What to do when someone dies
Life Business Director
Last updated 24th August 2020
13 min read
When someone dies, finding out what needs to be done can be overwhelming. This simple guide explains what you need to do first, and what to do in the weeks and months that follow.
Remember, you don’t have to do everything straight away. Once you’ve dealt with the most urgent tasks, give yourself some time. And don’t be afraid to reach out for support if you need it.
In this guide
This guide has been written to give support and explain what you need to do when someone dies. It has been created using government, charity and other reliable sources.
What to do straight after a death
Get a medical certificate
First, you’ll need to let your loved one’s GP and closest relatives know about the death. You can call 111 if you don’t know their GP’s phone number.
If your loved one died at home, their GP will issue a medical certificate. If they died in hospital, the hospital will issue it.
Once you have the medical certificate, you’ll need to arrange for a funeral director near you to collect the body.
If the death is unexpected
If your loved one’s death was unexpected, the doctor will refer it to a coroner for an inquest to determine how they died.
Sometimes the cause of death is unclear, so the coroner will collect the body and decide if a post mortem is needed.
Once the cause of death is determined, the coroner will release the medical certificate, so you can get the death certificate. They’ll then release the body for the funeral.
If the death happens abroad
If your loved one dies abroad, you’ll need to contact the British Consulate closest to them. If they were on a package holiday, you should also let the tour operator know.
The consulate will help you with all the arrangements, including dealing with the authorities, registering the death and bringing the body home.
Register the death
Once you have the medical certificate, you can register the death with the government.
In England, Wales and Northern Ireland, you’ll need to do this within five days of the death. In Scotland you have eight days.
You can download our register a death checklist to help you get things sorted.
Book an appointment at the registry office
To register the death, you’ll need to book an appointment at your loved one’s nearest registry office. You can find their contact details below:
Collect the relevant documents and information
When you go to the appointment at the registry office, take the medical certificate with you.
You’ll need your loved one’s full name, date of birth, address and job information (plus their spouse’s full name, date of birth and job information, if applicable).
And, if you have them, you should also take their:
- Birth certificate
- National Insurance Number
- Marriage or civil partnership certificate
- NHS card/number
- A house bill for proof of address
- Driving license
At the registry office
During your appointment, the registry office will give you:
- The death certificate, or registration of death
- The green certificate, which gives permission for a burial, or for a cremation application
- A form to send to the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) so they can deal with your loved one’s pension or benefits
- Information on any bereavement benefits you may be eligible for
Tell people about the death
Who to tell first
Telling people about the death of your loved one can be difficult. You can download our who to inform checklist to help you keep track of who’s been told.
As we’ve just run through, you’ll need to immediately tell your loved one’s GP, their local registry office and a funeral director about the death.
You’ll also need to tell:
- Medical carers (remember to cancel any medical appointments, too)
- Any care agencies, such as social services
- Their employer or place of education.
Who to tell next
Once you’ve let these people know, give yourself some time before moving on to the next task.
It might be you move onto this step while you’re arranging the funeral, or leave it until afterwards.
Below, we’ve listed the people and organisations you’ll need to tell in the weeks following the death.
You can inform several government departments of your loved one’s death in one go using Tell Us Once.
This is a free service offered at registry offices across most areas of England, Wales and Scotland.
If Tell Us Once isn’t available, you’ll need to contact these government departments directly:
- HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC)
- Department for Work and Pensions for state pension and benefits. They can also check if you’re eligible for help with funeral costs or other benefits. (Call the DWP Bereavement Service on 0345 606 0265, textphone: 0345 606 0285, Welsh: 0345 606 0275, Welsh textphone: 0345 606 0295)
- Passport Office (HMPO) to cancel a passport
- Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) to cancel a driving license, car tax or registration document.
- The local council for council tax, electoral register, some housing benefits, bus pass, blue badge and library membership
- Public sector or armed forces pension schemes, if applicable
It’s important to let banks and other financial providers know when someone has died, to help prevent fraud.
