What to do when someone dies: step-by-step checklist | ͵͵


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What to do when someone dies

When someone dies, there are certain things that have to be done, but this often comes at an incredibly difficult time when we feel least able to manage. We can help you think through what you need to do.

Immediately after someone dies

The first thing to do when someone dies depends on the circumstances of their death.

If someone dies at home and their death was expected

Call their GP practice and nearest relative (if that's not you). In most instances, the doctor will then issue a medical certificate that states the cause of death to allow the death to be registered. You’ll also be given a formal notice stating that the medical certificate has been signed. This notice tells you how to register the death. Then, when you feel ready to do so, you can contact a funeral director of your choice who will move the body.

If someone dies at home unexpectedly

Call 999 immediately and explain what's happened. If the cause of death is unclear or unnatural, for example as the result of an accident, or the person hadn't been seen by a doctor during their last illness, the death will need to be reported to a coroner. A coroner is a lawyer with the legal duty to investigate unexpected deaths (some coroners are also doctors). The coroner may call for a post-mortem examination to determine the cause of death. This may take some time, so the funeral may need to be delayed. You cannot refuse the examination, but you can tell them if you need to arrange the funeral quickly for faith reasons.

When someone dies unexpectedly, the police will also be called to do a routine visit. They'll ask questions about the circumstances of the death which may be used to help the coroner to understand the cause of death. This can be unsettling but it's important to remember that it's normal procedure in these circumstances.  

If someone dies in hospital

The hospital will explain the steps you need to take. The cause of death will usually be checked by the medical examiner and then the medical certificate and formal notice will be isused. 

The body will usually be kept in the hospital mortuary until the relatives arrange for it to be taken to the funeral director's premises or taken home.

If someone dies abroad

If someone dies abroad, you should register the death according to the regulations of the country. A local death certificate can usually be used in the UK. However, if it's not in English, you'll probably need to get a certified translation if you're dealing with the person's affairs. You might also choose to register the death with UK authorities. To do this, contact the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO). You can call them on 020 7008 5000.

Register the death

It's a legal requirement to register a death within 5 days of the death (unless it's been referred to the coroner). A burial or cremation cannot go ahead until the death has been registered.

Here's a step-by-step guide on how to register a death:

Step 1: Find a register office

You can go to any register office to register a death, but it's best to use one in the area where the person died because then you'll be given the documents you need that day. If you go to an office in a different area, there'll be a delay before you get the documents. Wherever you go, most offices require you to make an appointment, so it's best to phone in advance to check. 

Step 2: Get the information ready

You'll have to show – or tell – the registrar:

  • the medical certificate signed by a doctor or documentation from the coroner confirming the cause of death
  • the date and place of death
  • the full name of the person who's died (and any other names they once had, such as a maiden name)
  • their date and place of birth
  • their usual address
  • their most recent occupation and if they'd retired
  • whether or not they were receiving any benefits, including State Pension
  • the name, occupation, and date of birth of their spouse or civil partner, if they had one (even if their spouse or civil partner has already died).

If possible, you could also take the person’s:

  • birth certificate
  • medical card or NHS number
  • passport
  • marriage or civil partnership certificate
  • driving licence
  • proof of their address (on an electricity bill, for example).

Step 3: What you'll get

When you've provided the required information, the registrar will give you:

  • a certificate for burial or cremation (known as a 'Green Form')
  • a unique code, so that you can use the Tell Us Once service
  • leaflets about bereavement benefits
  • a death certificate, for which there will be a charge. This is a certified copy of what's recorded in the death register and is needed to be able to deal with the person's estate.

Find out more about dealing with someone's estate

Step 4: Get extra certificates

It's a good idea to pay for some extra copies of the death certificate, as they may be needed when sorting out the estate of the person who's died and copies requested at a later date may be more expensive. It's also worth noting that ordinary photocopies aren’t accepted by some organisations, such as banks or life insurance companies.

Step 5: Update records

As mentioned above, the Tell Us Once service can be used to report a death to several government departments in one go. The service is offered by most local councils. When you register a death, the registrar will explain the Tell Us Once service and either help you use it or give you a unique reference number so you can use the service yourself. You can use the service over the phone by calling 0800 085 7308 or you can use the service online on GOV.UK. 

Tell organisations and government services about the death

When someone dies, you must get in touch with certain organisations to let them know as soon as possible. If it's available in your area, you can use the Tell Us Once service to contact several government departments about the death in one go, including:

  • local services such as libraries, electoral services and Council Tax services
  • HM Passport Office
  • the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA)
  • the Department for Work and Pensions
  • HMRC for tax purposes. 

