It’s tough to know what to do when someone dies. When you lose a loved one, it can feel overwhelming and upsetting. Alongside feelings of grief and bereavement, there are a lot of things that need to be taken care of. When someone dies, it can be challenging to think of the practical steps to take. This guide breaks down what you need to do when someone dies in the days, weeks and months following.
What do I Need to do When Someone Dies?
Whether it was sudden, expected from a long-term illness, or from natural causes, it’s tough to prepare yourself for the way you will feel when you lose a relative.
When someone dies, there are specific processes and procedures that you need to follow. The procedures change somewhat depending on the circumstances. If someone dies:
- At home – you need to call their GP or the NHS helpline (111) as soon as possible.
- In hospital – staff should help with the first stages of paperwork, contacting a GP and getting a medical certificate. The body is then taken to the hospital mortuary until you arranged to have it moved, usually to the funeral directors.
- In a care home – the death needs to be verified by a GP and medical practitioner; care home staff usually help with this. The body is then taken to a quiet room until you receive the medical certificate, cause of death, and the funeral director can collect the body.
- Abroad – you must register your loved one’s death abroad in the country they passed away in. The British Embassy can help you with this process.
Obtain the Medical Certificate
There’s a long list of things family members must deal with, in the event of a death. While some can wait, others are more urgent. As soon as you can, you need to obtain a medical certificate. This is an essential step to starting the entire process.
You should be able to get a hold of the medical certificate immediately. This will only be an issue if there is a coroner’s inquest. A coroner’s inquest is a legal inquiry into an unknown or unnatural cause of death.
If you’re relative died in hospital, the hospital will give you the medical certificate. If they died at home, you should call their GP. A medical certificate doesn’t cost anything but is one of the first things you need to address.
Register the Death
In the first five days following your loss, you need to register the death. The only exception is if you’re in Scotland, in which it’s the first eight days. To register the death, you need to go to a register office in the area where the person passed away. Make an appointment at the register office and take the medical certificate.
You’ll need to tell the registrar the following information:
- Full name, address, date of birth, and place of birth of the person who died
- Where and when the person died
- Their address
- Most recent occupation
- If they were receiving any benefits or state pension
- Name, occupation and date of birth of their spouse
If you can, also take your relative’s:
- Marriage certificate
- Birth certificate
- Driving license
- NHS medical number or card
If you can’t find all the above documents, don’t worry. To register the death, you need a medical certificate, so this is the most important document to take with you. Anything else you can take is helpful but not essential. After giving all of the information, the registrar should provide you with the following:
- A green GRO21 certificate which allows burial and cremation
- A certificate of Registration of Death (form BD8). You should fill out and return this form. The BD8 informs every department that uses the National Insurance number of death.
- A death certificate which you will need to buy. You need the certificate to deal with any money or property left over by your family member. If you need to, you can purchase extra certificates. If you’re making claims against pensions, savings and so on, it’s advisable to buy copies. Some organisations don’t always accept photocopies.
Who to Inform?
When someone dies, it can often feel like a juggling act. Your to-do list feels never-ending. Usually, you’re making calls and planning the funeral at the same time. Who do you tell first? When it comes to who to inform, you can break down this list into people and companies to contact early on and those that can wait. With so much to do, it’s crucial to prioritise your time and your list.
Here are people and organisations that you should notify as soon as possible:
- Friends and family
- Funeral director
- Home care
- Health professionals
- Mortgage provider/landlord
- Utilities: broadband, TV, water, electricity, gas
- Financial organisations: banks and building societies, credit cards, insurance, accountants
- Pension providers
You will also need to update government organisations. The government provides a Tell Us Once service that lets you report a death to most government organisations at one time. You can find out if this service is available in your area through your registrar when you register the death. If it is, they will give you a phone number to call and a unique reference number to use online or by phone. To use this service, you need to call or go online within 28 days of registering the death.
