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Knowing what to do when someone dies isn’t easy. It’s useful to get all the help you can with the paperwork, funeral arrangements, and contacting other people and companies.

Here we’ve broken down what needs to be done when someone dies. You might find it helpful to share this list with other family members or friends, so that you can work through the tasks together.

What do you do when someone dies?

Where do you start? What needs to be done when someone dies? Immediately after the death there are some practical steps you’ll need to take. And the steps you take might be different depending on where the person passed away.

Take a look at the list below to see which one applies to you. Click on the most relevant one for more guidance on what to do next.

For more general guidance on what to do after someone dies, read the practical steps to take below. 

Get a medical certificate

When someone dies a doctor or registered medical professional needs to confirm the death. Then they will issue a medical certificate of cause of death. Depending on where the person died you may need to contact a doctor to do this. Or if the person died in hospital the staff will take care of this for you. You’ll need a medical certificate to register the death. So make sure this has been taken care of before making an appointment to register the death.

Why wouldn’t the medical certificate be issued?

If the cause of death is not clear to the doctor then it may need to be dealt with by a coroner. The coroner may need to carry out a post-mortem to find out the cause of death before a medical certificate is issued. This may delay registering the death and the funeral arrangements. But the coroner will issue the medial certificate and send it to the register office for you. They should let you know when they’ve done this but if you have concerns you can contact the coroner for more info.

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

Depending on the final wishes of the person who passed away you may want to contact a funeral director. They can collect and look after the person who died while you register the death and start making funeral arrangements.

Remember that you can contact several funeral directors to talk about your options before making any arrangements. You may also want to ask another family member or friend for help with this. Discussing your options at a time when you’re dealing with someone’s death isn’t easy. But weighing up your options may help you to manage costs while still saying goodbye to the person who died in the way that you’d like.

Not sure where to start?

Use our funeral director finder to help you find a funeral director who fits with what you’re looking for.

Register the death

Once the medical certificate has been issued you can register the death. You’ll need to register the death within 5 days (8 days for Scotland) unless the coroner gets involved. You’ll also need to register the death before you make any funeral arrangements. This is because you need the paperwork you get from the register office (death certificate) before making any plans.

Use our guide on how to register a death to make sure you have everything you need before your appointment.

It covers:

  • Who can register the death
  • How to find your local register office to make an appointment
  • The info and documents you’ll need to register the death
  • What paperwork you’ll get so funeral arrangements can start
  • How much it costs
  • How long it takes

Arrange the funeral

Once the death is registered you can start making funeral arrangements. Before you do, check if the person who died made any funeral arrangements themselves. They may have an insurance plan that covers the cost of their funeral or they may have organised a prepaid funeral plan. It may also be worth checking for any final wishes they left behind as part of a will just in case this changes any of your plans for the funeral service.

Here’s a list of things you may want to think about when planning the funeral:

  • Decide between a burial or cremation
  • Choose the type of funeral service
  • Pick a venue
  • Arrange transport
  • Choose flowers, readings and music
  • Organise an order of service
  • Plan a get-together for after the funeral service

You can make the funeral as simple or elaborate as you’d like. Take away or add the elements that fit the way you’d like to remember the person who died.

Read our guide on how to arrange a funeral for more in-depth advice on planning a funeral.

Tell people about the death

Other practical things to do when someone dies include contacting other people and organisations to let them know what’s happened. This could include notifying landlords to organise the end of a lease or freezing bank accounts. Get some help making phone calls from other family members or friends if possible.

Use our list of who to contact when someone dies so that you notify everyone you need to.

You may also find the government’s Tell Us Once service useful. This will notify several government organisations of the death all at once. Ask the registrar about this service when you register the death. They’ll be able to help you with this. Some registrars may be able to complete the service for you.

Deal with the estate

Find out if the person who died made a will if you haven’t done this already. You’ll need to find out where it is too. Perhaps the person who died told you where it is but don’t worry if they didn’t. You can ask their solicitor or their bank. If that doesn’t help you can also carry out a will search with the National Will Register. This service costs a minimum of £45.60. So if you’re sure the person who died didn’t make a will don’t worry about using this service.

Have you found the will?

Now you’ll need to figure out whether you need to apply for a grant of probate. This means that you have the legal right to deal with the person’s estate. But it may only apply when the person who died was the only owner of their home or had personal belongings worth a lot of money. Get in touch with the banks and building societies the person used to see if you’ll have to apply for probate. Different organisations have different rules on when it’s necessary so it’s best to check before you put any property on the market or make plans to share out any belongings.

If you’re responsible for dealing with the estate you may want to get some help from a solicitor who specialises in probate. It’s a complicated process. But you’ll want to weigh up the costs of the solicitor before deciding whether or not you can take this on yourself.

What if there’s no will?

You’ll need to decide who will be responsible for sorting out the estate (if it’s not you). The person responsible for dealing with the estate will then need to contact the Probate Registry to apply for letters of administration. Like a grant of probate, this means that you’ll be allowed to deal with the person’s estate.

When it comes to dealing with the estate this could include:

  • Paying debts
  • Closing bank accounts
  • Selling their house
  • Sharing out any money or belongings between family members

Coping with losing someone

Knowing what steps to take after someone dies may ease some of the stress of planning and organising. But you may still need help coping with the loss. Make sure you take some time for yourself and keep in mind that there are organisations you can reach out to for help such as Cruse Bereavement Support.

You can find more organisations that offer free bereavement support in this list of bereavement charities in the UK.