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What to do when someone dies

Helping you understand your next steps

When someone close to you dies, it can be difficult working out what to do and in what order; there are a number of tasks to be considered which can make an already difficult time even more stressful, especially for those who have never had to deal with a loved one’s estate before.

We appreciate there is a lot to take on board, so to answer the question of what to do when someone dies, we have broken down the process into eight stages:


Medical certificate

Getting a medical certificate

The first thing to do when someone dies is obtain a ‘medical certificate of cause of death’. This is a requirement before the death can be registered.


Registering the death

Registering the death

Registering the death will provide you with a copy of the death certificate, a certificate for burial or cremation, and a certificate of registration of death.


When the Coroner is involved  

When a Coroner is involved

In the scenario that a Coroner is needed to investigate the death, it is not possible to carry out any preservative work in preparation for the funeral.


Dealing with the Will

Dealing with the Will

A valid Will outlines the deceased’s wishes, stating who they want to benefit from their estate, and who will manage their affairs upon their passing.


Locating important documents

Locating important papers

This includes important paperwork such as pension details, insurance policies, and bank and building society accounts.


Arranging the funeral

Arranging the funeral

The deceased may have left a written record, told family and friends about their funeral wishes, or have a pre-paid funeral plan in place.




The term probate refers to the Grant of Probate, a legal document that may be required in order to carry out estate administration.


Estate administration

Estate administration

In addition to obtaining probate, estate administration is the process of dealing with a person’s legal and tax affairs after they have died.


1. Getting a medical certificate

The first thing to do when someone dies is to obtain a medical certificate of cause of death – this is required to register the death. If the Coroner is involved, the process will be slightly different.

What happens if the death happened at the hospital?

If the person died in hospital, the staff will arrange for a Doctor to issue a medical certificate that will specify the time, date, and cause of death. If a Doctor is not on duty at the time of death, you may be given an appointment to collect the medical certificate at a later date. If you have questions regarding the cause of death stated on the medical certificate, it is appropriate to ask the medical staff. At the same time as collecting the medical certificate, the deceased’s belongings can also usually be collected. The person who has died is then taken to the hospital mortuary, before being transferred to the Funeral Directors.

What happens if the death happened at home?

If the death occurred at home or in a care or nursing home, a GP will usually issue the medical certificate. You should contact your local Doctor if the death occurred under natural circumstances.

In the case of sudden or unexpected deaths, the first thing to do when someone dies at home is to contact emergency services.

2. Registering the death

Before funeral arrangements can be made, the death needs to be registered. Normally, relatives of the deceased are required to register the death. However, the registrar will allow non-relatives to do so if the next of kin are unavailable. In these scenarios, someone who was present at the death may register it – this may be a hospital representative, an occupant of the house where the death occurred, or the person arranging the funeral.

Registering the death

Where do I register a death?

A death should be registered at the register office in the area where the person died. If this is not possible, the death can be registered at a register office of your choice, and the information will then be passed to the registrar closest to where the death occurred. If this approach is taken, it may result in a delay in the paperwork being processed.

How to register a death

How do I register a death?

Visiting the local register office is the easiest way to get the documents you need. In most cases, registration takes less than an hour to complete.

An appointment is generally made by calling the register office directly or booking online.


Time to register a death

How long do I have to register a death? 

In England and Wales, you have up to five days to register a death. In Scotland, a death must be registered with local registration districts within eight days. The following documents are required:

•    Medical certificate of cause of death
•    Birth and marriage certificates
•    NHS medical card (if available)

What information does the registrar require about the deceased?

•    Date and place of death
•    Home address
•    Full name – including maiden name, any former married names, and any other names by which the deceased was known
•    Date and place of birth – the town or county is sufficient if the exact address is not known (or the country of origin if born outside the UK)
•    Their current or, if retired, former occupation
•    Details of their spouse or civil partner and whether they died before them
•    Whether they had any government pension or allowance


What will the registrar provide me after registering the death?

