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First Steps After a Death

Coping with the death of someone close to you is undoubtedly a stressful experience.  Not understanding what to do after a death, or in what order, can bring an extra burden to the grievance process. This is especially true if it is the first time you have had to deal with a death. Below is some useful and practical information about the initial steps to take following a death.

1. Obtain a Medical Certificate of Cause of Death; you will need this in order to register the death. This will be issued by a doctor and will specify the date, time, and cause of death. Bear in mind that if a coroner is involved, the process will be slightly different.

2. Registering a death is something that needs to be done before any funeral arrangements can be made. You have five days to register in England and Wales; this increases to eight in Scotland. The death is normally registered by a relative at a register office in the area where the person died. An appointment needs to be made and should normally take less than an hour. You must take the Medical Certificate of Cause of Death, any birth and marriage certificates and, if available, a NHS medical card.

3. If a coroner is involved, they will issue all relevant papers once investigations are complete. It is unwise to book a funeral date while investigations are being carried out.

4. Find out if the person who died left a valid Will; are there any funeral requests stated within it? If a Will cannot be allocated, it is recommended that you conduct a Will search.

5. Collect and secure important documents. This can be a time-consuming process if the deceased did not keep well organised records. The most crucial documents include the death certificate, Will, marriage and birth certificates (which you should already have). Other useful paperwork needed for later on includes insurance policies, final credit card statements, the last mortgage statement and an up-to-date credit report. These will aid you in finding assets and accounts, assessing outstanding debts and submitting any claims for benefits or cash payments that may be due.

6. If specific funeral requests are unknown, you will need to decide on either a burial or cremation, the venue, flowers, readings and music. A Funeral Director can offer you advice and help, as well as a breakdown of costs. The deceased may have left money to pay for the funeral. Otherwise, expenses will be reimbursed to you from the estate later on.

7. Notify companies such as the deceased person’s employer, insurance, credit card and utility companies. Prompt notification of the death to various firms will ensure bills do not continue to run. You should also file a change of address so that any post is redirected to a trusted family member or the executor of the estate.

8. Find out about Probate – the whole process is called Estate Administration and may involve applying for a Grant of Representation.  This is a legal document to prove you have authority to administer the estate, commonly known as obtaining ‘Probate’.

9. Each case is unique and can sometimes be complicated. Often, people choose to hire a professional to deal with all or some of the legal responsibilities rather than take on the work themselves.

10. Seek emotional and professional support if you feel overwhelmed going through all the economic affairs of someone who has died - it can be a stressful time.  If you need any assistance, our Probate Advice Line is here to help on freephone 0800 014 7334.