13 FAQs about family bereavement
- What initial steps should I take following a death?
- What happens if the doctor doesn't issue a medical certificate for someone who has died?
- Who registers a death?
- How do I register a death?
- Who do I need to inform about a death?
- What should I do about dealing with bills and other legal and financial issues of a deceased person?
- What happens if someone dies overseas?
- Who makes the funeral arrangements?
- What do I need to know about arranging a funeral?
- What are the legal requirements for a funeral?
- What do I need to do if I want to hold a funeral somewhere other than England or Wales?
- What can I do if I was financially dependent on the deceased?
- Where can I get help following a bereavement?
1. What initial steps should I take following a death?
The first step is for a doctor to issue a medical certificate showing the cause of death.
- If someone dies in a hospital or a care home, the staff there should arrange this. They will also contact the next of kin to formally identify the person who has died.
- If someone dies after an illness, you should contact the doctor who has been looking after them.
- If someone dies suddenly or unexpectedly, you should contact their family doctor. You must also contact the police.
If the doctor can, they will issue a medical certificate showing the cause of death and a formal notice explaining how to get the death registered at the local register office. Normally, a death must be registered within five days.
You should begin the funeral arrangements and will want to let immediate family and close friends know. Other people you might inform include the deceased's employers or business partners, landlord and any religious adviser.
Try to find a copy of their will, as this should name the 'executor(s)' who will be responsible for looking after the financial and legal side of things. The executors are normally relatives, good friends or professional advisers such as the family solicitor.
Read more about what to do when someone dies.
2. What happens if the doctor doesn't issue a medical certificate for someone who has died?
If the cause of death is unclear, the doctor may not be able to issue a medical certificate. Instead, the doctor will contact the coroner and will note this on the formal notice they give you.
The coroner may arrange a post mortem, to find out more about the cause of death. The coroner may also decide to hold an inquest, for example if the cause of death remains unknown or if someone dies in prison. If you are concerned about a post mortem or inquest and what your rights are, you may want to take legal advice.
3. Who registers a death?
A relative normally registers the death. The registrar will normally only allow someone else to register the death if there are no relatives.
4. How do I register a death?
You register the death at a register office. Registering the death at the register office in the area where the death occurred helps to minimise any delays. You can find register office contact details online.
Contact the Registrar to make an appointment. You will need to take the medical certificate showing the cause of death with you. If you have them, you should take any birth certificate, marriage (or civil partnership) certificate and NHS medical card.
The Registrar will need to know the deceased's full name, address and occupation, any previous names (including maiden name for a married woman), date and place of death, and date and place of birth.
The Registrar will also need the name, date of birth and occupation of any surviving spouse or civil partner and whether the deceased was receiving any state benefits (eg a pension).
Provided a post mortem is not being held, the Registrar will provide:
- A certificate for burial or cremation
- A certificate of registration of death for you to complete if the deceased was receiving any state benefits
You can also purchase a death certificate (and any additional copies you want). The executors are likely to need this to allow them to sort out the deceased's financial and legal affairs.
5. Who do I need to inform about a death?
There may be several different departments that should be contacted. For example, you may need to notify:
- Any social services providers
- The local authority's council housing department
- HM Revenue & Customs and the council tax office
- The Passport Office and the DVLA to cancel any passport or driving licence
- The Department for Work and Pensions to cancel any benefits
In most parts of the country, you can use the government's 'Tell us once' service so that you only have to provide details once after registering the death.
6. What should I do about dealing with bills and other legal and financial issues of a deceased person?
Normally, the legal and financial side of dealing with a deceased person's estate is dealt with by the executors named in their will. This can take quite some time, as the executors will need to sort out all the details and apply to the court for a grant of probate allowing them to act.
If you are not an executor yourself, it is worth talking to the executors to sort out how financial matters will be handed. There may be some practical steps you can take to make things easier, for example:
- sending a copy of the death certificate to any bank or other financial institution where you held a joint account, so that you can access the money on your own
- letting any landlord, utilities, membership organisations and so on know, so that you can have services and subscriptions cancelled or bills transferred into your own name
- arranging financial help if you are in financial difficulties
7. What happens if someone dies overseas?
If someone dies abroad, you should register their death according to the laws of the country they died in. This includes a death in Scotland or Northern Ireland, or on a ship or a plane (in which case the laws of the country where the ship or plane is registered apply). You should make sure you get a death certificate.
