There are 2 things you must do in the first few days after someone dies:
- Get a medical certificate from a GP or hospital doctor. You’ll need this to register the death.
2. Register the death within 5 days (8 days in Scotland). You’ll then get the documents you need for the funeral.
Your next steps will depend on where the person died.
If the death occured in hospital or a care home
If the death occurs in hospital, the hospital or care staff will contact the person named by the deceased as the next of kin. They will also arrange for the nearest relative to collect the deceased person’s belongings.
The hospital mortuary will keep the body until the executor (a personal representative of the deceased) makes arrangements for it to be taken away. You may also want to inform the deceased’s minister of religion, or see the hospital chaplain.
Before a death can be registered, a doctor will need to issue a medical certificate giving the cause of death.
In hospital, the hospital doctor will give you:
– The certificate in a sealed envelope addressed to the Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages
– A notice explaining how to register the death
If the cause of death is not clear the coroner will carry out an invesitgation before issuing a death certificate.
There is no charge to register a death or for the death certificate.
If the person has not been seen by a hospital doctor, their GP may be able to issue a death certificate instead. Where cremation is to take place, a second doctor will be needed to sign a certificate to say that the body has been examined. There will be a charge for this.
If the death occured at home
When someone dies at home, the first step is to call the GP as soon as possible. The GP will normally visit the house and, if the death was expected, issue a certificate giving the cause of death.
If the person did not have a GP or you do not know the name of the GP, you should call an ambulance instead.
A doctor is not allowed to issue a certificate if they are unsure about the cause of death. The death must instead be reported to a coroner and the body will be taken to a hospital mortuary, where a post mortem may need to take place.
If the death occured abroad
If a death takes place abroad it must be registered according to the law of that country. The death should also be reported to the British Consul, who may be able to arrange for the death to be registered in the UK as well.
Returning a body to the UK is expensive but the cost may be covered by any travel insurance taken out by the person. If the death was on a package holiday the tour operator should be able to help with arrangements.
When a body is returned to the UK, the Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages for the district where the funeral is to take place must be told and will need to issue a certificate before burial can take place. If cremation is to take place, the Home Office also needs to give permission.
Registering the death
The registration of the death is the formal record of the death. It is done by the Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages at the Register Office.
Most Registry Offices require you to contact them first to make an appointment.
When someone dies at home, the death should be registered at the register office in the district where they lived.
If the death took place in hospital or in a care home it must be registered at the register office for the district in which the hospital or care home is situated. The hospital administrator can do this if there are no relatives.
A death should be registered within five days, but the deadline can be extended for another nine days if the registrar is told that a medical certificate has been issued. If a post mortem is being carried out, you can’t register the death until the coroner’s investigations are finished.
It is a criminal offence not to register a death.
The death should be registered in person 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 none of these options are possible, contact the Register Office for advice.
You must take the medical death certificate with you, as the death can’t be registered until the registrar has seen this. If possible, you should also take the person’s NHS medical card and birth and marriage certificates.
The registrar will ask you for the following information:
- The date and place of death
- The full name of the person and their last address
- The person’s date and place of birth
- The person’s occupation and, in the case of a woman who was married or widowed, the 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
When you have registered the death, the registrar will give you a certificate for you to give to the funeral director or whoever is arranging the funeral. This allows the burial or cremation to go ahead.
The registrar will also give you a form to send to the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), to allow them to deal with the person’s pension and benefits.
The death certificate is a copy of the entry made by the registrar in the death register. You may need several copies of the certificate as it is needed to deal with money or property left by the person, including dealing with the Will.