What to do when someone dies
Managing a difficult time
Losing a loved one is always traumatic, even when the death is expected. Unfortunately it’s also an event that requires a fair bit of management and administration. Besides arranging the funeral, you’ll also have to notify the relevant people and organisations (though some help is available here). Last but not least, there may be financial and legal issues to sort out.
This short guide should make the process of handling a bereavement a little easier, by walking you through the key steps you’ll need to take.
Register the death
Confirming a death
When a person dies, they must be seen by a doctor (either a GP or a hospital doctor) who will confirm their death and attempt to identify its cause. Once this is confirmed, the doctor will issue a medical certificate of death (MCOD).
If the cause of death is in doubt, the doctor will report the death to the coroner, who may need to investigate.
Registering a death
Once you have the MCOD, you must register the death within 5 days of the person dying (8 days in Scotland). You can do this at any registry office, though it will be quicker if it is the nearest one to where the person died. You’ll need to take the MCOD, and it will help if you also take along other forms of identification belong to the deceased, such as their driving licence, passport, NHS medical card etc.
Once you’ve registered the death, the Registrar will issue the person’s death certificate. You will need this when informing relevant organisations (e.g. banks) about the death. The Registrar will also give you the ‘green form’, the certificate that authorises the funeral to take place. You must give this to the crematorium or burial authority.
Tell the authorities
The person’s death must be reported to various government organisations, so you should do this as soon as possible after receiving the death certificate. The good news is that in most areas of the UK you only need to do this once, using the Tell Us Once service.
If this service isn’t available where you are, you will need to contact the following:
The Department for Work and Pensions (Bereavement Service)
The Passport Office
The local council
The DVLA (if the person had a driving licence)
If the deceased was a member of a public sector pension scheme, this will also be covered by Tell Us Once. If that service isn’t available, you’ll need to notify the scheme yourself.
Who else needs to know?
There are quite a few other people you should inform as soon as you can. First of all, be sure to tell any organisation that had an existing financial relationship with the person. This includes:
Insurers (especially if the person had life insurance)
Their mortgage provider and/or landlord (as appropriate)
Banks and credit card companies
The other people to tell are, of course, family and friends. Their support and sympathy can really help you deal with the days after a bereavement.
Arrange the funeral
The most popular way to arrange a funeral is through a funeral director (you can find one on the Funeral Directors Register).
Ask the funeral director to talk you through your options and give you a full description of their services and costs. Many offer partial services as well as complete packages, so you can engage their help with some aspects (such as transporting the coffin) while making other arrangements yourself (see DIY funerals). If you wish, the funeral director can take charge of the whole process for you, from arranging the ceremony to the cremation or burial itself, and providing floral tributes, invitations and memorial masonry.
You can arrange the funeral yourself without help from a funeral director, or ask them to handle just some of the proceedings. This may be less costly and might allow you more freedom to do it the way you want. If you think you might want to arrange a funeral yourself, it’s sensible to plan some time in advance so you’re fully prepared.
How much does a funeral cost?
If you do use a funeral director, you can expect to pay the following for a typical funeral. Costs quoted are average – you may pay more or less depending on the funeral director, the services provided and where in the country you are.
These prices are for a complete service, though they do not usually include things like flowers, stationery or headstones. Do note that burial costs can vary considerably, as the price of a grave plot depends a great deal on the location.
Given that death at some point is a certainty, many people choose to set up a funeral plan. This allow you to both pay for and plan your funeral in advance.
There are a number of advantages in doing this. Firstly, it allows you to spread the cost; secondly, it allows you to pay for the funeral at today’s prices (costs tend to rise over time); and thirdly it takes some of the burden off loved ones if the funeral is already planned and paid for.
Most funeral plans range from basic (service only) to more elaborate, including vehicles for mourners and a more expensive coffin. Generally they do not cover things the cost of headstones and burial plots, as these vary considerably.
Bear in mind that you will pay more for a funeral plan with a longer repayment period.
If your partner has died
Whether or not you were married, there may be much to sort out following your partner’s death. Bereavement can mean a big financial loss as well as an emotional one, so it can help a great deal to talk about your situation with a financial adviser.
If you had a mortgage together, you will need to find a way to cover the repayments yourself unless you have mortgage term life insurance. If you do have this insurance, your mortgage will be paid off in full.
If you were married
If your spouse or civil partner dies, you may be eligible for a Bereavement Support Payment if they paid sufficient National Insurance contributions. You will receive a lump sum followed by up to 18 smaller monthly payments. You’re entitled to more if you have children under 20 in full-time education.
Children under 20 in full-time education?
Then up to 18 monthly payments of
If you are over State Pension age, you may be able to claim extra pension payments following the death of your spouse.
If your unmarried partner dies
If you weren’t married, you’re not eligible for any bereavement benefits. You also won’t inherit anything from your partner unless they named you in their will (see Inheriting).
If a person dies and leaves a valid will, their estate (i.e. everything they own) will be distributed accordingly. This process is called probate and usually takes between six months and a year. You will need to engage a solicitor for this. There may also be inheritance tax to pay, for which you should consult a financial adviser.
If the person dies without a will
If someone dies and leaves no valid will, their estate is distributed according to intestacy law. Often this is not in line with what the person would have wished, so everyone should make sure to write a will and keep it up to date.
If you were married, you will automatically inherit from your deceased spouse. You’ll receive the first £250,000 of the estate and half of any remainder, while the remaining portion will go to any living children. Note that this can cause significant problems if much of the estate is in the form of the family home, as minor children may end up as part-owners of the property!
If you were not married and there is no will, the surviving partner has no legal right to any of the estate, which will be inherited by the nearest blood relative(s). If you have cohabited for more than two years then you may be able to bring a legal claim for some of the estate, but it is a much less simple process than making a will in the first place. Talk to a solicitor if you’re in this position.
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