What to do after a death: the next steps

When someone dies there are a number of legal and administrative issues to deal with, in addition to informing friends and family. These will vary depending on where and how the person died and whether they left a will or instructions regarding funeral arrangements.

The medical certificate

Whether the person died at home, in hospital or abroad — on holiday, for example — a medical certificate must be issued, indicating the cause of death. In cases of a death at home, the family doctor will provide the certificate, as well as the formal notification that it has been signed. The doctor will also advise on how to register the death.

In cases of unexpected death, or where the family doctor has not seen the deceased in the past two weeks, a coroner must be informed or the Procurator Fiscal (if the death was in Scotland). A formal investigation can then take place, which may involve a post-mortem and a delay in funeral arrangements.

If someone dies abroad, the death must be registered in accordance with that country?s regulations and a consulate death certificate obtained.

Registering the death

This should take place within five days in England, Wales or Northern Ireland (or eight days in Scotland). Registration can be done by a relative or by someone who lived with the deceased or was present at the death. The local registrar will need the medical certificate and supporting documents, such as the deceased?s birth certificate or passport, if available. The registrar will issue:

A Certificate for Burial or Cremation (also known as the ?green form?), which is required by the funeral director;
A Certificate of Registration of Death (form BD8), for the purposes of social security (state pension and benefits);
Copies of the death certificate (costs vary within the UK) which will needed by the executor;
A reference number that will allow you to access an online government service to report the death to relevant organizations.

Organizing the funeral

Once the death has been registered the funeral can take place. The funeral arrangements can either be done through a funeral director or made directly by contacting the local council?s Cemeteries and Crematorium Department.

Funeral arrangements and costs will vary depending on whether what was known about the deceased?s wishes and whether he/she left a will or died intestate. If there was no pre-paid funeral plan or insurance policy in place at the time of death relatives may apply for money from the estate to cover costs. In cases of financial hardship, relatives of the deceased may qualify for a Funeral Payment to help with costs.

Dealing with the estate

If someone leaves a will, this will normally set out who can apply for probate and dispose of the estate (i.e. property, money and other possessions). This involves selling assets, settling debts, paying any taxes due. Where there is no will, a partner or relative can apply for a grant of representation to administer the estate.

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