Losing a loved one can be simply devastating. It turns your life upside down – whether you were ‘prepared’ for it, or if it came completely out of the blue.
At times like this, we often tend to turn to family and friends for comfort and support. When someone dies however, there are many practical matters that we must attend to.
Many people are unfamiliar with what they need to do, especially at such an emotional and distressing time. So, we’ve pulled together a simple bereavement guide with practical information of what to do if you have recently lost a loved one.
Further information can be found at the National Bereavement Service.
Registering a death
When a person dies, their death must be registered by the Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages. If they died at home, the death should be registered at the register office for the district where they lived. If they passed away in hospital or in a nursing home, it needs to be registered at the register office for the region in which the hospital or home is located.
This should be done within five days wherever possible. It is a criminal office not to register a death. Be aware, that any post-mortem or coroner’s inquests can delay the death registration.
The death should be registered by one of the following (in order of priority):
- A relative who was present at the death
- A relative present during the person’s last illness
- A relative living in the district where the death took place
- Anyone else present at the death
- An owner or occupier of the building where the death took place and who was aware of the death
- The person arranging the funeral (but not the funeral director).
If possible, you should take the person’s NHS medical card and birth and marriage certificates. The registrar will need the following information:
- Date and place of death
- Full name of the person (including maiden name) and their last address
- Date and place of birth
- Occupation and, in the case of a woman who was married or widowed, full name and occupation of her husband
- If the person was still married, the date of birth of their husband or wife
- Whether the person was receiving a pension or other social security benefits.
The registration service is free of charge, although there is a charge for buying copies of the death certificate.
Important Notice: COVID-19 and death registrations: The process for registering a death has temporarily changed due to the current Coronavirus pandemic. The changes are a result of the Government’s legislative changes to support the fight against Coronavirus and will applied across the country.
It is no longer possible to book an appointment to register a death in person; instead, this will now be carried out by telephone.
The process begins by making an online application (if possible) at the local registrars. Go to www.gov.uk. A registrar will then contact you by telephone to complete the process. You can tell government organisations about a death through the Tell Us Once service if the register office offers it.
After the registration entry is complete, the registrar will send by email a certificate for burial or cremation (form 9) a green form to the funeral director or the crematorium. If the death has been referred to the Coroner and the funeral is a cremation, the equivalent form will be sent by the Coroner to your funeral director.
Arranging the Funeral
Before you start to arrange the funeral, it is a good idea to see if the deceased has left any instructions about the type of funeral or burial they wanted, or if they had any specific requests about things such as music or flowers. You may also wish to check if any money has been set aside to help pay the funeral costs.
Most funerals are arranged by a funeral director. It is possible to arrange a funeral yourself; The Natural Death Centre or Cemeteries and Crematorium department of your local authority can offer help and guidance.
It is the responsibility of the person organising the funeral to pay for the service. The funeral director will be able to provide you with a price list for their services. A basic service is likely to include:
- A plain, lined coffin
- Transporting the body of the person who has died to the funeral director’s premises
- The care of the person who has died until the funeral including washing and dressing and laying the body out, but not embalming
- Taking the body to the crematorium or burial ground
- Providing the necessary people to carry the coffin (pall bearers)
- Making all other necessary arrangements (e.g. paperwork).
The funeral director will also be able to provide additional services such as flowers or extra cars, but you may want to arrange this yourself separately.
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Informing the right people
There are many people you will need to inform after receiving the death certificate including:
- HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) for their taxes
- Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) for their State Pension and benefits
- Passport Office to cancel their passport
- Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) to cancel their driving license, car tax and car registration documents
- Local council for their Council Tax, electoral register and other housing benefits
- Public sector or armed forces pension scheme for their pension
- Employers / business partners / customers or clients
- Banks, building societies and insurance companies
- Credit card and store card providers
- Utility companies
- Mobile phone, internet and TV providers.
Alternatively, you can use the Tell Us Once Service which lets you report a death to most government organisations in one go. This service is arranged by the registrar when you register the death (as mentioned above).
Most employers will have a policy regarding compassionate leave. This can typically be found in your contract or employee handbook. Some employers have a paid compassionate bereavement scheme which will allow you a set amount of time off. If your employer doesn’t have such a scheme, it is at their discretion as to how much, if any, paid leave you can receive.
All employees are entitled to ‘time off for dependants’ (e.g. a spouse, partner, child, parent or anyone living in your home). This is a ‘reasonable’ amount of unpaid time off to deal with unforeseen matters and emergencies involving a dependant, including leave to arrange or attend a funeral. Reasonable is not defined and will depend on the situation.
Wills, probate, and inheritance
Please note, the information provided here is a very brief overview to a complex subject. It is therefore a good idea to speak directly with the National Bereavement Service who can provide guidance specific to your personal circumstances.
Probate is the process of proving the Will is valid and dealing with the estate of the person who died. It is also used for when there is no Will and the estate is administered according to the Rules of Intestacy. You may need to apply for a Grant of Representation via the Probate Registry when dealing with the estate.
If there is a Will, it is the executor who deals with the administration of the estate. You will need to locate the Will. When doing this, you need to ensure that the Will is not altered in any way, even a small thing such as re-stapling a Will can cause problems.
You will also need to gather all the documents which confirm any assets that the deceased had. This can include savings accounts, life insurance policies, shares, pensions and premium bonds. It is also a good idea to make a list of all of the deceased’s personal possessions such as jewellery which may need to be valued and given to the relevant beneficiaries. You should also locate all the documents which confirm any liabilities that the deceased had such as mortgages, loans, credit card debts and utility bills.
If probate is required and there is a Will, you need to apply for a Grant of Probate. If there is not a Will, an Administrator needs to be appointed and Letters of Administration should be applied for.
A Grant of Representation is a legal document which is proof that you are entitled to handle the deceased’s estate. You will need to complete forms and return them to the HMRC so that they can work out whether any inheritance tax is payable. If inheritance tax is payable, it is the personal responsible for dealing with the estate to pay this tax from the estate.
You will then need to identify and validate the entitlement of beneficiaries. These will be set out in the Will or, if there is no Will, under intestacy laws. Once all debts are paid you can distribute the estate to entitled beneficiaries.
The National Bereavement Service
The National Bereavement Service can help you through the whole process in more detail, offering practical support and guidance on legal matters such as:
- Registering the death
- Arranging the funeral
- Who should be contacted
- Compassionate leave
- Locating a Will
- Benefit guidance
- Wills, probate and inheritance
The National Bereavement Service is a free and confidential service. Every situation is individual so a team of trained bereavement advisors are available to talk to you about your circumstances, answering any questions or queries you may have.
Please note, this service provides practical support for those who have lost a loved one. If you are also looking for emotional support, they will be able to recommend appropriate services to help you with this and any other useful contacts.
National Bereavement Service
0800 023 5298
0845 790 9090
0800 282 986 (0808 8006019 free for main network mobiles)
Government Services and Information
0800 0235 298
Money Advice Service