If they were British, you may want to register the death with the local British consulate as well. This allows you to arrange the funeral abroad rather than needing to bring the body back.
If you want to bring a body back to England or Wales, you will need permission from the authorities overseas. You will also need to ensure that you have the paperwork needed by the local registrar or coroner where the burial or cremation is to take place. Take advice from the funeral directors you intend to use.
8. Who makes the funeral arrangements?
Funeral arrangements are usually made by the closest living relative (or someone acting on their behalf) or the executors dealing with the deceased's estate.
You should be aware that the person who organises the funeral will be responsible for paying for it, though the costs can usually be recovered from the deceased's assets. If possible, you should discuss this with the executors before committing yourself.
If there are no assets and no one is prepared to arrange and pay for the funeral, the local council must make the arrangements and pay for a burial or cremation.
If you do want to arrange the funeral but cannot afford it, you may qualify for a limited amount of financial help from the Social Fund. Contact your Jobcentre Plus office or download the Funeral Payment claim form SF200 (PDF link).
9. What do I need to know about arranging a funeral?
Although the deceased's wishes are not binding, you should check their will to see if they left any instructions. You should also check to see whether they made any specific arrangements to pay for the funeral such as a funeral prepayment plan.
Practical issues to consider include:
- whether you will make the arrangements yourself or use a funeral director (and if so what their costs will be)
- whether to have a burial or cremation
- where and when the funeral will take place
- where the body will be buried or what will be done with the ashes
- what kind of funeral service to hold
- how you will notify family and friends who might want to attend
- whether to have flowers (and how to dispose of them), or donations to a charity - such as a hospice that looked after the deceased
Although you cannot finalise the funeral arrangements until the death has been registered, you may want to contact a funeral director as soon as possible to make arrangements for taking care of the body and booking any facilities that will be required.
If you do not intend to use a funeral director, you should contact your local authority's cemeteries and crematoria service.
If the funeral is to be in accordance with a particular religion, you should also contact the minister or religious organisation concerned.
10. What are the legal requirements for a funeral?
You cannot normally bury or cremate someone until the death has been registered. The Registrar will issue a certificate for burial or cremation (the 'green form').
In the rare cases where this is delayed (for example, by an inquest), the coroner may be able to provide an order for burial or certificate for cremation allowing you to arrange the funeral.
If the deceased is to be buried, you will need the death certificate and the certificate for burial. Although most burials are in cemeteries, you can choose a burial in a natural burial ground or your own private land. The Natural Death Centre has more guidance.
If you are arranging a cremation, you will need two cremation certificates signed by different doctors (or a coroner's cremation certificate).
11. What do I need to do if I want to hold a funeral somewhere other than England or Wales?
You need permission from the local coroner before you can remove the body to another country (including Scotland or Northern Ireland). Contact the local coroner for advice - you can find the coroner through the county council.
12. What can I do if I was financially dependent on the deceased?
You may be entitled to a bereavement support payment if you lose your spouse (or civil partner) but not if you were just living together ('co-habitants'). Download guidance and a claim form (PDF link). You may also qualify for either bereavement allowance or widowed parent's allowance. Download guidance and a claim form (PDF link).
If you are on a low income or in financial difficulties, you may be entitled to other benefits. The Department for Work and Pensions Bereavement Service can check your entitlement to bereavement and other benefits. Phone 0845 606 0265.
If you were financially dependent on the deceased, you may also be entitled to a share of the assets they left - whether you are named as a beneficiary in the will or not.
13. Where can I get help following a bereavement?
Your local authority may be able to provide practical help with the arrangements that need to be made.
The charity Cruse Bereavement Care offers a free confidential helpline that can offer practical and emotional support - call 0844 477 9400. You may also want to contact your doctor if you feel you need extra support.