Death certificate

A death certificate

This proves that the death has been registered. It is recommended that you buy several copies, perhaps one for each bank or financial institution where the person held accounts, and each pension or insurance policy. Extra certificates are sometimes more expensive to purchase at a later stage and photocopies are not usually accepted by institutions.

Certificate of registration of death

A certificate of registration of death

This is often called the ‘white form’. This is given if the deceased was entitled to a state pension or benefits. If required, the details must be completed and sent to the address on the reverse of the form.

Certificate for burial or cremation

A 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.


3. When the Coroner is involved

In cases where a death is reported to the Coroner, all necessary papers will be issued by them once investigations are complete. If the cause of death remains uncertified, or if it is determined that the death was not from natural causes, an inquest will be held. In these cases, the Coroner will issue an interim death certificate. While a Coroner is investigating a death, it is not possible to carry out any preservative work in preparation for the funeral.

It is also recommended that you do not book a definite date for the funeral while any investigation is ongoing, although you can certainly start to plan the ceremony. If a Coroner’s post-mortem examination reveals that the death was due to natural causes and an inquest is not needed, the Coroner will release the body. The death can then be registered, and the funeral can take place.

4. Dealing with the Will

The next thing that needs to be done is to find out if the deceased left a valid Will. There may be specific funeral requests contained in this document. If you cannot find a Will, we advise conducting a Will search by approaching Will Writers and Solicitors local to the area where the deceased lived and searching The National Will Register. This is particularly important when it comes to dealing with the deceased’s affairs later on, as there are different legal requirements for administering the estate if no valid Will was written.

Related content:

•    What is the purpose of a Will?
    What is an Executor of a Will?
    What happens when you die without a Will

5. Locating important documents

What documents do you need after death? At this stage, you should already have the birth, marriage, and death certificates. However, other important paperwork such as pension details, insurance policies, and bank and building society accounts will be helpful later on, particularly if you need to apply for probate (or confirmation in Scotland). Once these documents have been located, it is advisable to keep them all together in a safe place for ease of access.

Related content:

•    How to find a Will and other important documents

6. Arranging the funeral

The deceased may have left a written record, told family and friends about their funeral wishes, or have a pre-paid funeral plan in place. It is advisable to check whether any of these arrangements have been made prior to contacting a Funeral Director independently. If no specific requests were made during the person’s life, a range of decisions regarding the funeral will need to be made by the family. These decisions will include:

•    Whether the person should be buried or cremated
•    Where the funeral is to take place
What flowers are required
What readings you would like during the service
What music is to be played

Most families choose to hand arrangements over to a professional Funeral Director, who will be able to offer advice and guidance. Don’t be afraid to shop around and ask for a detailed breakdown of costs, as funeral fees can vary considerably. Family and friends may also be able to offer recommendations. When looking for a Funeral Director, it is a good idea to ensure they are members of a trade association. Most Funeral Directors will be a member of either the National Association of Funeral Directors (NAFD) or the National Society of Allied and Independent Funeral Directors (SAIF).

How do I pay for the funeral?

You may be able to access funds from the deceased’s bank account to pay for the funeral directly. However, this is not always possible, in which case any reasonable expenses you incur will need to be reimbursed to you from the estate at a later date. If the deceased’s estate does not have sufficient money to pay for the funeral, financial help may be available. You will need to contact your local Social Security office for further information. You should also be aware that there may be deadlines for applying for assistance.

7. Probate

Probate, also known as a Grant of Probate, is a legal document that the Executors of a Will may need to obtain when administering the estate of someone who has died. In scenarios where the deceased passed away without a Will, the document is referred to as a Grant of Letters of Administration, and the person responsible for sourcing this legal document is referred to as an Administrator. The umbrella term for both a Grant of Probate and a Grant of Letters of Administration is Grant of Representation; both terms refer to the same process.

Obtaining probate provides the Executor with the legal authority to carry out estate administration – the process of dealing with the deceased’s assets, legal affairs, debts, and more. Therefore, probate is one step of the wider estate administration process.

How do you avoid probate? The reality is that the requirement for probate is not determined by the estate value or whether a Will was left behind or not; financial institutions set their own probate thresholds, and this varies between different providers. For this reason, probate is unavoidable if the deceased owned assets that exceed these individual thresholds.


Do you have to tell the bank when someone dies?

The banks and financial institutions with which the deceased held accounts will need to be notified of their passing. It is advisable to notify the financial institutions as soon as possible so the account can be frozen, as the deceased may have ongoing standing orders and direct debits.

Death certificate

Do I need a death certificate to close a bank account?

Banks and financial institutions require a copy of the death certificate to freeze or close an account. In addition to the death certificate, they will also want to see proof of authority – this may be a copy of the Will stating that you are the Executor or evidence that demonstrates your relationship to the deceased if there is no Will. 

Can you access a deceased person's bank account without probate?

“How can I withdraw money from a deceased person's bank account?” is a commonly asked question. The deceased’s bank account can be accessed by the Executor or Administrator if it does not exceed the institution’s probate threshold. For example, Bank A may require a Grant for £10,000 in a current account if the value exceeds their probate threshold of £5,000. However, Bank B may not require a Grant for £10,000 worth of monies if they have a probate threshold of £15,000.

Related content:

•    What is probate?
•    When is probate required? An overview of UK financial institution thresholds
•    What is the probate process?
•    Four solutions for the probate and estate administration process
•    What does an Administrator of an estate do?
•    What happens to Premium Bonds when someone dies?

8. Estate administration

Estate administration is the process of dealing with a person’s legal and tax affairs after they have died; all estates need to be administered to some extent. This normally means dealing with all their assets (such as property and personal possessions) and liabilities (such as outstanding debts) before transferring whatever is left to the beneficiaries.

If you are named as an Executor in a Will, or Administrator if there is no Will, you may need to think about:

Bank accounts

Closing bank accounts and paying debts

Shares and investments

Dealing with shares and investments


Selling property and assets

Inheritance Tax

Dealing with Inheritance Tax and Income Tax forms

Legal work

Dealing with specialist legal work

Redirecting post

Redirecting post

Inheritance Tax

Who is exempt from Inheritance Tax?

Inheritance Tax does not apply to all estates. For example, any part of an estate that passes to a spouse, civil partner, or charity is exempt from an IHT liability. Additionally, there are a number of organisations that are exempt from Inheritance Tax, including community amateur sports clubs.

Some people decide to administer the estate by themselves, but this can take a significant amount of time and effort, especially if you have never had to go through the process before. If you decide to undertake the work yourself, you should also be aware that you are personally liable for any mistakes made during the process, such as when completing tax returns and legal paperwork. For these reasons, many people prefer to appoint a specialist legal firm to do the work on their behalf.

At Kings Court Trust, we can provide a quote for our full estate administration service and help you understand your options. Learn more about our full estate administration service.

Award-winning, fixed fee solutions

Whether you want to retain control of the probate application process or hand the entire process over to a professional, we have the solutions to support you.


Option one


Obtain the Grant of Probate

£995 (excluding VAT & probate fee)

Learn more
Option two


Includes collecting in and distributing up to three assets, or transferring them to up to two beneficiaries. An asset does not include property.

£1,495 (excluding VAT & probate fee)

Learn more
Option three


1. Grant and transfer of property

2. Grant and Trust of property

3. Grant and Nil Rate Band Discretionary Trust

Each option has a fee of £1,995 (excluding VAT & probate fee)

Learn more
Option four

Full estate administration

We will complete the full process of estate administration taking on the legal and financial responsibility to do this. From dealing with all assets (such as property, shares, and personal possessions), paying debts, paying any Inheritance Tax and Income Tax, and transferring inheritance to the beneficiaries of the estate.

From £2,340 (excluding VAT
& third-party costs)

Learn more


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