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What to do when someone dies

Last updated: 02/02/2023 | Estimated Reading Time: 5 minutes

It might be a morbid subject, but it’s important to know what to do when someone dies. At an already challenging time, having the information and processes to hand makes things that little bit easier. That’s why we’ve put together this quick guide to help guide you understand what needs to be done.

In This Guide:

Register the death

First of all, the death will need to be registered with the relevant authorities. But the process of doing so will differ depending on whether the death was expected or not:

Unexpected death

If the cause of death is not immediately apparent, you will need to call a coroner. Once the death has been investigated, there are three possible outcomes:

1. The cause of death is clear

If the coroner can easily determine the cause of death, then a doctor will sign the medical certificate, which you will need to take to the registrar in order to register the death. The coroner will also give a second certificate to the registrar, indicating no further action is required.

2. A post-mortem is required

Should the coroner be unable to establish the cause of death, then a post mortem will be carried out. Once this has been done and a conclusion is reached, the coroner will send a form to the registrar with the cause of death.

3. An inquest is required

In some situations, the coroner might call for an inquest. This is done if more time is required to understand the cause of death, or if the body appears to show signs of violence. In the meantime, you can still ask the coroner for an interim death certificate, which can be used to apply for probate (probate gives you the right to manage the estate of the deceased).

Expected death

If someone passes due to a terminal condition, then a coroner is likely not necessary. You will need to get in touch with a doctor who should be able to issue a medical certificate from which the death can be registered.

Should the person pass in a hospital, then a doctor will automatically issue a death certificate.

How do I register a death?

To register a death, you will need to have access to the following information/documentation of the deceased:

  • Full name
  • Birthdate
  • Place of birth
  • The medical certificate with the cause of death
  • Occupation
  • Person details of the spouse or significant other
  • Proof of address
  • Birth certificate

Once you have all this you will need to find a registrar in your area. You can search for them on the government website.

When this is completed, you will receive a certificate for burial or cremation, and a BD8 form. If the deceased was the recipient of state benefits or pensions, then you will need to fill out the latter and send it to the government to let them know that the individual has passed away and can stop payments. Other government bodies you may need to inform include:

  • HMRC: To have them removed from paying tax.
  • Passport Office: To cancel their passport.
  • DVLA: To cancel their driving license, car tax and registration if they drove.
  • Local Council: To have them removed from the electoral register and stop council tax payments.

As well as various government departments, you may also need to get in touch with the following:

  • Place of work
  • Landlord
  • Insurance providers
  • GP
  • Dentist
  • Gas, electricity, broadband, water etc providers
  • Bank

If you want a copy of the death certificate then there is a small charge:

  • England and Wales: £11
  • Scotland: £12
  • Northern Ireland: £15

Pay inheritance tax

Before you can begin distributing the estate as per the will, you must check to see if you need to pay inheritance tax. This must be done in the first 12 months after the person in question has passed, or you might face a fine. When you are calculating the estate and subsequent inheritance, it is advisable to have any high-value items professionally evaluated. 

Bear in mind that even if the inheritance is below the threshold at which you need to pay tax, it still needs to be reported. The amount at which you need to pay tax after varies, so make sure to check the government website if your unsure

Enact will

Once inheritance tax has been paid, you will be able to start distributing the estate as per the conditions of the will. In an ideal situation, the process will have been laid out for you by the deceased and you should be able to deal with it on your own. You may need to include the lawyer who helped write the will.

If there is no will, then the inheritance falls into the law of intestacy. This is a government-mandated set of rules and regulations that decide exactly who should benefit from the estate. To find out more, read our guide on what happens if someone dies without a will.

What if someone dies abroad?

If someone dies overseas, then you will need to follow the rules and regulations of that country. These will vary depending on where that is. For further support about coping with death abroad, visit the government website.

Arrange a funeral

Once the initial paperwork is out of the way, you may choose to start planning for a funeral. As this can be a very difficult process, many people do this through a funeral director, who will handle the entire ceremony and logistics. 

When paying for a funeral, you will want to establish whether any money has been set aside by the deceased. If you are listed as one of the beneficiaries, then you should have some idea, although it’s best to get in touch with the insurance provider to double-check. This could come in the form of life insurance or a funeral plan.

If there is no money to pay for a funeral, then you might consider organising it yourself, as this is usually far cheaper. You can also apply for Funeral Expenses Payment from the Social Fund, although this is only available to those on low incomes who meet a range of criteria.

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