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What to do After Someone Dies

A loved one dying is a devastating experience, regardless of whether it was expected or not. It can be difficult to think about the legal requirements you need to fulfil in the days following the death, so this guide is designed to explain the process step by step, so it is one less thing you have to think about at such a trying time.

What are the legal requirements when someone dies?

There are three things you have to do when someone dies.

  1. Obtain a medical certificate (this is required to register the death).
  2. Register the death.
  3. Arrange a funeral.

What do I do if someone dies at home?

If someone dies at home and the death was expected a doctor will issue a medical certificate showing the cause of death.

What if the death was unexpected?

If someone dies unexpectedly, violently or the family doctor has not seen them in the past 14 days, the death must be reported to a Coroner. They will investigate the cause of death and may order a post-mortem.

What should I do if someone dies abroad?

If someone dies in a foreign country you will need to register the death according to the regulations of that particular jurisdiction and at the British Consulate.

How do I register a death in the UK?

You must register a person’s death within five days (eight days in Scotland).

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.

The registrar will provide you with a death certificate, a certificate for burial and cremation and a certificate of the registration of death.

If the matter has been referred to a Coroner you will not be able to register the death until you receive the Coroner’s permission.

What is an inquest?

If a death is violent or unexplained or happens in police custody, the Coroner must hold an inquest. An inquest is an investigation held in public to establish who the person was, and where, when and how they died. Witnesses may be summoned.

The Coroners Act 1988 sets out the duties of a coroner and in what circumstances he or she should hold an inquest and in what circumstances he or she has the choice to do so.

How do I arrange a funeral?

Most funerals are arranged through a funeral director, although you can arrange one yourself. You are responsible for paying the funeral director and they may ask for a deposit upfront.

What if I cannot afford a funeral?

Funerals cost an average of £3,456. If you are struggling to find the funds to pay for a funeral there are a number of options.

  • Banks are usually willing to consider requests to settle the funeral bill from a late customer’s account, provided funds are available. You would have to show the bank the original funeral bill or invoice. The bank would then provide a cheque or other payment payable to the funeral director.
  • Some funeral directors will offer loans to pay for the cost of the funeral.
  • The government provides a Social Fund to help loved ones cover the costs of a funeral if they cannot afford it. However, this may not meet the total cost of the funeral.
  • You can organise a Public Health Funeral (formally known as a pauper’s burial). These do not carry the same stigma as in previous times and are a viable option for those who simply cannot afford to pay.