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What to do when someone dies

Tim Duncan - Senior Controls Executive.

Tim Duncan

Compliance Assurance Manager

Last updated 16th February 2024

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.

information iconTip: Coming to terms with your loss and having so much to do is challenging. Have a notebook to hand or keep notes on your phone to help you stay on track.

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.

information iconTip: Did your loved one have a will or funeral plan in place? If so, they may have specified a funeral director, so it’s best to check beforehand.

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 registering 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 licence
  • Passport

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

information iconTip: Registering the death is free, but for a small fee the registry office can make copies of the death certificate for you, which could be useful later on. It’s best to ask for three or four copies.

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

information iconTip: It’s a good idea to tell your own employer about the death, especially if you need to take leave to grieve or settle your loved one’s estate.

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.

Government departments

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:

Financial organisations

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.

information iconTip: If a professional is managing probate for you, check if they will be notifying certain financial institutions, so you don’t have to.

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 donations
  • 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):

  • Dentist
  • Optician
  • Chiropodist
  • 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:

  • Google
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • WhatsApp
  • Snapchat
  • YouTube
  • LinkedIn
  • Instagram
  • Pinterest
  • Amazon
  • iTunes

For more help, read our step-by-step guide on how to manage someone’s online accounts after they die.

Postal services

You can redirect your loved ones post by contacting Royal Mail, the Bereavement Register and the Mailing Preference Service.

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.

Below is a run-through of what you may need to do when arranging the funeral. We also have lots of funeral articles to help you, including a guide on how to plan a funeral step by step.

You can also download our arranging the funeral checklist to help you keep things organised.

information iconTip: If possible, get family and friends to help you plan the funeral. Their support can make things much less overwhelming.

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

information iconTip: Did your loved one leave funeral instructions that you can’t afford? Don’t worry – just focus on what you can do with the budget you have.

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
  • Liaising with other parties involved in the funeral

If you’d rather plan things yourself, the Good Funeral Guide and the Natural Death Centre can help.

information iconTip: A funeral isn’t compulsory. You can choose to have a cremation or burial with no service at all, or opt for a memorial service or event at a later date.

Paying for the funeral

There are a few different ways to pay for a funeral:

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.

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:

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 intestacy. You can find out more about intestacy 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.

information iconTip: Legal fees can be paid for out of the estate. To keep costs down, you could do much of the administration yourself and only get legal advice at critical points in the process.

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:

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 government website 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.

Couple on rocks by the sea


Too much to take in?

Download these handy checklists to remind you of what you need to do:

Extra resources and support

It’s completely normal to feel like you need help and support when a loved 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.

Our article on how to get free bereavement support also has a list of useful resources.

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 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 Support can help you find a group in your area.

Where to find specialist support

Bereavement UK – Bereavement advice and self-help counselling

Cruse Bereavement Support or Cruse Bereavement Support Scotland – Support, counselling, education, advice and information

Samaritans – Talk to someone in confidence 24/7 by calling 116 123

The 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

The thoughts and opinions expressed in the page are those of the authors, intended to be informative, and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of SunLife. See our Terms of Use for more info.