Make current accounts and life insurance the first priority.
While not everything on the list below may be relevant to your loved one, it’s always best to check:
- Their bank
- Life insurance providers
- Their building society
- Investment providers (did they have shares or ISAs?)
- National Savings & Investments (NS&I)
- Other insurance (medical, travel, car etc.)
- Loans/hire purchases
- Credit cards/store cards
How you settle these will depend on whether or not your loved one had a will. If your loved one did not have a will you can find more information in our article on dying without a will.
Accounts solely in your loved one’s name will be frozen. The other account holder usually still has access to joint accounts.
Property and bills
If your loved one was the main account holder for any property or utility accounts, you’ll need to inform each company of the death.
Some companies have bereavement teams trained to provide the right support, so it’s worth asking to speak to them.
Have your loved one’s address and account numbers to hand when you contact the following:
- Mortgage provider or landlord
- Buildings and contents insurance provider
- Mobile phone provider (if they had a contract)
- Electric, gas and water companies
- Telephone and internet provider
- TV licensing
- TV companies, e.g. Sky, Virgin, Netflix
Who can wait
There may be lots of people and organisations who’ll need to know about the death. But you don’t have to tell them all right away.
Once you’ve got the most important ones sorted, you can cancel any remaining payments, memberships and accounts over the following weeks.
Memberships and regular payments
When you get the chance, cancel the following:
- Charity dontations
- Club memberships
- Magazine subscriptions
Services and acquaintances
When you have time, tell the services and people your loved one dealt with regularly (or ask someone else to do this for you):
- Hair dresser
- Social group
Online accounts and social media
You or another family member will need to close or memorialise your loved one’s social media and online accounts. These might include:
For more help, read our step-by-step guide on how to manage someone’s online accounts after they die.
Arrange the funeral
Arranging a funeral can be challenging at such an emotional time. But it can also be a great way to say goodbye to your loved one.
You can also download our funeral arrangements checklist to help you keep things organised.
Did your loved ones leave instructions?
First, check if your loved one shared their funeral wishes before they died. They may have recorded them in:
- Their Will
- Funeral plan documents
- A funeral wishes statement
- Instructions left with a funeral director
Decide if you need a funeral director
If your loved one didn’t specify a funeral director, you can find one at the National Association of Funeral Directors.
Here’s how a funeral director can help:
- Collection and care of the body
- Planning and overseeing proceedings
- Guidance on the choices available
- Liasing with other parties involved in the funeral
Paying for the funeral
There are a few different ways to pay for a funeral:
- A funeral plan
- The money claimed from a life insurance policy
- Money from your loved one's estate, such as savings
- Your own funds
- A relative or friend’s money.
If your loved one didn’t have any money put aside, or if their provisions aren’t enough for the whole funeral, you may find yourself having to cover some or all of the cost.
Don’t worry – if you find yourself in this situation, there are ways to get financial help. We’ve listed some of them below.
SunLife claims: If your loved one had a SunLife Guaranteed Over 50 Plan or SunLife Guaranteed Funeral Plan, call free on 0800 008 6060 to start your claim. Lines are open Monday to Friday, 8am to 8pm.
Getting help with funeral costs
If you’re having trouble paying for the funeral, there are a few options to look into:
- Instalments - Ask your funeral director if you can pay them in affordable instalments
- Government support - If you’re on a low income, you may be eligible for a Funeral Expenses Payment
- Budgeting loan - If you’re on certain benefits, you may be eligible for a budgeting loan.
You could also speak to your loved one’s bank or building society. They might be able to settle the funeral bill from their account.
There are also charities that may be able to help, like The Bereavement Trust.
Read our full guide to getting help with funeral costs.
Settle the estate
Trying to settle your loved one’s estate can be overwhelming. To help, we’ve made this printable estate administration and probate checklist, so you can tick things off when they’re done.
Find the will
If your loved one had a Will, it could be stored for safekeeping in a variety of places, including:
- Their home
- With their solicitor
- At a bank
- With the Probate Registry.
