What to do when someone dies
Losing someone close to you can be very difficult and if you’re responsible for handling funeral arrangements and personal affairs, the experience is often overwhelming. It can seem complicated and confusing. This checklist aims to be a helpful guide to information that is available to support you through the process. You can adapt it to suit your own situation.
Please note some of this can only be managed by the executor or administrator of a person’s estate, so if this isn’t you, it’s generally a good idea to work closely with the person who is. An executor is someone named in a will as responsible for sorting out the estate of the person who’s died, including money, property and possessions. The person who died will normally have told you if you’re an executor. If there is not an executor, a relative or friend who is willing and able to sort out the estate can apply to become the administrator of the estate.
- What to do as soon as possible
- What to do in a few days
- What to do leading up to a funeral, memorial service or celebration of life
- What to do in a few weeks
What to do as soon as possible
When someone dies, the doctor involved in their care has to complete a Medical Certificate of Cause of Death (MCCD), which the family take to the register office to register the death. For more information visit the Suffolk County Council website:
- suffolk.gov.uk – How to register a death
- Register a death: How to register a death – Essex County Council
If someone dies at home unexpectedly, call 999 immediately and ask for the ambulance service.
An unexpected death may need to be reported to the coroner. A coroner is a doctor or lawyer responsible for investigating unexpected deaths. If a death is reported to a coroner, the documents you need to register the death may be different. The coroner will decide either the cause of death is clear, that a post-mortem is needed or to hold an inquest.
The Government website has information about the process for each of the possibilities:
If your loved one’s death was expected and they died in a hospital, hospice or care home, they will arrange for a doctor to take care of this for you.
If they passed away while they were at home and their death was expected, call the number that you have been given by the health professional looking after their care, your GP surgery or out of hours services as guided. If you are not sure, call 111 free of charge.
Dr Lindsey Crockett, senior partner at the Peninsula Practice and the Ipswich and East Suffolk Clinical Commissioning Group’s end of life care lead has written a short guide for carers that includes advice on how to know when someone has died and what to do after death on pages 4 & 5:
Arrange for organ and tissue donation, if applicable
Check any advance decisions made by your loved one to see if they wished to be an organ/tissue donor.
Only around one in 100 people who die in the UK are usually able to be organ donors. They are typically those who have died in a hospital intensive care unit or emergency department. If the person is unable to donate organs, they may still be able to donate tissue for transplantation, even if they die outside of a hospital setting.
For tissue donation to be a possibility, contact the NHS Blood and Transplant National Referral Centre as soon as possible after death and a Specialist Nurse will be able to advise you. Tissue donation usually takes place within 24 hours after death but does not affect funeral arrangements.
For more information visit the NHS Blood and Transplant website:
- nhsbt.nhs.uk – Tissue donation after death
- NHS Blood and Transplant National Referral Centre Tel: 0800 432 0559
Notify close friends and family
Every family is different, and there’s no one right way to do this. For some families, sharing the news in-person or over the phone is critical. For others, an email or text message may be suitable. If possible, split up the task between several family members.
The Marie Curie website provides some helpful advice:
Arrange care for any pets
If your loved one was responsible for caring for one or more pets, quickly find someone who can care for them temporarily while you figure out a long-term plan. There are charities that can help:
- Cinnamon Trust (cinnamon.org.uk)
- Dogs Trust (dogstrust.org.uk)
- Cats Protection (cats.org.uk)
- RSPCA (rspca.org.uk)
- mariecurie.org.uk – Rehoming your pet
Secure major property
If your loved one lived on their own, make sure their home and any vehicles are locked. If it will sit vacant for some time, consider notifying the landlord (if applicable) so they can help keep an eye on it.
Notify the person’s employer
If the deceased was employed (or actively volunteering), call to let them know that your loved one has passed away. This is also a good time to ask about pay owed, benefits and pension/life insurance.
What to do within a few days
Register the death
Use the Medical Certificate of Cause of Death (MCCD) to register the death within 5 days (8 days in Scotland) – this includes weekends and bank holidays.
Visit the Suffolk County Council, Essex County Council and Government websites for information:
- suffolk.gov.uk – Births, deaths and ceremonies
- Register a death: How to register a death – Essex County Council
- GOV.uk – Register the death
- GOV.uk – Find a register office
You’ll get a ‘Certificate for Burial or Cremation’ to give to the funeral director, or an application for cremation which you need to complete and give to the crematorium/Funeral Director.
The ‘Death Certificate’ is a copy of the entry made by the registrar in the death register. This certificate is needed to deal with money or property left by the person who has died, including dealing with the will. You may need several copies of the certificate, for which there will be a charge. The registrar can help answer any queries you may have.
Every entry to the register of deaths has a reference number known as the General Register Office (GRO) index reference which is required when ordering copies (or an extra search fee will be charged). It is recorded on the Free BMD database – a huge database of over 250 million Welsh and English birth, death and marriage records. This number doesn’t appear on the certified copies, because they each have their own unique reference number.
Visit the Free BMD database website for information:
Arrange the funeral
The funeral can usually only take place after the death is registered. Most people use a funeral director, although you can arrange a funeral yourself.
First, check to see if your loved one expressed any wishes about final disposition or had made prepayments to a funeral director. Ideally, there will be documentation.
