A quick guide in the event of a relative’s death
What to do when someone dies at home
If a loved one has sadly passed away at home, there are a number of things you will need to do depending on whether the death was expected or unexpected, and whether it occurred in the day or at night.
If someone dies at home and the death was expected
If the death was expected, for example if your loved one had a terminal illness, you will need to call their GP or the NHS helpline (dial 111) as soon as possible. If you are not the deceased’s closest relative, you should also notify them immediately too. If it happened at night, you do not need to contact the doctor until the following morning, unless you want to.
If the cause of death is known, the doctor will issue a Medical Certificate of Cause of Death, allowing you to register the death. You should also contact a funeral director as soon as possible to arrange for them to bring your loved one into their care.
If someone dies at home and the death was unexpected
If the death was unexpected, you must call the Police and Ambulance services immediately by dialling 999. The operator will provide instructions on what you need to do including establishing whether you should try to resuscitate the person. The paramedics, upon arrival, will either attempt resuscitation, or confirm the death.
If the cause of death is unknown, it is important you leave the area untouched (apart from any attempt at resuscitation). The Police will arrange for a funeral director to collect the deceased and take the body into their care, acting on behalf of the Coroner if the death is unexpected.
If the doctor is unsure about the actual cause of death, even if it was clearly from natural causes, or if the deceased died suddenly or unnaturally, they will contact the coroner (or procurator fiscal in Scotland). The coroner may order a post mortem examination or inquest to determine the cause of death and then issue the documents allowing the death to be registered.
It is important to note that a funeral cannot be conducted until the coroner’s inquest has been completed and cause of death established or until interim documents have been released.
Register the death within 5 days (8 days in Scotland) where possible – this includes weekends and bank holidays.
Before you can register the death, you’ll need either:
- a medical certificate – ask the GP or hospital doctor
- permission from the coroner that you can register the death – if the death was reported to a coroner
You’ll get a ‘certificate for a burial’ to give to the funeral director, or an application for cremation which you need to complete and give to the crematorium and you’ll need one of these before the funeral can take place.
Arrange the funeral
The funeral can usually only take place after the death is registered. Most people use a funeral director, however you can arrange a funeral yourself.
You should aim to choose a funeral director who’s a member of either:
- National Association of Funeral Directors
- The National Society of Allied and Independent Funeral Directors (SAIF)
These organisations have codes of practice – they must give you a price list when asked.
Arranging the funeral yourself
Contact the Cemeteries and Crematorium Department of your local council to arrange a funeral yourself.
Funeral costs can include:
- funeral director fees
- things the funeral director pays for on your behalf (called ‘disbursements’ or ‘third-party costs’), for example crematorium or cemetery fees, or a newspaper announcement about the death
- local authority burial or cremation fees
Funeral directors may list all these costs in their quote. You can get quotes from several funeral directors to see what is available within your budget.
Paying for a funeral
The funeral can be paid for:
- from a financial scheme the person had, for example a pre-paid funeral plan or insurance policy
- by you, or other family members or friends
- with money from the person’s estate (savings, for example) – most banks offer to settle funeral directors fees from the deceased’s account on production of an invoice.
You can apply for a Funeral Expenses Payment if you have difficulty paying for the funeral.
In the event of a child’s death there is the Children’s Funeral fund. Under the scheme, parents will no longer have to meet the costs of burials or cremations. Fees will be waived by all local authorities and met instead by government funding.
Moving a body for a funeral abroad
You need permission from a coroner to move a body for a funeral abroad. Apply at least 4 days before you want the body to be moved.
Find a local coroner using the Coroners’ Society of England and Wales website.
Tell the government about the death
Once you have registered the death, you will be given a unique reference number to enable you to use the ‘Tell Us Once’ service which allows you to inform all the relevant government departments when someone dies.
- Use the ‘Tell Us Once’ service to tell government
- If ‘Tell Us Once’ is not available in your area tell the government yourself.
You’ll also need to tell banks, utility companies and landlords or housing associations yourself.
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.
- Manage your tax, pensions and benefits if your spouse has died
- Check how benefits are affected if a child dies
Deal with their estate
You might have to deal with the will, money and property of the person who has died if you’re a close friend or relative, or the executor of the will.
You should seek legal advice regarding the administration of the Estate in order to determine what steps must now be taken. You may need to apply for a Grant of Probate or Representation, depending on the circumstances.
You can instruct a solicitor to act on your behalf if you are the chosen executor or where there is no will, and you believe you are entitled to benefit from your loved one’s estate.
Repatriation – A close relative or friend dies abroad while you’re in the UK
The British Consulate in the country where the person has died should ask the UK police to inform the next-of-kin. If you’re notified about the death by someone else, for example a tour operator, you should phone the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) who’ll be able to keep you informed and help with arrangements.
Registering the death
All deaths must be registered in the country where the person died. The British Consul will be able to advise you on how to do this. In some countries you can then also register the death at the British Embassy, High Commission or Consulate which means you will get a UK-style death registration document. However, post mid-2015 it became necessary to register all deaths overseas with the Foreign and Commonwealth office in the UK. There is more information about how to register a death abroad on GOV.UK. When registering the death in person, you should take information about yourself and the person who has died including:
- full name
- date of birth
- passport number
- where and when the passport was issued
- details of the next-of-kin, if you’re not their closest relative
You can either arrange to have the funeral overseas or for the body to be returned to the UK. This is known as repatriation. If you want the funeral to be held in the UK you will need to use international undertakers who can advise you about the arrangements. Before you can bring the body home, you’ll need the following documents:
- a certified English translation of the foreign death certificate from the country in which the person died
- authorisation to remove the body from the country
- a certificate of embalming
The British consulate or an international undertaker will be able to tell you how to get these documents.
When a body is returned to the UK, the Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages for the district where the funeral is to take place must be told and will need to issue a certificate before burial can take place. If a cremation is to take place the Home Office also needs to give permission. You can get an application for a Home Office cremation order from your local crematorium.
Repatriation can be expensive so make sure you discuss the costs before confirming your arrangements. You’ll need to be sure you can meet the costs or that they’re covered by an insurance policy. The FCO will not pay burial, cremation or repatriation expenses. If you are claiming certain benefits and the funeral is taking place in another European country or Iceland, Liechtenstein or Norway you may be able to apply for a funeral payment from the Social Fund.
To discuss you will please contact Dhruva Patel and her team 01892 526344
The contents of this article are for the purposes of general awareness only. They do not purport to constitute legal or professional advice. The law may have changed since this article was published. Readers should not act on the basis of the information included and should take appropriate professional advice upon their own particular circumstances.