What to do when someone dies: advice for relatives and close friends

Dealing with the aftermath of a death is never easy, particularly when the deceased is a relative or close friend. If you are faced with this situation and take on the funeral arrangements, then there are a number of essential steps that you will need to follow, as well as some that will make the process easier for you. You should be aware that the processes and laws can be slightly different depending on which part of the UK you’re based in for example, in Scotland, the law is different from that in England and Wales.

Advice for relatives & close friends

Section 1 - Discovering the death

What do I do if the person dies in the hospital?

If your loved one passes away whilst in hospital, the hospital bereavement office will provide a Medical Certificate of Cause of Death (MCCD) for you to register the death of a loved one. Your chosen funeral director will liaise with the hospital to bring your loved one into their care. 

What do I do if the person dies at home?

If the person passes away at home, you should call their doctor (or an ambulance if their doctor is unavailable or the district nurse) immediately and notify those closest to the person. The doctor will be able to sign the Medical Certificate of Cause of Death in cases where the death was expected and will be on hand to offer advice on next steps.

Under certain circumstances the death must be reported by the doctor, hospital or registrar to the coroner (England and Wales) or procurator fiscal (Scotland). This means that there will be a post-mortem or inquest and you may have to delay your plans for the funeral.

In this case, there will be no Cause of Death Certificate. The death will be registered once the coroner has made a decision. The time this takes will vary.

What do I do if the death occurred overseas?

If the person passed away whilst overseas, the death will need to be registered in the country where this happened and also in the UK. Regulations vary from country to country so it’s important that you seek further advice from the British embassy or local police. 

Section 2 - Notifying the Authorities

Should I inform the family general practitioner (GP)?

Yes. In most cases, the person’s doctor will sign a death certificate, which is essential in order to register the death.

When should I register the death?

This must be done within five days in England and Wales and within eight days in Scotland. There are no costs involved in registering a death. However, in order to get a certificate, you will need to pay a small fee of £4 at the time of registration in England and Wales (or £7 at a later date) and £8 in Northern Ireland. You will need to register the death at a register office. You can use the following two links to find a register office:

How do I register the death?

To register a death, you will require as much documentation and additional information as possible. You will need to take the Medical Certificate of Cause of Death as well as details of your loved one’s last address. Whilst it is not necessary, you may also wish to take the following:

  • Death certificate
  • Birth certificate
  • Marriage certificate (if applicable)
  • NHS Medical Card
  • The deceased's full name and any previous names used
  • The details of a surviving spouse or civil partner
  • Whether they were receiving any state benefits

Assuming there is no post-mortem being held, the register office will supply you with a Certificate for Burial or Cremation and a Certificate of Registration of Death (form BD8), along with advice leaflets containing further information. You may require copies of the death certificate and it is usually cheaper to obtain them at this point.

Which government organisations should I notify?

Examples of who you will need to contact are as follows:

  • HM Revenue and Customs
  • Passport office
  • Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency
  • The local council
  • Public and private pension schemes

Although these organisations can be contacted individually, it’s worth checking whether you’re eligible to use the Tell Us Once service. This service helps take the strain off of you by telling the government and local councils listed above about the death.  

Section 3 - Registered organ donor

What do I do if the deceased was an organ donor?

If the individual who has passed away was registered as an organ donor then the family will be consulted regarding this in advance of the operation.  

Is it possible to have an open casket funeral following organs being removed?

Yes. All surgical procedures are carried out with the utmost care and all incisions will be carefully closed. During an open casket ceremony, the individual will be fully clothed.

Will the funeral have to be delayed due to the organ donation?

No, not necessarily. The surgery tends to take place as soon as possible – within 1 to 2 days in most instances.   

Section 4 - Reading the Will & arranging the funeral

Should I contact the deceased’s solicitor?

If the deceased created a Will it may include instructions for funeral arrangements, which will need to be followed, or preferred wishes which, while not mandatory, you will want to take into account. It should also contain information on the executor(s) who will administer the conduct of the estate.

When can I arrange the funeral?

Typically, funerals are held within one or two weeks of the death. However, it’s important to note that the funeral can only be arranged following the death certificate being issued.

