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If a family member or friend dies at home and you’re the first to find them it can be difficult to think straight. Knowing what to do next may help you cope. We’ve provided practical steps to take below.

Do you need immediate assistance?

If you’ve just found someone who’s died or may be injured and in need of help call 999 straight away. Explain your situation and the operator will tell you what to do next.

What to do when someone dies at home and it’s expected

Even when someone dies at home and it’s expected you may still feel unsure what to do next. If they’ve had an illness for a while and they pass away at home you may have some info from their care team about what to do. Follow this guidance if you can.

If you don’t have info from the care team about what to do if someone dies at home follow these steps instead:

Are you on your own?

Call a nearby relative or friend and see if they can come over for support.

Contact the person’s doctor or district nurse to tell them the person has died.

They’ll come as soon as they can to confirm the death and issue a medical certificate.

What if the person dies at night?

If the person dies at night when the doctor’s surgery is closed contact the out-of-hours doctor. Not sure how to get hold of them? Call the NHS helpline on 111 for advice. They’ll help you contact a doctor who can come to the house to confirm the death. But only a doctor who’s seen the person in the last two weeks can issue the medical certificate. So you may still need to call the person’s usual doctor in the morning.

Call their doctor in the morning.

When the doctor’s surgery opens you’ll need to call them to let them know what’s happened. They’ll issue the death certificate for you. This might take a few days so make sure you ask how long you should wait before going to the surgery to collect the death certificate. You’ll also get a “notice to informant” form. This will tell you how to register the person’s death.

Find a funeral director (if that’s what you’d like).

Once a doctor or district nurse confirms the death you can find a funeral director and arrange for them to collect the body. You may not want to do this straight away if you or other family members would like to spend some time with the person. You could ask the funeral director for advice on how long to keep the person at home before they’re collected and taken to a chapel of rest.

What to do if someone dies at home unexpectedly

When someone dies at home unexpectedly and you’re the first person to find them you should:

Call 999 straight away.

Tell the operator what’s happened and they’ll tell you what to do next. Depending on the situation they may send police as well as an ambulance. The paramedics will examine the person and confirm the cause of death if they can.

If you’re on your own:

Call a relative or friend who lives nearby for support. If that’s not possible call on a neighbour for help.

What if the cause of death isn’t clear?

The paramedics will call a coroner. Most deaths that happen at home are natural but the cause of death may not be clear to the paramedics. The coroner will decide whether a post-mortem is needed and make arrangements for the examination to take place. They’ll figure out the cause of death so that you can get a death certificate and register the death. Getting a death certificate will take longer if a coroner is involved. This may delay funeral arrangements because you must register a death before the funeral can take place.

What if the police get involved?

What do you do when someone dies at home under suspicious circumstances? If you’re not sure if the person’s been involved in an accident or has been the victim of a crime the police may need to investigate. When you find the person who’s died try not to move anything around them unless you must to help them. Once the police arrive they’ll be able to tell you what will happen next and whether you’ll need to answer any questions they have.

Next steps to take when someone dies at home

Whether it’s expected or not, when someone dies at home it helps to have some straightforward advice on what comes next. Use the links below to help you understand what to do and when.

Once you’ve got a death certificate, you’ll need to:

  • Register the death
  • Arrange the funeral
  • Contact other people and organisations about the person’s death
  • Find out if the person left a will
  • Organise their finances (if you’re the person named in their will)

Don’t forget to take some time for yourself too. If you’re finding it difficult to cope with the death of a relative or friend you can get free counselling services from Cruse Bereavement Support. Call them on 0808 808 1677 or speak to one of their counsellors online.

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash