What to do when someone dies

In this section

There can be a lot to think about when you are dealing with the loss of a loved one.

Step One - Contacting the doctor

Before you can start making funeral arrangements, you will need to contact a doctor. The doctor will visit to provide a medical certificate and a formal notice of death. This process varies depending on where your loved one passed away.

  • When someone dies at home, in hospital or at a nursing home

    If someone passes away at home, there are two people who need to be contacted immediately:

    • Their nearest blood relative (if this isn’t you, it may be their spouse or child)
    • Their doctor. If you do not know the name of their doctor or cannot reach them, call an ambulance instead.

    If the person dies in hospital or in a care or nursing home, a member of on-duty staff will notify a doctor on your behalf.

    The police do not usually need to be informed unless the person has died in unusual circumstances like an accident. Once the individual's doctor is satisfied about the cause of death, he or she will then provide two documents:

    • Medical Certificate – an official notification of the cause of death which will be given to you in a sealed envelope. This certificate is very important and will be required to register the death. It must be signed by the doctor.
    • Formal Notice – this notice confirms your doctor has signed the Medical Certificate and gives information on how to register the death.

    Once these two documents have been completed you will be able to start making funeral arrangements. Our friendly Funeral team will be able to give you immediate support and advice, and arrange to bring your loved one into our care at one of our local branches or chapels of rest. You can find your nearest branch here.

    If the cause of death is unclear your family doctor may not be able to issue a Medical Certificate. The doctor will liaise with the Coroner who will make a note of this on the Formal Notice. The Coroner will then inform you of what will happen next and what you will need to do.

  • When someone dies abroad
    If your loved one has died abroad, the steps you need to take can be different depending on where in the world they are.

    Please read our information on deaths abroad and repatriation.

  • If someone dies under unusual circumstances
    To report a death of someone under unusual circumstances, such as an accident, or an unexpected or unknown cause, contact the police immediately.

    Don’t touch or move anything before the police arrive.

    The police will then make arrangements for a doctor to visit. They will then submit a report to the Coroner’s Office. This may cause a subsequent delay in registering the death while the cause of death is established.

    The police and other professionals are there to help and guide you when a death occurs in unusual circumstances. If possible, you may wish to write down any information they give you and keep all the information together in a secure place.

    We can give you any contact details that you may need, and explain any choices you may have to make at this stage of the process.

Step Two - Registering a death

  • Who can register a death?

    A death should be registered by a relative within five days of recieving the medical certifcate (eight in Scotland). If this is not possible, the manager at the care home where they lived, a close family friend or the person arranging the funeral can register the death instead.

    To register the death you should make an appointment with a Registrar within the local authority where your loved one passed away – in the East of England this might be Norfolk, Suffolk or Essex county council. If you are unsure, you can find details at www.gov.uk/register-offices or your local funeral team will be able to tell you.

    This appointment is likely to last around 45 minutes, providing you take along all the required information.

    This can be a difficult and overwhelming time so if you feel you need support, we can be on hand to attend these appointments with you. Please call our 24-hour care line on 0800 0744362 if you wish to talk through your options.

  • What you need to take

    To help avoid delays we recommend you take the following information and documents to your Registrar appointment:

    • The medical certificate stating the date, time and cause of death
    • The person’s full name (and maiden name, where relevant)
    • Their date and place of birth and birth certificate (if you have it)
    • Their last home address
    • If married, the full name of their surviving spouse or civil partner and their date of birth
    • Their occupation and that of their spouse or civil partner
    • Any public pensions or allowances (such as a military pension)  

    You will be given two separate certificates by the Registrar at your appointment:

    • Certificate for Burial or Cremation (green form) – you will need to give this to your Funeral Director so that the burial or cremation can take place.
    • Certificate of Registration of Death (also known as a Death Certificate) – this is a certified copy of the entry in the register. You may need this for a number of reasons, including for your loved one’s will and for legal or financial purposes.  

    You can ask the Registrar to give you multiple copies of the Death Certificate, but please bear in mind you will need to pay a fee for each additional copy.

