What to do when someone dies?

Posted on: 30 August 2016 by Editor at Large

Reactions of sorrow, confusion and feeling helpless are common when faced with the death of a loved one.

What to do when someone dies

Bereavement and end of life planning web site Final Choices, looks at the practical steps you need to take after a family member has passed away. 

Specialist help

If the death was in a hospital or hospital, then specialist staff members will give you detailed advice in a calm and sympathetic way. They will also supply easy to understand leaflets explaining the sequence of events.

If the death was at home, then health care specialists will guide you. Contact your GP or a district nurse as soon as possible to ensure that the death is verified and correctly certified - failure to do so can lead to complications and the unneccessary and upsetting involvement of a coroner. If the death is expected, your GP can talk you through this process and help make sure the passing satisfies all administrative criterion. For example, if a home death occurs and the GP hasn't seen the deceased for 14 days, it may need to be reported to the coroner.

List of action points

Here is a list of things that need to be done, in the order in which it is usually best to do them. But if you have a delay in, for instance, obtaining the death certificate you can still complete the other actions.

  1. Obtain death certificate from the doctor;
  2. Register the death;
  3. Agree (with family) on burial or cremation;
  4. Agree (with family and funeral director) the venue, day and time of funeral;
  5. Report the death to DWP and HMRC through Tell Us Once service;
  6. Check if the deceased has a Will;
  7. Discuss the details of the funeral with funeral director to get costs and understand what the funeral will entail;
  8. Agree the details of the funeral service/ceremony with the person officiating;
  9. Arrange the reception - perhaps at a favourite location, suitable venue or at home;
  10. Create the contents of the Order of service/ceremony sheet and then approve the proof copy, usually organised by the funeral director.

Other issues that you may have to deal with:

  • If involved - the coroner's office;
  • Repatriation of a body to/from another country;
  • Travel and accommodation arrangements for those mourners having to come long distances
  • Family/friends who may not be able to get to the funeral and do not wish to be left out. Ask if they want to send a message to be read out, or have web access to the funeral (if the venue has the facility) or by sending them photographs/videos.

The death certificate

If the death was expected and the cause is accepted, then the doctor who attended during the departed's last illness will issue a medical certificate showing the cause of death.

It will be in a sealed envelope addressed to the Registrar.

The doctor will also give the next of kin a formal note, saying that he or she has signed the certificate and giving details on how to register. This is the same for a death at home, in hospital, hospice or care location.

If there is a post mortem or if a coroner is involved the death certificate will be issued by the coroner after the post mortem has been carried out.

Who should know

A number of organisations need to be told about the death. These include banks, building societies, the local council, pension and insurance companies, utility companies.

Although it is tempting to deal with these during the days between the death and the funeral, make sure you have the right documentation.

Otherwise it can be frustrating and upsetting at the very time when you can least deal with confusions and complications, so don't rush. This can be dealt with after the funeral.

Organisations that deal with money will want to see the original death certificate or a certified copy. When you register the death, you will be asked how many copies you want and it is best to ask for at least three copies.

Otherwise you may post the certificate by recorded delivery to an organisation and then wait two weeks before it is returned to you to be sent off to the next company.

Photocopies of the death certificate will not be accepted because of the risk of fraud.

Organisations to inform:

  • Bank/ building society/credit card companies;
  • Benefits Agency;
  • Children's school or childcare provider;
  • Council tax office;
  • Dentist;
  • Doctors;
  • DVLA, regarding the driving licence and vehicle registration;
  • Employers;
  • Financial service providers: mortgage; pensions; home/car/ other insurance; assurance; savings products;
  • Hospital clinics;
  • HMRC;
  • Internet provider;
  • Landlord or local housing department;
  • Library;
  • Motoring breakdown policy;
  • Passport office;
  • Post Office;
  • Premium Bond Office/National Savings & Investments;
  • Private health care provider;Social Services (meals on wheels, equipment, home help);
  • Solicitor;
  • Sport, social and leisure clubs, if the deceased was a member;
  • Utilities (gas, electricity, water, telephone).

Get the basics done (items 1-6, at the top of this page) as soon as you can then take time to make the other decisions.

If you are putting your affairs in order and want to make things as easy as possible for your loved ones when you die, consider putting your funeral wishes into a funeral plan which will make the discussions with the funeral director easier.

Think also of the benefits of having a pre-paid funeral plan.

More information

Final Choices is a free guide and community for families and individuals who are facing difficult end of life choices. Our goal is to help you to start the conversations with loved ones and family that will make those choices a more positive and empowering experience. 

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