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What to Do When Someone Dies: A legal Guide

Losing a member of the family or a close friend is traumatic. It can leave you wondering how you will cope without them and what you need to do next.  This short guide is designed to offer some practical tips on the immediate steps that need to be considered following the death of a loved one. 

 

REGISTERING THE DEATH.

If the death has not been reported to the Coroner, then a doctor will issue a medical certificate stating the cause of death.   The death will then need to be officially registered on the Register for Births, Deaths, Marriages and Civil Partnerships.  Registration must take place within 5 days after the date of death and takes place at the Register Office for Births, Deaths, Marriages and Civil Partnerships for the district where the Deceased passed away.  Quite often the doctor or hospital providing the medical certificate will give you the Register Office’s details, but if they do not you should contact the Local Authority or visit the Directgov website.  Most Register Offices operate an appointment system so you should telephone them before attending.

People who are entitled to register a death include a relative of the Deceased, anyone who was present at the time of  death and anyone who is responsible for organising the funeral.  If the Deceased died in hospital or in a private home (including a care home) an official from the hospital at which the Deceased died or someone representing the “occupier” of the building in which the death occurred (for instance the care home manager) can also register the death. 

You will need to take the medical certificate issued by the doctor with you.  You will also need to give the Registrar certain information about the Deceased, including their full name, any former names, date of birth, place of birth, occupation, last known address, date of death  and  place of death as well as the name and occupation of the Deceased’s spouse or civil partner.   In addition the Registrar will need to be given information about any state benefits the Deceased received.

The Registrar will record all the information relating to the Deceased’s death on the Register which you will then be asked to sign as the informant.  If you wish, they will also issue you one or more certified copies of the entry which is known as a Death Certificate.  You will have to pay for these.  The cost varies from one Local Authority to another, but you can reclaim the cost from the Estate in due course.  As the Death Certificate is copyrighted you may wish to purchase several certificates to send out when notifying organisations such as banks, building societies and life insurance companies that the Deceased has died.

The Registrar will also issue you with a Certificate for Burial or Cremation which you will need to give to the Funeral Director. 

The Registrar will ask you whether you would like to take advantage of the Tell Us Once service.  This is a service that reports the death to most government organisations in one go.  You will need to give the Registrar the Deceased’s National Insurance Number and (providing you have permission from them) the names and addresses of the Deceased’s next of kin and Executors.  Tell Us Once will then notify HM Revenue & Customs, the Department for Work & Pensions, the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency, the Passport Office and the local Council. 

 

THE DECEASED’S PROPERTY.

If the Deceased lived alone in their own home, then someone will need to visit the home as soon as possible following the Deceased’s death.

If the Deceased had any pets then urgent arrangements will need to be made for their temporary or permanent care by family, friends or an animal rescue charity.

Security measures should be taken to ensure that the home and its contents are safe and secure   All windows and doors should be locked.  Deliveries of milk and papers should be cancelled and any valuable items should be moved to a secure place if they are not adequately insured.  However if you are not an Executor, then you should consult with the Executors before taking this step because so far as possible everything in the home of the Deceased should remain there until it can be valued.  

You may wish to consider fitting light timer switches so that it looks like the property is still occupied.  You should also double check the heating and consider whether it needs to be altered.  In the cold winter months it would be sensible to ensure the property is still heated to avoid problems with burst pipes.  It would also be sensible to take meter readings of the gas, electricity and water at an early stage. 

There may be a helpful neighbour who would be prepared to keep an eye on the property for you and alert you to any problems that may arise.

You should make it a priority to look for any paperwork relating to the buildings and contents insurance and contact the insurers.  The insurers should be notified as soon as possible that the Deceased has died to ensure that adequate buildings and contents insurance cover remains in place.  It is sensible to make a note of the time and date that you notified the insurers as well as the name of the person you spoke to.  If you are not an Executor then this information should be passed to the Executor as soon as possible.   The Executor will need to ensure in due course that any new conditions imposed by the insurers as a result of the property being unoccupied are complied with.   

 

LOCATING A WILL.

It would be sensible to locate the deceased’s Will as soon as possible because it will identify who the Executors are.  The Executors are the people or person the Deceased has appointed to deal with the administration of their Estate.  The Executors should therefore be informed as soon as possible. 

The Will may also set out the Deceased’s funeral wishes.   

A Solicitor who draws up a Will for a client will often store the original Will at their offices and send a photocopy to the client with advice that they keep it with their important papers at home. 

If you cannot find a Will in the Deceased’s home, you should ask their Bank or Solicitor if they are storing it.  If you do not know who their Solicitor is, you could try calling round all the Solicitor firms in the area where the Deceased lived.  Solicitors can help and advise on searches for the Will and also on what happens if the Deceased died without making a Will.  If a firm of Solicitors is holding a Will they can only let you know who the Executors are and the Deceased’s funeral wishes.  They will not provide you with a copy of the Will unless you are an Executor and they have seen the Death Certificate.

 

ORGAN DONATION AND MEDICAL RESEARCH.

The Deceased may have wanted their organs to be donated for transplant.  Donors normally make their request for organ donation by registering with the NHS Organ Donor Register and may carry a card.  Donated organs must be removed within 48 hours of the death.  You will need to speak to any doctor who was looking after the Deceased at the time of their death.

If you know that the Deceased wanted to leave their body for medical research, then you will need to look for the consent form.  This may be with their important papers at home.  This form will provide the details of the relevant research institution.  You can then contact them and discuss arrangements.  You should do this before consulting a Funeral Director. 

 

ARRANGING THE FUNERAL.

It is the Executor’s duty to make the funeral arrangements.  If you are not an Executor but you know who they are, then it would be sensible for you to notify them immediately.  

It is important for you to be aware that by taking on the responsibility of making the funeral arrangements then you are also accepting the legal responsibility of paying for it.  Ordinarily, this is not a problem because the Executors will reimburse you from the Estate of the Deceased.  However there are cases of family disharmony which can cause such expenses to be disputed. 

You may already know which Funeral Director the Deceased would wish you to appoint.  If not then we would recommend appointing an independent family firm who are members of the National Association of Funeral Directors, the National Federation of Funeral Directors or the Society of Allied and Independent Funeral Directors.  The Funeral Director will want to discuss and agree all of the arrangements for the funeral and will be invaluable in guiding you through the funeral process.   You will need to give the Director the Certificate of Cremation or Burial which was issued by the Registrar when you went along to register the death.   

Quite often people will make known to their loved ones what their funeral wishes are before they die or they will stipulate their wishes in their Will or make a note of them.    Their wishes are not legally binding but usually relatives or friends will want to ensure that they are complied with.  It can be very upsetting for those arranging the funeral to later discover that the funeral was not in accordance with the Deceased’s express wishes.

 

TELLING PEOPLE ABOUT THE DEATH.

Aside from telling family and friends about the death, it is important to notify the Executors as soon as possible.  As explained you may also need to contact the Solicitors of the Deceased to ask if they have the Will and find out who the Executors are if you do not already know.  If the Deceased was employed, then their employer will need to be told too. 

Moving forward, the Executors (if there is a Will) or Administrators (if there is no Will) will have to deal with the administration of the Estate.  The next step will be for them to gather details of all the assets and liabilities of the estate.  Solicitors like ourselves are often called in to deal with this task and to apply for the grant of probate.

If you have any questions about what to do in the event of a loved one’s death then feel free to give us a call on 0800 037 1130 for FREE initial guidance.

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