How do I arrange a funeral for someone who hasn’t made prior funeral arrangements?

If there has been no provision made for a funeral then one must be arranged. This can be either burial or cremation.

Will I have to pay for the funeral?

The person may have already paid for the funeral via a pre-paid funeral plan, or they may have left money in their estate to pay for it. If there are other debts to settle, funeral costs are usually paid first however if the deceased person had mortgage debts left to pay, for example, these debts will take priority over the funeral costs.

If the deceased person has left money in their bank account to settle the funeral bill, the bank may be able to release these funds to the funeral director. In some cases, the bank is also able to reimburse a funeral bill that has already been paid. Please contact the deceased person’s bank or building society for further information regarding this.

If you have to pay for the funeral and aren’t in the financial position to do so, there are alternative options available such as taking out a loan from a funeral director so that you don’t need to foot the bill upfront.

If taking out a loan isn’t an option and you absolutely cannot fund the funeral, the local authority or hospital will be able to provide a Public Health Funeral.

How do I arrange a funeral for a loved one who has a Golden Charter funeral plan?

If the deceased had purchased a pre-paid funeral plan with Golden Charter then one phone call to the funeral director will activate the plan. Following this, the funeral director will carry out your loved one’s wishes. Golden Charter offers a range of funeral plans with different services depending on the needs of the plan holder. If you’re unsure which plan was purchased and the details of what is included in this plan, the appointed funeral director will be able to share this information and will also be on hand to guide you through this process.

What’s included within a Golden Charter pre-paid funeral plan?

If the deceased has a pre-paid funeral plan in place, we would advise reviewing the specifics of the funeral plan. For example, in some instances, the cost of a limousine will be covered by the plan or an allowance towards essential third party costs such as fees for cremation or burial and fees for the clergy or officiant. As not all plans include this, we would advise checking the terms and conditions in full.

What else should I consider for the funeral?

There will be various decisions to be made concerning aspects of the funeral such as:

  • Where the body should rest before the funeral
  • Where and when the funeral should be held
  • What type of service (religious or otherwise)
  • Who will conduct the funeral and who will take part in it
  • What costs are appropriate
  • Sending of invitations
  • Notices in newspapers
  • Whether to have flowers or instead request that mourners donate money to a charity
  • Where to donate any flowers following the funeral
  • Contacting anyone who needs to know of the death

Section 5 - Handling further personal matters of the deceased's

How should I handle the deceased person’s finances?

Most people will have direct debits set up or contracts with financial companies and it’s important that these companies are notified of the death as soon as possible so that they can take the necessary next steps e.g. terminate the contract, close the account or settle any debts. Where relevant, we would advise notifying the following:

  • Bank or building society
  • Credit card company
  • Insurance provider e.g. home, car and personal insurance
  • Utility company
  • Phone provider
  • Internet provider
  • Online entertainment streaming services e.g. Netflix, Amazon Prime or Now TV
  • Opticians
  • Dental practitioner
  • Charities

This list is not exhaustive and we would advise notifying all other companies that your loved one had financial ties with.

Instructions on how to notify the company will vary from business to business however in many cases, you will be able to visit their website for more information, make a phone call, write a letter or fill in a form. You will likely be asked to supply a copy of the death certificate among other important documents.

What should I do with their passport and driving licence?

You will need to send the person’s driving licence back to DVLA. For more information about this, please visit this page on the gov.uk website.

It’s also a requirement to return a deceased person’s passport back to Her Majesty’s Passport Office (HMPO) so that this ensures that the passport is cancelled and cannot be used fraudulently. Please visit this gov.uk page for more information on how to do this.

The deceased person is still receiving mail. How can I stop this?

To stop unwanted mail such as marketing material being sent to the deceased person’s home, you can use the Mail Preference Service and The Bereavement Register at no cost.

The deceased left behind pets. What should I do?

It’s important to check the Will as the deceased person may have stipulated their preference regarding who the pet(s) should live with. If this was not detailed in the Will or the chosen person is unable to fulfil this request, friends or family may be able to look after the pet(s). If this is not the case, however, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) or Scotland’s Animal Welfare Charity (SSPCA) will need to be contacted.

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