more advance planning.
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 not only be stressful - it can also be expensive. If you're paying for the funeral, think carefully about what you can afford.
The funeral can be paid for 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 (the legal process of distributing the money, property and possessions of the person who's died) 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.
There are strict rules about who can get help and how much you will receive. 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.
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.
What should I do next?
When someone dies there's often a lot to deal with – their paperwork, finances, legal issues, property, as well as coping with your own emotional reaction to their death.
Every year our Advice Service deals with thousands of calls from older people in need. Call us today to make sure that you are receiving all the help and support available to you.