Funeral directors can help you arrange either a burial or cremation. It is worth checking reviews and prices for a few different funeral directing firms before making a decision, as both can vary widely.
Consideration will be needed regarding the choice and preparation of the clothes the deceased is to be dressed in. In some cases, there is an expectation that they are dressed in this outfit prior to being picked up and conveyed to the funeral director – especially if they are coming from a care home.
The Government website has more information including links to the National Association of Funeral Directors (NAFD) and The National Society of Allied and Independent Funeral Directors (SAIF) to help you choose a funeral director:
If you are interested in arranging the funeral yourself, the Money Advice Service has useful information on their website:
Useful websites about local cemeteries and crematoriums include:
- eastsuffolk.gov.uk – Cemeteries and burials
- ipswichcemetery.co.uk – Ipswich Cemeteries and Crematorium
- sevenhillsnacton.co.uk – Seven Hills Crematorium
- Cemeteries and crematoria in Essex – Essex County Council
You are under no obligation to purchase a headstone straightaway. Some people wait years to find the perfect design and epitaph, but if you wish to choose the headstone while making funeral arrangements, it can provide a sense of closure.
Tell the government and relevant organisations about the death
‘Tell Us Once’ is a service that lets you report a death to most Government organisations in one go – visit the Government website for more information:
You will need to notify relevant organisations such as banks, utility companies, landlords or housing associations individually.
Ask the post office to forward mail
If the person lived alone, this will prevent mail from piling up and showing that the property is unoccupied. The mail may also help you identify bills that need to be paid and accounts that should be closed. You’ll need to file a request at the post office and show proof that you are an appointed executor and authorised to manage his or her mail.
For more information visit the Royal Mail website:
Check if you can get bereavement benefits
You might be eligible for financial help. Check the Government website for information:
- GOV.uk – Bereavement Support Payment if your spouse or civil partner has died
- GOV.uk – Guardian’s Allowance if you’re bringing up a child whose parents have died
Deal with your own benefits, pension and taxes
Your tax, benefit claims and pension might change depending on your relationship with the person who died. Check the Government website for information:
- GOV.uk – Manage your tax, pensions and benefits if your spouse has died
- GOV.uk – Check how benefits are affected if a child dies
Check if you need to apply to stay in the UK
If your right to live in the UK depends on your relationship with someone who died you might need to apply for a new visa. Check the Government website for information:
Announce the death
Draft an obituary for your loved one and get feedback from friends and family. If you are using a funeral director, they may be able to help you with the wording and placing the notice in the local press. If you are arranging the funeral yourself, call your local press for advice, including parish or community magazines.
What to do leading up to the funeral, memorial service or celebration of life
Spread the word
An online funeral announcement is often the easiest way to share event details with friends and family. For those who may not use the internet regularly, you can send a paper funeral announcement or arrange for people to call them and let them know.
Make final preparations
Check that preparations are in hand including catering, flowers, transport, music selection, display photograph(s) of your loved one and eulogies (funeral speeches).
Marie Curie offer advice on writing eulogies on their website:
What to do within a few weeks
Order several copies of the death certificate
You may need anywhere between 5 and 10 copies (but possibly more as it is much easier than ordering afterwards), depending on the bank accounts, investments, insurance policies or property left by the person who has died, including dealing with the will. It is recommended that a request be made to securely return the certificate in a covering letter to all those sent out.
Your funeral director may be able to help you order the copies, or you can order them yourself from the General Register Office or another local records office. Visit the Suffolk County Council and Government websites for information:
- suffolk.gov.uk – Contact a register office
- Register a death: What you need to register a death – Essex County Council
- GOV.uk – General Register Office
- GOV.uk – Order a copy of a birth, death or marriage certificate
Deal with their estate
You might have to deal with the will, money and property of the person who’s died if you’re a close friend or relative, or the executor of the will.
If the estate is relatively small, doesn’t contain unusual assets and isn’t likely to be disputed by family members, you may be able to handle it on your own. However, it’s worth considering whether you should hire a probate solicitor or specialist to help.
The following websites may have information to help guide your decision:
- GOV.uk – Check if you need to apply for probate
- GOV.uk – Value the estate
- GOV.uk – Deal with the estate
- GOV.uk – Update property records
- moneyhelper.org.uk – What to do when someone dies and leaves a will
- moneyhelper.org.uk – Sorting out the estate when there isn’t a will
- moneyhelper.org.uk –When to use a probate solicitor or specialist
Deal with their finances, insurances and household bills
The Money Helper Service provides information on how to deal with money when someone dies:
Attend to online accounts
It may be advisable to close any online accounts of the deceased that will not remain in use, such as an email address or social media accounts. The deceased may have left instructions in their will. As each provider has their own process, you will need to search online to find out what steps you need to take. There may be the option to memorialise their account.
The Digital Legacy Association provide tutorials on their website to help people better understand some of the most used online services and connected devices in relation to end of life planning. They may be helpful if the deceased has left instructions or a social media will, or provide some helpful information if they have not:
Further information and additional resources
- GOV.uk – What to do when someone dies: step by step
- stelizabethhospice.org.uk – What to do after someone dies
- St Helena Guidance and Support after someone dies leaflet
- citizensadvice.org.uk – What to do after a death
- ageuk.org.uk – What to do when someone dies
- postoffice.co.uk – Help with bereavement
- What to do when someone dies | Essex County Council