When someone dies, there are some things that must be done (whether by you or somebody else) and some things that might be considered.
- Notify the doctor to verify the death
- Make funeral arrangements
- Register the death to issue death certificate
- Check – organ donation; body donation; specific instructions
You need to notify the doctor to verify the death.
If you are in hospital or a hospice the staff will be able to help with information and advice.
If you are at home, the GP should be informed about the death within a few hours. The GP or community nurse will come to verify the death. The GP will complete a medical certificate of the cause of death. You will also be given a document called ‘Notice to informant’ which explains how to register a death. If you have called an out of hours doctor, the documents needed will be completed by the regular GP as soon as possible.
The doctor who signs the death certificate needs to have seen the patient within the previous two weeks otherwise the death has to be reported to the coroner.The doctor who verifies the death will inform the coroner if it is thought that a post-mortem examination is needed in order to establish the cause of death. A post-mortem is not usually needed, especially in the case of an expected death.In the case of a post mortem, the body will be removed to a hospital mortuary. The medical certificate of the cause of death will be issued after the post-mortem has taken place.
The medical certificate of the cause of death is needed to register the death at the local registrar’s office within five days of the death. This can be delayed for up to another nine days, if the registrar is told that a medical certificate of the cause of death has been issued. A death that has been reported to the coroner can not be registered until the coroner’s investigations have been completed.
Some registry offices have an appointment system. Any person can act as the informant and take the certificate to the office, it does not need to be a relative. The registrar will issue the death certificate.
It is a criminal offence not to register a death.
TIP: It may be useful to have several copies of the death certificate as an original copy will often be needed by institutions to update their records. Having several copies will speed up the process by being able to contact more than one institution at a time.
Also ask about the ‘Tell Us Once’ service and website. This a service that automatically informs others such as government pension offices, local hospitals social services of the death and reduces the number of officials that an executor or family need to inform.
Once the death is verified (by a doctor, not the same as registering the death) you can contact a funeral director (undertaker). They often provide a 24-hour service and can help you with any decisions that need to be made.
They can help you decide if you want to keep the body at home or have them care for the body. It is sometimes possible for friends or relatives to help care for the body including washing and dressing, discuss this with your funeral director.
Some people wish to be embalmed. This process will be done by the funeral directors.
In general, funeral directors have a wealth of experience in a situation where we may have limited experience but may also feel emotionally drawn. They can be a point of support and knowledge and tend to be a calm voice of reason. If in doubt, ask their advice.
Planning a funeral and burial or cremation
You, or your family, can make all the arrangements yourself, if you wish. Most people choose to use a funeral director.
If the plan is for a cremation, the doctor will need to prepare some paperwork as the death must be verified by two doctors, although you are unlikely to be involved in this administration.
It is not a legal requirement for a religious leader to conduct any service. A funeral, religious or spiritual service can be held anywhere you want. For example in a home or at a favourite place.
There is no set requirement for funerals and the most important thing to remember is that it needs to feel appropriate for as many people attending as possible. For possible inspiration, read Emma Freud’s description in ‘Personal stories’ of arrangements that she made for members of her family.
The Natural Death Society aims to support those dying at home and their carers and to help with inexpensive family organised and environmentally-friendly funerals.
What to do when someone dies by Paul Harris Which? Books 2000
The Government has advice for what to do after death in England & Wales. See advice here or leaflets should be available from most post offices and job centres.
There is a guide to grants for individuals in need – copies are often available in libraries.
A recent study from the University of Bath (January 2014) has found that over the last decade the cost of a typical funeral has risen by 80%. This is made up of the price of burial or cremation, memorials, catering and administration. It has all risen above the rate of inflation. The Social Fund Funeral Payment is intended to help families on low incomes.