To use the Tell Us Once service, you need the following details of the person who passed away:
- Driving license number
- Vehicle registration number
- Passport number
- Date of birth
- National Insurance number
- Name, address, telephone number and National Insurance number of surviving spouse and person dealing with the estate, known as their executor
- Details of any benefits or local council services they used
Tell Us Once will then notify:
- HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC)
- Department for Work and Pensions (DWP)
- Passport Office
- Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA)
- Local council
- Veterans UK
Arrange the Funeral
Generally, funerals take place one to two weeks after someone dies. But if you need more time, that can also be arranged. Depending on religious beliefs, the timeframe between death and funeral can be much stricter. With the help of a good funeral director, they can advise you on the best thing to do.
Before arranging the funeral, check your loved one’s will to see if they made a funeral plan. They may already know what they want and left clear instructions. A funeral plan can be helpful in arranging a funeral they wanted.
Many people choose to use funeral directors during this very stressful time. The funeral director helps plan the ceremony, deals with the paperwork, looks after the body until the day of the funeral, and makes sure everything happens at the right time at the right place.
When choosing a funeral director, you should choose someone who you feel comfortable with. Whether you have something in mind or you want them to take the lead, they will be able to discuss the options with you. It’s important to note that whoever signs the papers at the funeral director’s is also responsible for paying the bill.
When making funeral arrangements, here a few things to consider:
- Place and time of the funeral
- Type of service
- Burial or cremation
- Notice in the newspaper
- Charity donations
- Where the body will rest until the funeral
Estate Administration and Probate
You don’t need to deal with the will, money and estate straight away. Sorting out an estate can feel complicated, whether there’s a will or not. Depending on whether there is a will or not, the process can differ.
When a relative has left a will, then sorting out the estate means getting probate and distributing everything. Probate is a legal document that allows the executor of the will to sort out the estate as instructed in the will. The executor of the will is legally responsible for identifying and managing the assets and distributing to inheritors. When a person leaves a will, usually they choose an executor, normally a friend or relative, but sometimes it can be a solicitor.
The executor will then need to decide whether to hire a probate specialist or take on the administration task themselves. You can save money by doing it yourself, but it can be quite a big task to take on at an already delicate time.
If there isn’t a will, it can take a little longer, but you can still sort out the estate. If you or another family member are willing to take on the task, you can apply for a grant of letters of administration. The letters of administration make you the administrator of the state, allowing you to value assets, pay any debts and distribute the estate.
It is down to the executor or administrator to decide how they will handle the probate process. You have the option to hire a professional or undertake the administration yourself.
Other Things to do
In the weeks following the death of a family member, there are several things you need to do to keep moving the process along.
You will need to return the person’s passport and driving license to the DVLA and HM Passport Office. If the person who died was a Blue Badge holder, then the badge will need to be returned to the Blue Badge Unit. Surviving relatives may also need to make a new will. For example, surviving spouses may need to change their will. Other things to consider, when someone dies are:
- Redirect post
- Inform the dentist and optician
- Cancel subscriptions
- Close online accounts
- Register with the Bereavement Register and Deceased Preference Service (to remove the person’s name from databases and mailing lists)
- Contact clubs, trade unions, and associations
- Inform social groups, church or place of worship
Another thing to think about is social media accounts. Although it may not be a big priority, it can cause some added pain when mourning a loved one in the weeks to come after the funeral. It’s easy to think accounts would just close after being inactive, but this isn’t the case with all social media channels. If you have the email address and password, you can gain access to social media accounts and deactivate them. However, if you don’t have this information, you usually need to provide the following to delete accounts:
- Proof of death (copy of death certificate)
- Save any posts or photos you want
- Details of the person who died
- Proof of your identity and relationship (spouse, child)
The death of a loved one can feel overwhelming. If you need extra support, contact your family doctor. Several organisations in the UK offer help and support during this time of grief, such as:
- BereavementUK – provide 24/7 support and information 365 days a year
- Cruse Bereavement Care – offer support, advice and information when someone dies
Losing a loved one is difficult. Working out what to do first can seem like an endless task in itself. By taking a deep breath and moving forward one step at a time, you can contact the right people and find the support you need. Everyone is unique, so what you need to do may differ, depending on your situation. Dealing with someone else’s affairs and estate can be stressful and emotional. We hope that this guide will help you through the process.