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What to do when someone dies

20 July 2016 ( 18 March 2020 )

The death of a loved one is a difficult and emotional time and you may not know what to do when someone dies. This practical information is here to help you.

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Registering a death

This needs to be done within about five days (eight in Scotland), at a registry office, and should be completed by a family member.

If the death followed a serious illness then his or her doctor should be able to certify the death and provide two forms. The first will be a Medical Certificate indicating the cause of death, the second a Formal Notice confirming the process for registering the death.

If the death was unexpected a doctor needs to be contacted, along with the closest relative of the deceased. In these circumstances, the following people can register a death:

* A close relative.

* A non-relative who was present at the death.

* Someone who lives in the same property as the deceased.

* The person responsible for the funeral arrangements.

Sometimes, a person's death needs to be reported to the coroner, who will investigate the cause. In this case, the Medical Certificate will be sent directly to him or her, and then to the registrar.

If you're in England and Wales, and the death has not been referred to the coroner, the registrar will give you:

* A Certificate for Burial or Cremation, known as the 'Green Form', which you give to the funeral director

* A Certificate of Registration of Death (form BD8), which you may need to show to the benefits office

* A Death Certificate. It is always a good idea to ask the registrar for extra copies, as they are required in connection with the Will and to claim things like pensions, life insurance policies and premium bonds. Please note that there's a charge for each copy.

The registrar should also provide leaflets about state benefits to which you may be entitled, as well as any potential income tax implications. If these aren't offered, make sure you ask for a copy.

If you're in Scotland, the funeral director needs a Certificate of Registration of Death.

If you're in Northern Ireland, you register the death through the local District or Borough Council.

Coping with grief

Accepting the death of a loved one is never easy. There is no right or wrong way to grieve. For those who are struggling with the loss of someone close, advice can be found here: Coping with grief.

Make funeral arrangements

Once a death has been registered, you can go ahead and plan the funeral. Most people make use of a funeral director, who will carry out preparations and advise on order of service.

But nowadays there is a wider variety and freedom of funeral and burial choice; here are some choices that you may like to consider on behalf of a loved one, especially if they have passed away and didn’t specify what they wanted: types of funeral.

Take care of pets

Your loved one may have left behind a pet that needs looking after. If you have inherited a dog, cat or other animal from a loved one, you might like to read our useful guide on inheriting a pet.

Apply for probate

If you are the executor of a Will, you may need to apply for a grant of probate, which is legal proof you are allowed to put affairs of the deceased in order. It also allows you and others to lay claim to any assets.

Probate can take some time to complete so it’s best to begin the process as soon as possible.

You can apply for the grant of probate and organise affairs yourself. In this case, it is entirely your responsibility to ensure that all debts are discovered and paid, the estate is distributed as set out in the Will, and the correct amount of inheritance tax is calculated and paid.

At this difficult time, such a large responsibility might be overwhelming, so you may prefer to turn to an experienced third party for help.

What is probate?

Execute the Will

A Will exists to give clear direction on what needs to happen with an estate and any dependents. Once you hold a grant of probate, you or your legal representative can begin carrying out the wishes of the deceased as outlined in their Will.

In the absence of a Will, the government decides how  the estate will be distributed – not necessarily as the family would wish.

What happens if I die without a will?

Stop accounts and subscriptions – on and offline

All utility providers, TV Licensing and mobile phone contractors need to be contacted upon the death of a subscriber or service user and are usually contactable via phone or email.

Social media and email accounts, online shopping accounts and any other website on which their personal details are stored need closing too. This may be more difficult to do. In most cases, going via customer services or online support teams is your best bet for a direct result.

Closing these online accounts will help to protect against fraud and identity theft as well as prevent unwelcome reminders, such as social media birthday notifications later on.

Other organisations and companies you need to notify are detailed in our article about who to inform when someone dies.

Empty and sell the home

Clearing the house and sorting through your loved one’s personal belongings can be incredibly painful. This practical guide may help you through the process. 

Conveyancing services can help you transfer ownership of an empty property, either to an external buyer or inheritor once it is ready.

Allow yourself time to grieve

Mourning is extremely personal and bereavement can have a huge impact on your life. And bear in mind that there is no finite time to grieving; each individual’s experience is varied and deeply personal. If you are struggling to cope or simply want someone to talk to, finding the right counselling support may help you.

Plan ahead

Now may not be the right time to start thinking about your own estate. But when you’re ready, consider writing a Will, take time to discuss your funeral wishes with family, and make plans for any pets you may have.

This way, when the time comes, your loved ones will know what to do and be able to focus on supporting each other, rather than worrying about dividing up your estate or deliberating over what you might have wanted.


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The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated. The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.