What to do when someone dies in the UK?

What to do when someone dies in the UK?

by Martin Jackson2022-10-060

Remember: you’re not alone

No matter what the circumstances regarding the death of a loved one, there are many ways you can get help. Organisations like the NHS and Cruse Bereavement can offer support with grief. You can find official help on the UK government site about things like government benefits and financial support.

Here at Fenix, we can also help you along every step of the process. From organising a whole funeral to just finding the right flower arranger, our personal advisors are there for you with all the information and expertise you could need. Feel free to get in touch to find out more.

The first steps

When someone dies in a hospital or care home, the staff will help you with the first stage of paperwork, contacting a GP, and getting a medical certificate. The body is then taken to the hospital mortuary until you arrange to have it moved, usually to the funeral directors.

If someone dies at home, call the GP they were registered at, or the NHS helpline (111) as soon as possible – they’ll lead you through what to do next.

Get the medical certificate

As soon as you can, you need to obtain what’s called a ‘medical certificate’. This is an essential step to starting the entire process. The certificate is free, and in most cases you’ll be able to get it almost immediately. If the death has occurred in hospital, staff there will provide you with the certificate. If the death was a home, the deceased’s GP will often provide this when they confirm the death.

If there needs to be a coroner’s inquest, for example if the cause of death is classified as unknown or unnatural, this might take a bit longer. 

How to register a death in the UK

You need to register the death within the first 5 days – including weekends and bank holidays. The official UK government website has a very useful step-by-step guide for registering a death in the UK. We highly recommend having a look prior to a death, if it’s expected – or after the death has occurred.

To register the death, you’ll need to find a register office in the area where the person passed away. Make an appointment at the register office and ensure you take the medical certificate with you.

You’ll need to tell the registrar the following personal and financial information:

  • The person’s full name, along with previously used names (e.g. their maiden name).
  • Their date and place of birth.
  • Their national insurance number
  • Their last address.
  • Their occupation, or if they were retired.
  • The name, date of birth, and occupation of their spouse or civil partner (whether surviving or dead).
  • If they were getting a State Pension or any other benefits.

The register office will tell you exactly what you need to bring when you go to register the death, but that might include things like: birth certificate, marriage or civil partnership certificate, a document with their national insurance number on it, driving licence, Council Tax bill and utility bills (with the last address on them), NHS medical card, passport.

Once you give the information to the registrar, they’ll provide you with the following documents:

  • The green form’ (GRO21), which allows burial or cremation.
  • A certificate of Registration of Death (form BD8), which you may need to fill in and return it if the person was getting a State Pension or benefits.

Who to inform about a death?

It can all-too often feel like a juggling act, when someone dies. Your to-do list feels like it just keeps on growing, rather than getting shorter. One thing that really helps is the UK’s Tell Us Once service, which informs multiple people and organisations about the death at the same time.

At the point of registering a death, your register will explain the Tell Us Once service. They will either complete the service together with you, or give you a unique reference number so you can use the service online, or by phone. The service then notifies:

  • HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC)
  • Department for Work and Pensions (DWP)
  • Passport Office – so their passport is cancelled
  • Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA)
  • Local council
  • Veterans UK

HMRC and DWP will then contact you about the tax, benefits and entitlements of the person who died.

That should free up time so you can focus on contacting people like: friends & family, employer, mortgage provider or landlord, utility companies, financial organisations like banks and credit cards.

How to arrange a funeral in the UK

Generally, funerals take place one to two weeks after someone dies. But if you need more time, that can often be arranged. Depending on religious or cultural beliefs, the time between death and funeral might be much shorter.

Before arranging the funeral, check the will of the deceased person to see if they made any funeral plans – they may have left clear instructions. Whether a plan exists or not, many people choose to seek help from a funeral director during this stressful time. A funeral director helps plan the ceremony, deals with paperwork, looks after the body until the day of the funeral, and makes sure everything happens at the right time at the right place.

At Fenix, we have dedicated, expert advisors who will help you find a funeral director in England, give you information about the different costs and options for every type of funeral, and even help you choose the right flowers. Whether you need support along every step of the process, or just some expert (but friendly) advice, we’re here for you, always – so feel free to get in touch.

