impact on life - healthcare publishing

What to do after a death

1. Medical Certificate Confirming Cause Of Death

If your loved one has died at home, you should call the doctor who will sign a medical certificate confirming the cause of death. You should also receive a Formal Notice that states that the doctor has signed the Medical Certificate and tells you how to register the death. If the death has happened in hospital, the doctor there will issue the certificate. The hospital will also be able to hold your loved one's body until you arrange for it to be moved, for example, to a Chapel of Rest. In some cases, the doctor may decide to refer the matter to the coroner (see section 6, The Coroner).

2. Arranging a Funeral

We have prepared a complete guide to arranging a funeral which includes the types of funeral available, services and paying for a funeral.

3. What Happens At The Register Office

YOU MUST NORMALLY REGISTER THE DEATH WITHIN FIVE DAYS (EIGHT DAYS IN SCOTLAND) AT THE REGISTER OFFICE LOCAL TO THE PLACE OF DEATH. When you go to the Registrar of Births and Deaths, take the following items with you:

  • the medical certificate of the cause of death – this is essential
  • the deceased person's medical card, if available
  • the deceased person's birth certificate, marriage or civil partnership certificate if available.

There is no need to take the birth certificate or marriage certificate when registering, provided the informant knows the date and place of birth of the deceased. You should tell the Registrar:

  • the date and place of death
  • the deceased's last (usual) address
  • the person's full name at date of death and any names previously used including maiden surname
  • the deceased's date and place of birth
  • the deceased's occupation and the name and occupation of their spouse, or civil partner
  • if the deceased was married or had formed a civil partnership, the date of birth of the surviving widow, widower or civil partner
  • whether the deceased was receiving a pension or allowance from public funds (e.g. State Pension).

It is advisable to ring the Register Office beforehand to make an appointment.

The Registrar will give you:

  • The Green Form – i.e. the certificate for burial or cremation to hand to the Funeral Director, so that the funeral can be held. If the death was referred to the Coroner, other procedures may apply. The Registrar will explain these to you.
  • A certificate of registration of death for Social Security purposes. Read the information on the back of the certificate. If any of it applies, fill in the certificate and hand it to your Jobcentre Plus or regional Department for Work & Pensions offices.
  • You may also be given leaflets about bereavement benefits and income tax for widows/widowers or surviving civil partners, where appropriate.

The Registrar may ask you some other questions about the deceased person. These are usually for government statistical purposes NB: Slightly different forms and procedures apply if you are registering a stillborn baby (born dead after the 24th week of pregnancy). Your doctor or midwife will be able to give you more information.

4. The Death Certificate

The death certificate is a certified copy of the entry in the death register and you may need several copies for the will, settling of pension claims, etc. You can purchase these from the Registrar as required, either at the time of registration or later. There is a standard fixed charge for these copies, although this cost increases if you ask for copies some time after registering your loved one's death.

You can also arrange for the deceased person's details to be removed from some mailing lists in order to reduce the amount of unwanted mail (see Bereavement Register contact details page 15). It is important to contact any organisation of which the deceased was a member as soon as possible, especially the deceased's bank, insurance company, council, and tax office. They may ask for copies of the death certificate.

5. Post-mortem

If the death was known to be caused by a natural illness but the doctors wish to know more about the cause of death, they may ask the relatives for permission to carry out a post-mortem examination. This is a medical examination of the body which can find out more about the cause of death and should not delay the funeral.

6. The Coroner

Sometimes a death is reported to the coroner by a doctor, or by the Police, because it has been sudden or unexpected or as the result of an accident, an industrial injury etc., and in other circumstances. Try not to be alarmed – this is a normal legal requirement and the coroner's office should be able to answer any questions you may have. The coroner may require the death to be investigated through a post-mortem.

If it is found that the person died from natural causes then the family will be told, the death can be registered and the funeral can go ahead. If the death was not considered to be from natural causes then the coroner will hold an inquest, which is an enquiry into the circumstances of the death. In the vast majority of cases, however, an inquest is not necessary. Should the coroner order an inquest then they will usually open and adjourn it to enable the body to be released for the funeral to take place.

The full inquest hearing is then held at a later date. It is best not to make the final funeral arrangements until you are sure that the death does not have to be reported to the coroner as this may delay when the funeral can be held.

7. Other Practicalities

In the event of bereavement, there are other practicalities that need to be dealt with and you should not be afraid to ask friends and family to support and assist you. The following lists provide examples of things which may have to be done: You may have to return the following, including a note of explanation and the date of death with each of the documents:

  • order books, payable orders or giro cheques to the social security office or other office which issued the payment. This also applies to a Child Benefit book which includes payment for a child who has died. Orders should not be cashed after the death of a person. It may be useful to keep a record of pension book numbers and other social security numbers before you send anything back, as these may be needed when completing other forms
  • driving licence to the DVLA
  • the registration documents for the deceased's car in order for a change of ownership to be recorded
  • membership cards of clubs and associations – claim any refund due
  • passport, to the UK Passport Agency
  • National Insurance papers
  • season tickets and claim any refund
  • library books/tickets
  • any NHS equipment such as wheelchairs, hearing aids or artificial limbs.

You may need to inform:

  • family members
  • the local social services department, if your loved one was receiving meals on wheels, home help, day centre care or had a piece of equipment on loan from the department
  • hospitals the person was attending
  • employer and trade union
  • the Inland Revenue
  • banks/building society
  • family doctor
  • the social security office, if benefits were being paid directly into the deceased's bank or building society
  • a child or young person's teacher, employer or college if a parent, brother, sister, grandparent or close friend has died
  • a car insurance company (if you are insured to drive the car under the deceased's name, you will cease to be legally insured)
  • utilities and telephone suppliers
  • the deceased's mortgage provider, landlord, housing association or the local council housing department
  • the local council Housing Benefit/Council Tax Benefit section if the person who has died was getting Housing Benefit and/or Council Tax Benefit
  • the deceased's bank, building society, insurance company, etc
  • the Post Office so that they can redirect the deceased's mail.

8. Organ Donation

Although it is something that can be very difficult to think about when you lose a loved one, you will have to act quickly if it was the wish of the deceased or their nearest relative to donate the organs for transplant, or the whole body for medical teaching purposes. The usual procedure is to approach the next of kin to make sure they do not object to organ donation. If the death was in a hospital or similar institution, the head of that institution is lawfully in possession of the body. They may honour the deceased's request, in writing or orally before two witnesses, for the body to be given for medical research if there is no reason to think the request withdrawn. If the death has to be reported to the coroner, the coroner's consent may be necessary before the organs or body can be donated. A medical certificate must be issued before any organs can be removed or the body used. It is usual for kidneys, and essential for heart, lungs, liver and pancreas, to be removed from donors:

  • who have been certified to be brain stem dead
  • and whose breathing, and hence heartbeat, are maintained by a ventilator in a hospital intensive care unit.

Kidneys can, very rarely, be removed up to an hour after heart death. Other organs can be removed up to the following times after heart death:

  • the corneas (from the eyes) – up to 24 hours
  • skin – up to 24 hours
  • bone – up to 36 hours
  • heart valves – up to 72 hours.

The doctor attending will advise on procedure. After organ donation, the body is released to the elatives. Full body donation for medical teaching no longer requires two witnesses, but form HTA1 should be completed by the person wishing to donate whilst they are still alive (Human Tissue Act 2004)

To download the Bereavement Support and Advice Publication please select the relevant area: