How To Know What To Do after a Death - Including Arranging a Funeral
The death of a relative or friend can be a difficult time. You may feel a range of mixed emotions; numbness, anger, grief, possibly even relief and guilt. In the short term there will be practical decisions that need to be taken, this information sheet aims to highlight areas that you may need to think about and who can provide further help with these.
You may find that your reactions or your memory for detail are not as they normally are. Try to keep a list of the people that you need to contact, together with any notes, in one folder so that you can refer to it when you need to.
When a friend or relative dies, somebody has to arrange the funeral and deal with their estate (the money, property and possessions owned by the person who has died). This may be a partner, another member of the family, family friend or whoever is appointed as the Executor (male) or an Executix (female) of a valid will or a codicil to a will. This person may also be called a Personal Representative. If no valid will exists, or the will does not name an executor, then the Personal Representative is called an Administrator (male) or Administratrix (female).
It is not always necessary to engage a firm of solicitors unless the will specifies this. However it is important that the Personal Representative is clear about what formalities are involved as there are certain legal procedures that the Personal Representative must follow. If you are at all unsure or queries arise, legal advice should be obtained.
REPORTING THE DEATH
If the death was expected, contact the doctor who attended the deceased in their final illness. If the doctor can certify the cause of death they will give you the following:
- Medical Certificate stating the cause of death (this is free of charge and will be in a sealed envelope addressed to the registrar).
- Formal Notice that states that the doctor has signed the Medical Certificate and tells you how to get the death registered.
You may also wish to contact the deceased's minister of religion. Arrangements for the funeral can be made through a funeral director.
If the death occurs in hospital
If the death occurs in hospital, the hospital staff will contact the person named as next of kin. This may be, but need not be, a relative. The body will be kept in the hospital mortuary until the executor can arrange for it to be taken away.
Most funeral directors have a chapel of rest in which the deceased will be held pending the funeral, and following instructions from the executor will collect the body from the hospital. Hospital staff will arrange for relatives or friends to collect the deceased's possessions from the hospital. You may, if you wish request to see the hospital chaplain.
If the death is sudden or unexpected, or you discover a body, you should contact the following people:
- The family doctor (if known).
- The deceased's nearest relative
- The deceased's minister of religion
- The police, who will help find the people listed above if necessary.
If there is any reason to suspect that the death was not due to natural causes, do not touch or remove anything from the room. The death may be referred to the Coroner.
If the cause of death is quite clear the doctor will give the next of kin a Medical Certificate and a Formal Notice that the Medical Certificate has been signed.
A post-mortem is a medical examination of the body to find out more about the actual cause of death and should not delay the funeral.
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 ask the family for permission to carry out a post-mortem examination.
Reporting a death to the Coroner
The Coroner is a doctor or lawyer responsible for investigating a death in any of the following circumstances:
- An accident or injury
- An industrial disease
- Death occurring during a surgical operation
- Death occurring before recovery from an anaesthetic
- If the cause of death is unknown
- The death was sudden and unexplained
In these circumstances the Coroner may be the only person who can certify the cause of death, and this may delay the funeral. The doctor will write on the Formal Notice that the death has been referred to the Coroner. If the doctor treating the deceased person prior to their death had not seen the deceased either straight after death or within 14 days prior to their death, the death must be reported to the Coroner.
If you want further information about a death reported to the Coroner, contact the Coroner's Office. The address is available from the police station or if the death occurred in hospital, from the hospital administrative staff dealing with deaths.
REGISTERING THE DEATH
A death needs to be registered at the register office of the area in which the death occurred, as soon as possible. If this is a different area to the area in which you live, you can use your local office and they will forward the information on. Legally the Registrar must be notified within 5 days of a death, although this period can be extended in certain circumstances such as the Coroner being involved. Registration of a death is free of charge however you will need a number of copies of the death certificate. A death certificate costs approx £3.50, an archived certificate costs approx £7.
The person registering the death is usually the closest relative. If this is not possible then someone who was present at the death or who is instructing the funeral director may be able to register instead. The executor is not automatically entitled to register a death further information on the persons able to register is available from any Register Office.
What do I need to take with me?
The Registrar will need to see:
- The Medical Certificate of Cause of Death issued by the doctor, unless the death has been referred to the Coroner, in which case the Coroner's office will advise you
- The medical card of the deceased person
- You will need to inform the Registrar of:
- The full name, surname, and if applicable maiden name of the deceased person.
- If the deceased was a married woman or a widow, the Registrar will need to know the name and occupation of her husband.
- Date and place of birth (this information will be on their birth certificate).
- Deceased last occupation and usual address.
- Details of any state benefits being claimed by the deceased person.
You will then be given a death certificate that allows you to proceed with arrangements for either burial or cremation. Once again separate arrangements apply where the death has been referred to the Coroner. You will also be given a certificate to use for Social Security purposes.
Why do I need Certified Copies of the Death Certificate?
Certified copies of the death certificate are required to legally prove that the person has died. Some of the purposes for which you may need a certified copy include:
- Probate or letters of administration.
- Closing bank or building society accounts.
- Insurance policies covering the deceased and private company pension schemes.
- Dealing with stocks and shares or property owned by the deceased.
- Premium bonds or other National Savings.
There may also be other purposes for which a certified copy of the death certificate may also be necessary.
ARRANGING A FUNERAL
There are various separate charges that make up the cost of a funeral and an undertaker should set these out in writing in advance. This fact sheet contains details of some of the basic costs but they should only be used as a guide. On top of the 'basic' cost of a funeral, which usually includes a coffin, hearse, car, removal of the body, and funeral directors fees, you can also expect to pay crematorium fees, doctor's fees, minister's fees, and organist fees.
Do not make final funeral arrangements until you are sure that the death does not have to be reported to the Coroner, as this may affect the date that the funeral is able to take place.
The Funeral Director
Check that the Funeral Directors are members of The National Association of Funeral Directors as this organisation has a code of practice for funeral directors that it encourages its members to follow and display on their premises. The Association also operates a complaints procedure. Members of this Association must offer a basic funeral if asked to do so. A basic funeral covers the following items:
- The Funeral Directors services
- Provision of all necessary staff
- A coffin suitable for the purpose of cremation or burial
- Transfer of the deceased from the place of death during normal working hours
- Care of the deceased prior to the funeral
- Provision of a hearse to the nearest crematorium or cemetery
- Attend to all necessary paperwork and arrangements.
Any work done outside normal working hours will mean extra costs. If not all these services are required the bill should be reduced accordingly. There should be a price list for all the different types of coffin, casket, and services provided. The Funeral Director should provide a written estimate of all the costs involved including the extra costs of embalming, flowers, cremation and cemetery fees, doctors and clergy fees. For further information contact:
The National Association of Funeral Directors
618 Warwick Road
Tel: 0845 230 1343 (lo-call rate for UK callers), or 0121 711 1343 (for callers from overseas).
Paying for the funeral
The person who makes the arrangements with a funeral director may be considered to have entered into a binding agreement or contract, and therefore be responsible for the cost, even if they are not related to the deceased. Therefore before making arrangements for a funeral it is wise to check whether the person had a funeral plan. If they did the funeral may already be paid for. It is also a good idea to find out if there is a will before arranging the funeral as it may detail any preferences regarding the ceremony, or requests for their body to be given for medical research, or organ donation. Funeral directors fully accept that relatives will ask for quotations before they decide which company to actually conduct the funeral.
Help with paying for a funeral
There are grants available for those who are arranging a funeral who don't have enough money to cover the cost. The rules around who can receive a grant and the amounts available are quite strict so it is advisable to check your eligibility before arranging the funeral.
If you are the person responsible for making the arrangements and are receiving any of the following benefits you may be able to get a payment from the Social Fund Funeral Payment to help pay for the funeral:
- Income Support
- Income-based Jobseeker's Allowance
- Pension Credit
- Working Tax Credit where a disabled worker is included in the assessment
- Child Tax Credit at a higher rate than the family element
- Housing Benefit
- Council Tax Benefit
This will usually mean that you are the partner of the deceased (partner means you were married to or lived with the deceased as if you were married to them, or a civil partner of the deceased or you lived with as if you are civil partners). Or if they had no partner, you were a close relative or close friend of the deceased. You will also be asked about the circumstances of any parent, son or daughter of the deceased, and other close relatives. Where there is no surviving partner a funeral payment will not be awarded if there is an immediate family member, (parent, son or daughter) who is not receiving a qualifying benefit.
Where there is no surviving partner and no immediate family member, it is possible that when applying for a grant the circumstances of a close relative or close family friend of the deceased will be taken into account, along with the nature and extent of the contact this person had with the deceased.
For further advice contact your local Job Centre Plus office or call 0845 6088616.
Paying in advance with a Funeral Plan
A Funeral Plan allows for a funeral to be planned and paid for at current prices in advance through a lump sum or monthly payments. At the time of death, all funeral expenses should be paid for through the scheme, however much they may have increased over time. All Funeral Plan schemes should be thoroughly checked before signing any agreements or contracts.
Issues to consider when looking at a Funeral Plan
- Whether you have a choice of funeral director
- Which items are covered by the price you are being quoted. In particular ask about doctor's fees, minister's fees, cremation service fee, the cost of a burial plot, and whether these are included in the guaranteed price. If they are not ask what the likely costs of these disbursements are likely to be.
- Whether the funds are held in trust, with independent trustees, and trust deeds and names of trustees published.
The value of a Funeral Plan will not be taken into account when assessing savings for Pension Credit, Housing and Council Tax Benefit purposes if you or your partner is aged 60 or over and not claiming Income Support or Income-based Jobseekers Allowance.
The duty of local authorities and National Health Service (NHS) to pay for certain funerals
There are certain circumstances where the local authority or the NHS has a duty to organise and pay for a funeral. An example of these circumstances would be where the person who has died has no relatives or friends to make the arrangements, and has not made advance plans.
Local authorities have a duty to arrange the cremation or burial of any person who has died in their area where it appears that no other party is able make suitable arrangements. The local authority will make the necessary enquiries to ascertain whether the funeral can be paid for by a relative. Also if the deceased leaves any estate, the local authority will claim its expenses from the deceased legal representative.
The NHS (National Health Service)
If a person dies in hospital, and there are no relatives or friends to arrange and pay for the funeral, the NHS will meet the cost. Any questions about the arrangements should be made to the hospital social worker. Technically the NHS has responsibility, but in practice the funeral arrangements are made by the staff of the hospital where the patient died.
The Bereavement Register
Tel: 0870 600 7222
Fax: 0870 400 5644
A service specifically designed to remove from databases and mailing files the names and addresses of people who have died. You can register by accessing the website.
Lesbian & Gay Bereavement Project
c/o THT Counselling
111 - 117 Lancaster Road
Telephone: 020 7403 5969
Offers support and advice to lesbians and gay men bereaved by the death of a same-sex life partner.
National Association of Widows
48 Queens Road
Tel: 024 7663 4848
Information and support for those who have been widowed. Provide a supportive social life and friendship network via local branches.
The Natural Death Centre
12a Blackstock Mews
Tel: 0871 288 2098
Provide information about woodland burials, cardboard coffins, living wills, funeral wishes form, and do-it-yourself funerals.