Other things to do after a death

In the weeks following the death, there are a number of things that need to be done. These include returning the person’s passport to HM Passport Office, and their driving licence to the DVLA. If the person who died was a Blue Badge holder, the badge will need to be returned to the Blue Badge Unit.

It’s also a good idea to register the death with the Bereavement Register, in order to remove the person’s name from marketing databases and mailing lists. 

You’ll also need to:

  • Redirect post.
  • Inform the dentist and optician.
  • Cancel subscriptions.
  • Close online accounts, such as email or social media profiles.
  • Contact clubs, trade unions, and associations.
  • Inform social groups, church or place of worship.

Also, keep in mind that the official UK government guide about what to do when someone dies in the UK is really useful, and contains lots of in-depth information that we couldn’t fit in here (like checking to see if you can get bereavement benefits, updating your own benefits and pension, dealing with taxes, applying for probate and dealing with the estate, etc.)

We know that there’s a lot of information here, but keep the first point in this guide in your mind at all times – no matter what, you’re not alone, and there’s always options available for reaching out, whether you need practical advice or emotional support.

Fenix has a specialist Bereavement Support team who are there to offer you advice on a wide range of administrative, practical, legal, emotional and other matters. Whatever you need, you can request a call from one of our team. 

You can keep reading to get even more in-depth information about what to do when someone dies, and advice on things like dealing with grieving.

Grieving and dealing with loss in the UK

It’s absolutely natural to experience a number of symptoms and feelings when a loved one or family member dies. Symptoms of grief or bereavement can include:

  • Sadness that feels overwhelming. For example if you can’t stop crying, or feel unable to get through tasks or work during your day.
  • Shock, numbness, being in a ‘daze’. One of the earliest responses to a death, this is often the body and mind protecting themselves, by limiting what you have to deal with.
  • Tiredness / lethargy. Many people report that they sleep more, or feel tired even after sleeping.
  • Anger towards the person. It’s also common to have periods of wanting to ‘blame’ the deceased.
  • Guilt. We all spend time thinking about things that we didn’t do or say, and can feel guilty that those opportunities are now ‘lost’.

If at any point these symptoms feel overwhelming, or don’t go away, you can speak to your GP, or contact a support organisation such as Cruse Bereavement Care.

Who to talk to about grief?

It’s really important to remember that you don’t have to deal with everything all at once, or on your own, after the death of someone close to you. There are many very useful articles and guides online, created by the NHS, Cruse Bereavement, and other organisations. These are a good place to start.

At Fenix, our personal advisers are there to help you manage every aspect of a death or funeral. You can call our supportive, friendly team to talk through every aspect of a death, with absolutely no obligation. And no matter what you’re going through, our Our Bereavement Team will be there to help you. 

The steps to follow if you or someone else is in a mental health crisis

If you reach a point in which you’re not sure you can keep yourself or someone else safe, you can get immediate professional help by calling 999, or going to your local A&E (accident and emergency). 

If you don’t want to visit the A&E, the Samaritans are available 24/7, with extremely capable staff ready to help and support you. You can call them from any phone on: 116 123

What is an inquest after a death in the UK?

In some circumstances, inquests can be called after a death in England. An inquest is conducted by a coroner, and can cover things like:

  • Who the dead person was, if that is not immediately clear.
  • The “how, when and where” questions relating to a death.
  • Speaking to witnesses to ensure all the relevant information is collected.

Importantly, you should know that an inquest is not a trial, and the coroner has no mandate to offer any decision or even opinion about civil or criminal liability in relation to a death.

When is a coroner needed after a death?

Deaths are reported to a coroner if the cause of death is not clear, if the person has died a violent or unnatural death, or if the person died in prison or police custody.

The coroner might decide that the cause of death is clear, which means that a doctor can sign the death certificate. Or, they might decide that a port-mortem or an inquest is required. Post-mortems are carried out in either a hospital or mortuary, and the coroner must keep you or your GP informed about where and when it will take place.

