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What to Do When Someone Dies: Taking Those Important First Steps

When someone close to you dies, it can be difficult working out what to do and in what order - especially if it's the first time you've had to deal with a death.  Here are some important steps to consider.

Registering a death
Once you have the medical certificate from a doctor you will need to arrange for the death to be registered.  Registration must take place within five working days of the death (within eight days in Scotland) so this should be one of your first steps when someone dies.  Exceptions are deaths which are subject to investigation by the coroner (procurator fiscal in Scotland).  In general, a relative, someone who was present at the death, or the person arranging the funeral may register the death.

Documents you must take with you: 

  • Medical Certificate of Cause of Death from the hospital or doctor.
  • If the coroner has been involved, the documentation needed will usually be sent by the coroner to the registrar.
  • The registrar will also require the following information about the deceased: 
  • Date and place of death
  • Address
  • Full names - including maiden names, any former married names and/or other names by which the deceased was known 
  • Place and date of birth - the town or county is sufficient if the exact address is not known.  The country of origin is all that's needed for people born outside the UK
  • Their current or former occupation
  • Details of their wife or husband or civil partner
  • Whether they had any Government pension or allowance

What the registrar will give you:

  • Death certificate: This is a certified copy of the death entry in the register and proves that the death has been registered.  This has to be purchased and the cost varies according to the local authority.  We recommend that you buy several copies of the death certificate, perhaps one for each asset holder, e.g. for each bank or building society where there are accounts, and each pension or insurance policy.  Extra certificates are more expensive to purchase at a later stage and photocopies of the certificate are not normally accepted for legal, financial and insurance companies.
  • Certificate for burial or cremation: This is often called the 'green form' and it must be given to the funeral director before the funeral can take place.

Arranging the Funeral
The deceased may have left a written record or told family and friends about their funeral wishes or they may have a pre-paid funeral plan in place. If this is the case, arranging the funeral is a little simpler.
If not, a range of decisions will need to be made, for instance whether they wished to be buried or cremated, as well as specific requests about the venue, flowers, readings and music.

When arranging the funeral, shop around as funeral fees can vary considerably.  Funeral directors are fountains of knowledge if you need to find a venue for the wake, a florist, hotel rates for visiting relatives and so on.

Locating important paperwork
Find out if the deceased left a valid Will – there may be specific funeral requests contained in this document.  In addition, there are different legal requirements for administering the estate if no valid Will was written.   If you can’t find a Will, a Will Search can be carried out by a professional legal firm. Please call our Probate Advice Line on 0300 303 9000 if you would like further advice.

Other important paperwork:

  • Birth certificate
  • Marriage or civil partnership certificate(s)
  • Death certificates of (a) previous spouse(s)
  • Divorce papers showing surnames by which the deceased was known formerly
  • Documents relating to state pension or benefits including the National Insurance number
  • NHS Medical card - this can be given to the registrar of deaths
  • Pension certificates
  • Insurance policies
  • Bank and building society accounts

These will all be helpful later on, particularly if you need to apply for probate, so please keep them all in a safe place.

Alternatively, please call our Probate Advice Line on 0300 303 9000 for free and practical advice on what to do next.