What to do when somebody dies

What to do when somebody dies

The days following a loved one’s death are a difficult and stressful time. This guide is intended to give you an idea of the matters that will need to be attended to in the days following a death in the family.

You will see that there are many things which require your attention. This may come at a time when you may not feel able to perform these tasks. In this case, let us help. Our specialist Probate Team have a vast amount of experience in dealing with all aspects of Probate and are on hand to give you the support you need.

The First Few Days Following The Death

In the first few days following the death, you will need to:

  1. Register the death;
  2. Find out if the person left a Will;
  3. Secure the possessions of the person who has died;
  4. Inform family and friends and start to arrange the funeral.

These steps can be taken in the order that they appear in this guide, however there may be circumstances when it is not possible to follow this order rigidly.

Although a person’s will is not normally dealt with until after the funeral, it should be checked as soon as possible to see if there are any funeral wishes mentioned, reference to a funeral plan or instructions for burial or cremation.

You will also need to identify who the executors are as they will be the people legally responsible for sorting out the estate.

The family and friends of the person who has died will usually deal with most of the practical things that need to be done immediately after the death. If there are no relatives or friends that can deal with these matters, a solicitor can assist.

Registering the death

When someone dies, a doctor will issue a medical certificate which is evidence of both the fact and cause of death. The death will need to be recorded formally on the Register for Births, Deaths and Marriages, in the district where the person died. This must be done within five days of the date of the death.

When registering the death, you will need to take to the register office:

  • The Medical Certificate;
  • The following information:
    • Date and place of death;
    • The full correct name of the person who has died;
    • Any former names (for example a maiden name);
    • Their occupation;
    • Their last address;
    • Name, date of birth and occupation of the person’s spouse or civil partner (whether living or dead);
    • Information about any State benefits the person was receiving.

This information should be available from the person’s birth certificate, marriage certificate or civil partnership certificate and their State pension or allowance book.

The Registrar will then issue an official copy of the register, called a certified copy death certificate. You can obtain any number of certified copy death certificates. You will certainly need more than one copy to send out when giving notice of the death to banks, insurance companies and so on. If you know roughly what the person who died owned, you can estimate how many copies of the death certificate you will need. You will need to pay for additional copies. It is a good idea to buy as many copies as you need there and then, because it is less convenient to get additional copies later.

The Registrar will issue a certificate for burial or cremation. This will need to be given to the funeral director.

The Registrar will also give you Form BD8 to complete. This is used to inform the DWP Bereavement Service about the death, to allow it to deal with the pensions and benefits arrangements of the person who has died.

What if the death is reported to the coroner?

Unexpected deaths have to be reported to the Coroner. This is usually done by the doctor who was called when the person died. A death is regarded as unexpected if:

  • The dead person was not seen by a doctor during their final illness, or in the 14 days before death;
  • The doctor cannot determine the cause of death and so cannot issue a Medical Certificate;
  • The person died within 24 hours of being admitted to hospital or during an operation;
  • The medical certificate suggests that the cause of death was due to industrial disease or industrial poisoning.

In this case, the Coroner will usually arrange for a post mortem to be carried out. This will normally establish the cause of death. If the death is from natural causes, it can be registered as explained above. If the death is found to be not from natural causes, or cannot be determined following a post mortem, an inquest will follow. In cases where there is to be an inquest, the Coroner will usually release the body for the funeral after the post mortem.

Securing a residential property?

You do not need to worry about this if the person lived in a residential or nursing home and no longer had a private home.

If the person who died lived alone, you will need to go to that address on the date of death, if possible. Take all the normal security precautions such as locking all the doors and windows, moving valuable items where passers-by cannot easily see them, and stopping deliveries of newspapers.

Everything that is in the deceased person’s home should remain there. The items will need to be valued for inheritance tax purposes and keeping them in one place makes valuation easier and more convenient. If there are very valuable items present which you believe should not be left unattended in the person’s home, or you think they are not adequately insured, you will need to consider moving them to a more secure place. In this case, please consult the executors or the person’s close relatives, or their solicitors before you do.

If the person had a pet, make temporary arrangements for the animal to be looked after by family or friends or through an animal charity.

On your first visit to the home, look for papers relating to the insurance of the property and its contents, even if you do not have time to look for other important documents at this stage. If there is insurance in place, you will need to call the insurers, notify them of the death and make sure there is adequate cover in place for everything in the house. Keep a note of your conversation with the insurers and put it with the papers relating to insurance. Hand these papers to the executors or their solicitors as soon as possible.

If no insurance cover is in place, the executors will need to arrange for cover to be put in place for both the house and its contents for the time it will take for the estate to be wound up.

Finding the Will?

It is a good idea to find the Will (or a copy) as soon as possible after the death.

The person who died may have left wishes for their funeral in the Will. Although there is no legal obligation to follow these wishes, usually relatives and friends prefer to do so. It can be distressing to discover after the funeral that it was not conducted as the person wished.

The Will also names executors. The administration of the estate will go much more smoothly if the executors are involved from the beginning. If you are not a named executor, you will need to inform the executors about the death as soon as possible. If the death has already been registered by you, you will need to pass copies of the Death Certificate to the executors or their solicitors.

If you cannot find a Will or a copy in the home of the person who has died, you can ask the person’s bank or their solicitors if they know where it is. If it still cannot be found, you can contact any solicitor whose practice includes wills and probate. That solicitor can assist with the searches for the Will and can also explain what happens to the person’s property if no Will can be found. If you do not know who the executors are because you have been unable to find a Will, you can still arrange and hold the funeral.

Only the executors appointed in a Will are entitled to see the Will before probate is granted. If you are not an executor, the solicitors or bank cannot allow you to see the Will or send you a copy without the agreement of the executors. In this case, the most that they can do is to tell you who the executors are and let you know any funeral wishes contained in the Will.

Arranging the funeral

Assuming the dead person did not leave wishes that the body was to be given for medical research, you will need to choose a funeral director and give them the certificate for burial or cremation. The funeral director will take charge of the body and discuss the arrangements with you and guide you through the process leading up to the funeral service and burial or cremation.

If you arrange the funeral, you are also taking on the responsibility for paying for it. You will be able to reimburse yourself from the estate of the person who has died.

Many banks and building societies will agree to release the funeral costs from the deceased’s bank account. You will need to produce the original invoice for the funeral. The bank will then transfer the money directly to the funeral directors.

It is worth looking through the papers of the deceased person for anything relating to life insurance or pensions and contact the providers. Lump sum payments can often be made from life insurance policies and pension schemes soon after a death. However before using this money to pay funeral expenses, please contact the solicitors advising the personal representatives because there may be a more tax-efficient way to use the money.

Further steps to be taken

In addition to arranging the funeral and informing the executors, friends and relatives of the death, it is important to inform the following people:

  1. The banks or building societies where the deceased person had current accounts;
  2. Private landlord or local authority, if the person who died was a tenant living in rented accommodation;
  3. Employer, if the person was in work at the time of their death;
  4. DVLA, to cancel the driving licence of the deceased person, and to request that the registration details of his or her car are amended.
  5. Passport office. Look for the passport of the deceased person and return it to the UK Identity and Passport Office so it can be cancelled.
  6. Royal Mail. If the person who died was living alone in a private home, contact Royal Mail to arrange for post to be redirected.
  7. Utility companies and other service providers. You do not need to worry about these if the person lived in a residential or nursing home.

However if the person had their own home, you will need to inform:

  • Utility companies supplying gas, electricity and water;
  • Broadband, phone and satellite TV providers;
  • The TV Licensing Authority;
  • The local Council Tax Authority.