If there's a Will and you’re named as the executor, you’ll need to settle the estate. If someone else is named as the executor, let them know as soon as possible.
If there's no Will, your loved one's next of kin will need to apply to the court to act as the Administrator. The law decides who will inherit the estate, according to the rules of inestacy. You can find out more about ineastacy in our article on dying without a will.
Do you need a solicitor?
Managing your loved one’s estate can be time consuming, but isn’t always complicated. You might choose to do it yourself.
A solicitor can be a big help if:
- The estate is ‘insolvent’ (there isn’t enough money to clear any debts)
- Your loved one’s affairs are complex e.g. business, agricultural property or overseas
- There are family trusts or large gifts to children under 18
- Family relationships are complicated
- There are disputes over the distribution of the estate
- The Will is unclear or badly written
- You don’t have the expertise or time to manage the whole process yourself.
If this is the case, find a solicitor near you.
Do you need to apply for Probate?
Probate is the process of managing someone’s estate after they’ve died, including their money, property and possessions.
If there’s a Will
If you’re named as executor in your loved one’s Will, you’ll have to apply to the court for a Grant of Probate. This will give you the legal right to settle your loved one’s estate.
If no-one is named in the Will, or the person named can’t or won’t act as executor, anyone who is over 18 and named in the Will to inherit some of the estate can apply.
If there’s no Will
If your loved one didn’t leave a Will and you want to settle their estate, you’ll have to apply to the court for a grant of Letters of Administration.
This will name you as the Administrator, giving you the legal right to manage their estate.
When don’t you need probate?
You may not need a Grant of Probate if the estate:
- Is valued at less than £5,000
- Passes to your loved one’s surviving partner
- Doesn’t include land, property or shares.
How to get a Grant of Probate or Letters of Administration
There are a few ways you can apply:
- A solicitor can apply on your behalf
- You can download the forms at GOV.uk
- Or you can call the Probate and Inheritance Tax helpline on 0300 123107.
Managing the estate
Once the Grant of Probate or Letters of Administration has been issued, you’ll need to:
- Value the estate - First, send a copy of the Grant of Probate/Letter of Administration to organisations that hold your loved one’s assets (e.g. their bank) so they can be transferred. Then you’ll have to collect their assets and value any ‘gifts’ that your loved one gave away. The gov.uk site has a helpful guide for valuing estates.
- Pay off any inheritance tax (IHT)
- Pay off any bills and debts your loved one had - There is a defined order of importance for debts that you'll need to stick to.
- Repay overpayments - For a short time after someone dies, money such as pensions and benefits may continue to be paid to their accounts. You’ll need to make sure these are repaid.
- Recover any payments owed to your loved one
- Prepare the estate account - This is a record of what came in, what was paid out and what happened to the rest
- Distribute the estate to the people entitled to it - This will include any money, property or possessions your loved one left behind.
Extra resources and support
It’s completely normal to feel like you need help and support when a love one has died.
There are lots of charities and organisations who can help you – both with the practical side of things, and the emotional side.
Bereavement counselling - Ask your GP to refer you for bereavement counselling in your area. It lets you explore your feelings with someone who’s objective and not emotionally attached.
Online communities such as Muchloved, Marie Curie and Macmillan - These give you the chance to discuss what you’re going through with others in a similar situation. Even if you don’t feel ready to contribute to discussions immediately, reading other people’s experiences can help.
Support groups - Sometimes it helps to discuss what you’re going through face-to-face with others in a similar situation. Cruse Bereavement Care can help you find a group in your area.
Where to find specialist support
Bereavement UK - Bereavement advice and self-help counselling
Samaritans - Talk to someone in confidence 24/7 by calling 116 123
Compassionate Friends - Parents who have been bereaved offer support to other bereaved parents and their families
Winston's Wish - A childhood bereavement charity, offering support and guidance to bereaved children and families
Child Bereavement UK - Support for parents who have lost a child
The British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy and the Counselling Directory - Find counsellors and therapists near you.