  • The Tell Us Once service

    Your local Registrar may tell you about a service called Tell Us Once, which lets you report a death to a number of government organisations in one go.

    If you wish to take advantage of this service, your local Registrar will provide you with a unique reference number to access the service online or by telephone.

    You will need to provide the following information about your loved one to the Tell Us Once service:

    • Date of birth
    • National Insurance number
    • Driving licence number
    • Passport number
    • Details of any benefits or entitlements they were receiving, e.g. State pension
    • Details of any local council services they were receiving, e.g. Blue Badge
    • Name and address of their next of kin
    • Name, address and contact details of the person or company dealing with their estate (property, belongings and money), known as the ‘executor’ or ‘administrator’

    It’s important to note that you require permission from the next of kin, the executor or administrator or anyone who was claiming joint benefits or entitlements with your loved one before you pass on their personal details.

  • Coroners and inquests

    The Registrar may refer the death to the Coroner. If this happens, it may delay registering the death until the Coroner has granted permission.

    Sometimes the Coroner will decide that there needs to be an inquest into a death. This inquest is a legal investigation to find out more about how, when and why somebody has died.

    If you’d like more detailed information on the step-by-step process of an inquest, please read the NHS’s introduction and supporting pages at http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/inquest/Pages/Introduction.aspx

Step Three - Informing other organisations.

There are a number of people and organisations that need to be contacted as soon as possible.

The death should be registered with the local Registrar within 5 days. Details of the information you will need to take to the Registrar is detailed here. There are also other people and organisations that need to be notified too. They include:

  • Family, friends and loved ones of the person who has died
  • HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) – to deal with tax and cancel any benefits
  • Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) – to cancel any benefits such as income support
  • Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) – to cancel a driving licence
  • Passport Office – to cancel a passport
  • The local council – to cancel housing benefit, council tax benefit, a disabled parking badge, inform council housing services and remove the person from the electoral register
  • Deaths abroad and repatriation

    If you lose a family member or close friend while they are living, working or travelling abroad, making the arrangements for their funeral abroad, or arranging to have them brought back home, can seem especially difficult.

    We can work with you on a dedicated repatriation service in the UK or worldwide, working alongside coroners, freight forwarders, airlines and embassies to ensure a safe journey home, as quickly as possible.

    If you would like more information about this, please feel free to give our friendly Funeral team a call on our 24-hour care line on 0800 0744362.

  • Where should I register my loved one’s death?

    The death must first be officially registered in the country where it occurred, regardless of whether you were with them overseas at the time.

    We recommend contacting either the British Consulate or the Foreign and Commonwealth Office who will be able to give details of how to obtain a death certificate in a particular country. If you are unsure on how to go about doing this, we will be available to advise you.

    You can also register the death with the British Consulate, so that a record of the death is held officially in the UK.

  • Bringing a loved one home

    Once you have registered the death you can hold the funeral abroad in the country of their passing, or you can repatriate your loved one home to the UK.  

    If you wish to bring your loved one home for a funeral service with family and friends you will need the following:

    • A certified English translation of the Death Certificate
    • Permission to remove their body, issued by a coroner (or equivalent) in the country where your loved one has died
    • A certificate of embalming
    • Any other original documentation issued
    • The cause of death will need to be clearly stated on all documentation.

    If your loved one was cremated overseas and you wish to bring their ashes home with you, you’ll be required to produce the following:

    • The death certificate
    • The certificate of cremation  

    You may also wish to contact the British Consulate, Embassy or High Commission in the country where the death occurred for information on any additional or specific requirements there may be for departing from a particular country with ashes.

    In the event of an unnatural, violent or sudden death abroad, a Coroner in England or Wales will usually hold an inquest. In these circumstances you should not arrange for a cremation abroad.   

  • What to do with the Death Certificate back in the UK

    Once your friend or family member has been brought home, you can take the Death Certificate to your local register office.

    The Registrar will give you a ‘certificate of no liability to register’ as the death was originally registered overseas. You will need to give this to your Funeral Director who can then proceed with preparations for the service.  

Further information

It’s important to note that these are the rules that currently apply for repatriation back to England and Wales. There are different processes in Scotland and Northern Ireland.