What to do when someone dies – a practical guide

21 October 2019

It can be an entirely disorientating experience when someone close to you passes away and emotions can feel insurmountable.

What to do when someone dies

There are, however, a number of things that need to be done in order to ensure the death is correctly registered and records can be amended. Here is our practical guide to these procedures. For more information, please visit the government website.

1. Register the death

Before you can register a death, you will need either:

  • A medical certificate – if the death was expected and occurred at home or in hospital, the deceased’s GP or hospital staff should be able to issue a medical certificate.
  • Permission from a coroner – in a small number of cases, if the death was unexpected, it may be referred to a coroner (Procurator Fiscal in Scotland). This is usually done by a GP, hospital staff or registrar, although anyone with concerns about the cause of death may report it.

When someone dies, you have five days (eight in Scotland) to register the death at a local register office. This includes weekends and bank holidays and is with the exception of deaths which have been referred to a coroner.

If a death occurs abroad, you are required to register it with the local authorities in that country. You can find out how to register a death online here. Following the registration of a death you’ll receive a certificate for burial to give to the funeral director or an application for cremation which should be given to the crematorium. One or other of these must be completed before a funeral can take place.

2. Arrange a funeral

The next step is to arrange a funeral service. Before you start, check whether the deceased had a funeral plan. If they did, many of the arrangements for the funeral service may already be in place.

When appointing a funeral director, the government recommends choosing one which is a member of a recognised trade association, such as the National Association of Funeral Directors (NAFD) or National Society of Allied and Independent Funeral Directors (SAIF).

We work with funeral directors across the country. Use our online service to find a funeral director in your area. If you choose to use a funeral director, they will guide you through what is required in order to complete the service. Alternatively, you may choose to arrange your own service, separate to the cremation.

3. Tell the government

Within 28 days of registering a death, you are required to report it to the government. A modernised service for doing this, entitled ‘Tell Us Once’, makes it easy to inform most government organisations online or over the phone that someone has died. Click here for details of the information you’ll need to hand before using ‘Tell Us Once’.

Once you’ve completed this process, the information is transferred across a number of government departments, including HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) and the Department for Work and Pensions. You will also need to inform any private businesses which the deceased used for regular services, such as banks and utility companies, on an individual, company-specific basis.

4. Consider your own benefits, pension, taxes and visa

If it is your partner or a dependent who has died, your own benefits, tax obligations and right to live in the UK may change. Take a look at the government’s guide to check how a death may change your own circumstances.

5. What to do about the deceased’s estate

Finally, you may be required to deal with the deceased’s estate. The process for doing so is different in Scotland and Northern Ireland, so please visit the government website for more detailed guidelines.

Usually, if you are an executor of the deceased’s will, you must find the original will and then contact the local probate registry. Proceedings to distribute the deceased’s assets as they would have wished can then begin. You must also value the deceased’s estate by contacting banks and building societies about the deceased’s assets and debts. You then need to report the value to HMRC.

A simple and cost-effective way to plan ahead and reduce the worry for loved ones is to take out a pre-paid funeral plan via your local funeral director. Speak to your local funeral director to find out more.

This is intended as general guidance only based on information on the government website as at October 2019 and may change at any time.