This is Our Step-By-Step Guide

Category: What To Do When Someone Dies


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When a loved one dies, our sense of bewilderment and sadness can be overwhelming.

It is a traumatic and upsetting event, whether we feel we are emotionally prepared or not. You have to manage your immediate grief whilst also dealing with the administrative practicalities around what to do when someone dies.

Writing a checklist can be extremely helpful. In fact, some bereaved family members have acknowledged that having to deal with these practical tasks allowed them to process their immediate emotions. During this time you’ll experience a whole spectrum of emotions, and the last thing you need is to be bombarded with tasks.

It can be helpful to write everything down including what needs to be done and when. This simple act can lift a weight off your shoulders, because instead of having all these tasks weighing on your mind, you’ve got a handy action plan. And you can work your way through your checklist step by step, with the support of friends and family.

You may not know where to start. What do you do when someone dies in the UK? How do you go about registering a death and beginning to plan a funeral? Don’t worry, we’re here to help.

Our checklist is intended to help you to cope with managing these sudden obligation sat such an upsetting time. These are immediate things you need action right after someone passes.

When someone dies, there are a series of tasks which we are legally obliged to carry out. We’ve listed this tasks in the order they should be done:

  • Get a medical certificate (contact doctor/local hospital)
  • Phone registrar and make an appointment
  • Register the death
  • Obtain copies of the death certificate
  • Does a coroner need to be informed?
  • Check for any special requests
  • Start to arrange the funeral by choosing and contacting a funeral director
  • Inform people and organisations
  • Manage tax affairs/benefits/pension
  • Continue with non-urgent admin when you feel ready

1. Get a medical certificate

The first thing to do, as soon as possible after the death, is contact your doctor (or failing that, your local hospital) in order to get a medical certificate. This outlines the time, place and cause of death. If your loved one is in hospital or a hospice, the responsibility for this task is usually taken on by them.

2. Contact registrar

Next, you need to phone the local registrar of births and deaths to make an appointment to go and see them to register the death.

Remember, it is a criminal offence not to register.

People authorised to register are (in order):

  • A relative present at the passing
  • Another close relative (immediate family)
  • Anyone else present at the death
  • The owner or occupier of the building where the death took place who is aware of the death or The person responsible for arranging the funeral

In most cases, it will be a family member but obviously, many deaths are completely unexpected and circumstances may vary.

3. Register the death

The registrar of deaths will give you a green certificate called the Notification or Registration of Deaths(also known as a BD8document/form). You need to complete this, including the deceased’s national insurance number because every government department using this number will be informed of the death. The time limit for this is 5 days after the deathand you will need this documentation in order to be able to arrange the funeral.

4. Does a coroner need to be informed?

Of course, the death may have been completely unexpected and if the family is unhappy or suspicious about the cause or circumstances, they may choose to inform a coroner. However, if required, it is normally the doctor/GP or police who will inform the coroner as a matter of course. This action is only needed in a minority of cases, but it is certainly worth bearing in mind given the added stress and trauma around such an event.

5. Check for any special requests

You may or may not have discussed with your lost loved one what their wishes are in the event of their death. If they have a will, check if there are any specific requests and find out whether they are an organ donor.

They may also have left instructions for their burial, cremation and even the type of funeral they want. If they don’t leave any of this information, you can only do your best to consider what they would have wanted.

6. Arranging the funeral - choose and contact a funeral director

The next step is to start organising the funeral. Your deceased loved one may have left instructions outlining their preference regarding which funeral director to use, or they may have particular spiritual or religious requirements which you know of.

If the death is unexpected (which can often be the case), you may want to consult with friends and relatives to get more of an idea about which funeral director to use as well as a sense of what kind of funeral ceremony they might have wished for.

In any case, you should contact the funeral director as soon as possible in order to discuss arrangements such as the type of coffin required, the form of the service and whether there is to be cremation or burial. It is worth bearing in mind

7. Informing people and organisations

Once you have dealt with these immediate practicalities, you need to consider who else needs to be informed of the death.

Making a list with others close to you and the deceased will help you to share this burden. It may even be useful to consult your loved one’s address book.

The list obviously includes friends and family members but may also contain the following:

  • The employer or educational centre
  • Any external agencies providing assistance or care (such as meals on wheels, day centres home-visit carers and any other social services departments)
  • Solicitor
  • Accountant
  • A landlord or local authority if they were renting or mortgage provider
  • Utility companies if they are in the name of the deceased
  • Royal mail if mail needs redirecting
  • Any companies which the deceased has subscriptions with
  • Banks and insurance companies

Try to get multiple copies of the death certificate as most agencies will request at least one copy.

If you are not in a position to get an exhaustive list of close friends and relatives to inform, you may choose the option of inserting a death notice in the local newspaper.

8. Manage tax affairs/benefits/pension/vehicles

If your loved one was claiming benefits, a pension or had tax affairs pending, it is also a very good idea to contact the pensions, benefits and tax offices as soon as possible.* This will ensure you avoid any unpleasant and unexpected surprises further down the line such as overpayment of pensions or benefits by these departments, which will result in demands for repayment.

Please note* The HMRC ‘tell us once’ service can be hugely helpful at this stage.

Tell us once is a service that helpfully outlines all the official details of the deceased you will need to provide for administrative purposes. It also lets you report a death to most government organisations in one go.

Bear in mind that you will need permission from the named ‘next of kin’, the executor or administrator (who deals with financial affairs) or anyone who was claiming joint benefits or entitlements before you submit their personal details.

Unfortunately, the tell us once service is not available in Northern Ireland or certain local authorities. The web page link above gives a list of these authorities.

Other helpful things to note

Don’t go it alone

It’s really helpful to have someone who can assist with putting someone’s affairs in order and planning a funeral. When all is said and done, it also feels good to have someone to listen to you and have a shoulder you can cry on.

Decide who will be the main point of contact

It is very useful to decide who will be the main point of contact. This person, usually a family member, should be present and available in the days following the death and it clearly helps if they have another person close to them who can help with discussion and advice on important decisions to be made.

Information you will need

  • National Insurance number
  • NHS number
  • Date and place of birth
  • Date of marriage or civil partnership (if appropriate)
  • Tax reference number
  • Organ donor card (if registered)