You'll need to return the person's driver's licence to the DVLA and their passport to HM Passport Office.

If your local council doesn't offer the Tell Us Once service, you'll need to contact these departments yourself. 

You may need to contact other organisations as well, such as:

  • personal or occupational pension scheme providers
  • insurance companies
  • banks and building societies
  • an employer or trade union
  • a mortgage provider, private landlord, housing association or council housing office
  • social services, if the person received community care
  • utility companies
  • their GP, dentist, optician and anyone else providing medical care
  • any charities, organisations or magazine subscriptions the deceased person made regular payments to.

You can register the name and address of the person who's died with the Bereavement Register. This removes their details from mailing lists and stops most advertising mail. You can either register over the phone by calling 0800 082 1230 (the 24-hour automated registration line) or online on their website.

If the person who died had a lasting or enduring power of attorney

If the person who died had a lasting or enduring power of attorney, this automatically ends when they die. The attorney should get in touch with the Office of the Public Guardian and send them the power of attorney document, any certified copies and a copy of the death certificate.

The Office of the Public Guardian's address is as follows:

Office of the Public Guardian
PO Box 16185
B2 2WH

Arrange a funeral

The person who died may have left funeral instructions in their will or a letter about their wishes.

They may also have purchased a pre-paid funeral plan. This usually means that all the arrangements for burial or cremation have already been decided and paid for. The paperwork they have will tell you which funeral director to contact. 

However, if there aren’t any clear wishes, the executor of the will or nearest relative will usually decide if the body will be cremated or buried and what type of funeral will take place.

Arranging a funeral with a funeral director 

Before getting started with a funeral director, you should check that the funeral directors you talk to are registered with either the or the  (or both). 

Funeral directors have to provide a standardised price list so that you can compare costs between companies. Ask for an itemised quote which includes:

  • the funeral director’s services
  • the price of individual items, such as a coffin
  • transfer of the deceased person from the place of death
  • care of the deceased person before the funeral
  • a hearse to the nearest crematorium or cemetery
  • all necessary arrangements and paperwork.

There may be extra fees for third parties such as the crematorium, clergy and doctors and funeral directors may ask for these to be paid upfront. Ask them to explain these charges, which are known as 'funeral disbursement costs'. 

The funeral director will make sure that both you and other professionals, such as the person's doctor, complete all the necessary forms. There's a charge for some of these forms – the funeral director will pay this and then include it in your fee. 

Arranging a funeral without a funeral director

You don’t have to use a funeral director if you don’t want to – you can have a ‘do-it-yourself’ funeral. These involve more organising, but they can be less expensive and more personal. This type of funeral often takes place when someone has planned it for themselves before their death.

If you want to arrange a funeral in your local cemetry or crematorium, contact your local council for advice.

Find your local council

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Paying for a funeral

Arranging a funeral can be expensive as well as stressful. If you arrange the funeral, you're responsible for paying the bill – so check first where the money will come from.

The funeral can be paid for by:

  • you or other family members or friends
  • a lump sum from a life insurance policy or pension scheme the person paid into
  • a pre-paid funeral plan the person took out
  • the person’s estate (any money, property or assets they left) – funeral costs take precedence over most other debts
  • money the person had in a bank or building society, although they don’t have to release the money until probate is granted. If there’s a delay, you may need to pay the costs in the meantime.

What if I need help with funeral costs?

If you're responsible for arranging the funeral and you're on a low income, you may be eligible for a Funeral Expenses Payment from the Department of Work and Pensions to help cover costs.

A Funeral Expenses Payment covers the cost of a simple, respectful funeral in the UK, including up to £1,000 towards things like the coffin and flowers. 

There are strict rules about who can get help and how much you'll receive. For example, you must be claiming Pension Credit or certain other means-tested benefits, and you must have had a close relationship with the person who died, such as their family member or partner. 

Find out more about Funeral Expenses Payments

If you don’t qualify for a Funeral Expenses Payment – or it doesn’t cover the full costs of the funeral – you may be able to get a Budgeting Loan or a Budgeting Advance. These are interest-free loans of between £100 and £812 that you repay out of your benefit payments over time.

Find out more about Budgeting Loans and Budgeting Advances

Deal with the estate

What you need to do to deal with the estate – the money, property and possessions – of the person who's died depends on whether they made a valid will and, if they did, whether you're named as an executor in that will. 

If they did make a valid will and you've been appointed as an excecutor, then you'll need to apply for a grant of probate to deal with the estate. Probate is the legal process of distributing someone's estate after they die.

Find out more about dealing with the estate

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Last updated: Apr 08 2024

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