How to help someone else cope with death in the UK?

Dealing with loss is one of the hardest things any of us will encounter in life. And everyone goes through grief and bereavement differently, so there’s no set plan for how to ‘solve’ it. But there are some useful things to keep in mind, so that you can be there for someone:

  • Don’t worry about ‘saying the wrong thing’. In most cases, just being there for someone is a huge help.
  • Don’t avoid contact with someone. Hoping that someone’s grief will just ‘go away on its own’ might actually prolong it, or even make it worse.
  • Ask someone how you can help. Often, the bereaved person will know what they need – even if it’s just as simple as a cup of tea or a walk to get out of the house.
  • Find ways to talk about the deceased. While it can be painful, talking about the good moments or traits – or even the not so good ones – can help someone work through their grief.
  • Help them find additional support if needed. Sometimes, grief can last for a long time, and affect someone’s ability to work or look after themselves. If you suspect this is happening, you could find an organisation that might be able to help (e.g. by using this useful list).

How to choose: burial or cremation in the UK?

In many cases, the deceased might have left instructions in a will, or told someone in person their wishes about whether they want to be cremated or buried. Or, they might have belonged to a religion that has rules about this. 

If not, then there are a number of factors to consider when it comes to deciding between burial and cremation:

  • Cremation is more often than not the cheaper option, as burial involves additional costs (like a cemetery plot).
  • Environmentally, both options have pros and cons. You can opt for a ‘green’ or ‘natural’ burial, which some people argue is better for the planet as there is no carbon emissions from the cremation process. But others argue that burial takes up space – and it can be especially harmful if the body has been embalmed.
  • In the UK, more people are cremated than are buried, and that’s been the case for more than 50 years. More and more people are also choosing direct cremation – which means cremation without a service.
  • Some people appreciate that the ashes after a cremation can be scattered in a meaningful location, and even split between different people and places.
  • Others prefer knowing that the body of a buried person is always in the same place, which can be visited on anniversaries, for example.
  • Many people prefer the ‘traditional’ and ‘gentle’ nature of burials: it’s a method that’s more familiar to many people, and it’s accepted by most of the world’s major religions.

At Fenix, we can help you decide between cremation and burial – whether you’re planning someone else’s funeral or your own. We pride ourselves on being transparent, honest, and supportive, no matter what your plans or budget. (Don’t forget that a money advice service like the UK government’s MoneyHelper can help you manage the costs of a funeral.) Our articles about direct cremation in England, or the cost of cremation might be useful if you’d like to find out more about those subjects.

What happens when someone dies in hospital in the UK?

In almost all cases, the hospital staff will be there for you to help you through all the necessary steps, such as arranging a medical certificate and death certificate. Most hospitals also have mortuaries, where the body can be kept until the funeral director can come and retrieve it.

Don’t forget you can also ask to spend time with the body after your loved one has died. Many people find this very comforting as part of the grieving process.

More articles

Frequently asked questions

Yes, you are welcome to view your loved one at chapels of rest at select locations, we only ask that you schedule an appointment with your appointed Funeral Advisor. As viewing is often a personal choice for each family and not something that is required, we do not include this with the main package which only includes essential elements of a funeral.
Once Fenix receives your enquiry, you will be placed with a personal Funeral Advisor who is responsible for completing all necessary paperwork and liaising with local authorities as required. Your expert Funeral Advisor will also help you decide on the right elements (coffins, flower tributes, and more) for your funeral.
Our casket and urn selection can be viewed on our website. Please note that our website showcases only the most popular of our product selection, we offer many more options, if there is something in particular you have in mind discuss it with your Funeral Advisor.
Absolutely, we are able to connect you with a variety of officiants/celebrants suited to your beliefs and/or preferences.
We work with florists all over the UK, we can even create custom funeral tributes. For more information on our selection of floral arrangements and custom tributes, speak to your Funeral Advisor.
Yes, for a small fee we can help you arrange wakes, memorials, and/or receptions before or after the funeral service.
When we bring your loved one into care, they will be resting in one of our care facilities. These facilities are specially designed to be temperature and moisture controlled.

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