Most of us will need to deal with the practicalities surrounding bereavement at some point. Unfortunately, it is often at a time when we are grieving and emotionally vulnerable. We have put together a brief guide to the practical steps you may need to take when someone dies.
When the death occurs
If the death takes place at home it may be unexpected and a great shock.
Generally where this happens you may need to do the following:
- Inform the deceased’s doctor who may or may not need to refer it to the coroner.
- Where the death is suspicious and/or unexpected, the police may need to be informed.
- Inform the deceased’s religious advisor, should they have one, for example, vicar, priest or rabbi.
- Arrange for the deceased’s body to be taken to a mortuary. Sometimes the doctor will arrange for the body to be taken to a hospital mortuary, but usually it will be up to you to contact an undertaker who will remove the body and make preparations for the funeral.
If the death was expected, the doctor who was looking after the deceased will provide a medical certificate showing cause of death. If the death was unusual in any way, the doctor will refer it to a coroner. Where a death is referred to a coroner it may cause a delay in receiving the medical certificate and being able to register the death. If you have questions about the inquest process, please call us on 08700 434 284, as we do not detail the coroner’s procedures here.
Should the death occur in hospital or other places of care some of these steps may be different, but the hospital or place of care should be able to explain what you need to do.
Pets and Dependents
If the deceased had animals or people relying on him or her, you will need to make arrangements for them. Often neighbours are prepared to be helpful in the short term, or there are some charities that will house and re-home pets. One of these is the Cinnamon Trust. You can see their website here.
Where there are people dependent on the deceased, there may be something in the deceased’s Will that makes arrangements for them.
Registering the Death
You must register the death with the local Registrar of Births, Marriages and Deaths. There is a web site that can help you with this and tell you which registery office you should contact here. You will need to register the death within 5 days in England and Wales and 8 days in Scotland.
To register the death you will need the medical certificate showing the cause of death. If you have them, you should also take the deceased’s birth and marriage or civil partnership certificates and their NHS card. It is best to call the local register office and see what other information they need. You may also need to make an appointment with them as it can take half an hour or longer to complete the registration process and they may not be able to see you if you just turn up.
When the registration process is complete, the registrar will give you a certificate of burial (which gives the permission for the burial) or the application for a cremation. They will also give you a certificate of registration of death, also called the Death Certificate. You can get extra copies of the Death Certificate for a small fee and it is sensible to get several copies as you will need them for sorting out the deceased’s financial affairs when administering their estate.
If there is a Will this may detail what sort of funeral they want. Some people arrange insurance or a pre-payment plan to cover their funeral expenses so it is always worth checking if the deceased has one of these.
You will need to decide whether it will be a cremation or a burial. There are different costs and formalities associated with the different methods. It is sensible to check if the deceased had bought a burial plot. If not, you will need to locate and purchase one.
Your undertaker (or funeral director) will be able to help you make arrangements and should be able to give you a good estimate of costs. It is sensible to use a member of the National Association of Funeral Directors or Society of Allied and Independent Funeral Directors who are regulated by the Office of Fair Trading and have to abide by a code of conduct. While the funeral director (or undertaker) should provide an estimate of costs for basics of the funeral, such as the coffin and the hearse, they will not be responsible and may not know about the costs for flowers, food, religious fees (for example, church fees) or charges for putting notices in local newspapers.
Think carefully about where the money to pay for the funeral will come from. If you pay for it, you can usually get the money back from the estate, but only if there is enough money in the estate to pay you back. If there are not enough funds in the estate to cover the funeral you may be able to apply for a Funeral Payment in order to help. Details of this can be found here.
Usually you cannot get any money from the estate until Probate has been granted and this can take approximately 3-5 weeks from application. It is sensible to discuss this with the undertaker and explain there may be a delay in paying the bill. They are used to this, so should be easy to have the conversation and they may even be able to agree special payment terms to help you. Alternatively, some building societies and banks will release available funds from the estate (up to £5,000) on production of the death certificate.
Who else to inform
You will need to inform the deceased’s family and friends. If the deceased was still employed, you will need to inform their employer.
It is also sensible to think through the deceased financial affairs at this time. Whilst changing the deceased’s financial arrangements can only be done by executors appointed under the Will (if there is one) it is possible to start notifying some relevant authorities of the death. There is a useful service which may be available to you via the register office known as Tell Us Once. You can find more details here.
You could also start notifying any businesses and financial institutions the deceased was using. Some organisations will not deal with you until you have a grant of probate (a document saying you can deal with the deceased’s affairs), but if you inform them of the death and keep good notes of the conversation it can prevent practical problems later. For example; it may be possible to return a hire purchase car so no more payments need to be made for it, or to protect the deceased’s money from fraud if the Bank knows that their customer has died.