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WHAT TO DO WHEN SOMEONE DIES: A GUIDE, death of a loved one

Do you know what What Needs to be Done When Someone Dies?

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When Someone Dies

There can be a lot to consider when someone dies. We can help you figure out what to do next.

Figuring out what to do first after someone dies can be overwhelming. Apart from telling your friends and family, you need to notify several organisations.

Here’s what you should do as soon as possible, as well as in the weeks and months following the death.

This guide on what to do when someone dies is for anyone involved with the funeral planning of the death of a loved one. An example would be a bereaved person or a social support network of bereaved friends or relatives.

It is very painful but inevitable that a loved one will die. It is perhaps agonising to find yourself here after the death of a loved one, a partner, parent, a spouse, husband or wife? Do you feel numb? Was it unexpected? Perhaps you’ve been told a loved one does not have too long to live and are here to mentally prepare yourself and see what lies ahead.

The passing of a loved one can leave us with a burden of emotions especially as we deal with the aftermath of a death. There are many questions – what do I do next? Who do I contact? What support is available for me? will I survive this?

With the knowledge that we have picked up along our journey, we are here to make the process as seamless and clear as possible. This in-depth guide to what needs to be done when someone dies will cover a step by step process of the ins and outs of what to do after someone dies before arranging the funeral.

The process will include how to get a medical certificate, register the death, what to do if your loved one died abroad, who to notify after the death as well as information about organ donation.

In this guide you will find:

Where the person died and the processes that follow

In this section, we explore the location of death, the steps which follow, and what to do next.

What happens when someone dies in hospital?

In the instance where a loved one dies in hospital, the spouse or immediate next of kin will be informed. At this stage you are certainly bound to feel a barrage of emotions.

Within UK hospitals there are a number of staff that are dedicated to bereavement affairs – and are willing to support and guide you on the next steps. If not, this support may be provided by the hospital ward staff.

A doctor at the hospital will give you a medical certificate stating the cause of death – this has to be issued before the death can be registered. However in cases where the cause of death is not known, a coroner will be contacted and a post-mortem examination will be ordered.

If the deceased falls under the latter, a funeral can only take place once the cause of death has been confirmed.

When someone dies in a care home/hospice

If your loved one dies under these circumstances, the staff within these premises will know the exact processes that should be followed.

If you are not present at the time of the passing, care home staff will inform you of the passing as soon possible after it occurred.

In the event that the death was unexpected, care home staff or a doctor will contact the coroner on your behalf, and they may order a post- mortem examination to investigate the cause of death.

If you are worried about the body of your loved on after dying in this environment, don’t fret as care staff are trained in such circumstances and will take good care of the body of your loved one, by either placing them in their room or in a private space until the funeral director is able to collect the body.

What happens to my loved one’s possessions after death

If your loved one dies under these circumstances, the staff within these premises will know the exact processes that should be followed.

If you are not present at the time of the passing, care home staff will inform you of the passing as soon possible after it occurred.

In the event that the death was unexpected, care home staff or a doctor will contact the coroner on your behalf, and they may order a post- mortem examination to investigate the cause of death.

If you are worried about the body of your loved on after dying in this environment, don’t fret as care staff are trained in such circumstances and will take good care of the body of your loved one, by either placing them in their room or in a private space until the funeral director is able to collect the body.

Whether dying in a hospital or care home, you can be rest assured that their possessions will be kept safe till you arrive.

Hospitals or care homes will usually contact next of kin and arrange a time for collection – most will issue a receipt to acknowledge receipt of items collected.

When someone dies at home

When an individual dies at home, and death is expected, you are required to call their GP. In this case most doctors can provide an instant medical certificate explaining the cause of death. If the death happened at out of hours, then call 111

However, if someone dies at home unexpectedly you are required to call 999 and they will instruct you on where to go from there. It is normal for a coroner’s inquest to be ordered at this time due to the anonymity of the cause of death.

The police will organise for a funeral director to collect the body of the deceased.

How long can you keep a dead body at home?

There is no legal limit for this, however if you do wish to keep the deceased’s body at home for some days, a funeral director can talk you through options for embalming and dressing your loved one.

What to do when someone dies abroad

This can be both a stressful and costly process but not to fret, help can be sought after from British authorities. In instances such as these, the death must be registered in the country where the person died.

If the person travelled abroad alone, you as a close relative or spouse may wish to travel to the country, to identify the person. If not, the local authorities, or a consular official, may do it.

You are also expected to register the death with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in the UK. There are 3 steps to follow:

  1. Register the death at a registry office where your loved one died and attain an English translation of the death certificate
  2. Ensure you get permission to bring the body home (this is usually approved in the country where the deceased died)
  3. Notify a coroner in the UK if the death was unexpected or peculiar (in this instance an investigation will be conducted)

Before you begin making repatriation processes, it is important to inform British authorities and also find out if the deceased had repatriation insurance – as this can be a very costly process.

Death of a loved one and repatriation

In this section, we explore the important steps to consider if your loved one died abroad. how to begin the repatriation process.

What does repatriation mean?

Seems like a big word – but definitely not as complicated as it sounds. Repatriation simply is the return of something to its country of origin. So in this circumstance, if someone died abroad you have the option to repatriate – return their body or ashes back to the UK.

What are the repatriation steps?

With a death occurring abroad it may feel like a very daunting experience and almost as if you don’t have control over the situation. If you have decided that a repatriation is the decision you would like to go with here are some steps for you to follow:

  1.  Get an international reparation provider. Their job is to make the whole process simpler for you. Compare different prices, contact different people as this may be a costly process, spend within your budget, as funeral costs are still looming. 
  2. As mentioned earlier you need to register their death in the country they died in. Register with the following information about the deceased and yourself.
  • Full name
  • Date of birth
  • Passport number
  • Where and when the passport was issued
  • Details of the next-of-kin, if you’re not the closest relative.

What is the repatriation process?

The repatriation process includes preparing the body, deciding whether to conduct the funeral/cremation aboroad, as well as te associated cost.

Preparing the body for repatriation

Your repatriation provider will need to collect the following paperwork to begin the repatriation process:

  1. The local death certificate with a certified English translation
  2. The passport of the deceased who died
  3. Authorisation to take the body out of the country
  4. A certificate of embalming
  5. A “Freedom from infection” certificate
  6. A permit for the country the deceased will be travelling to (if needed)

How do you repatriate a dead body to the UK?

Bodies are taken back to the UK. In the process leading up to the reparation, the body will be embalmed. When the above paperwork is supplied, body of the person who has died will be shipped by an international air freight in a special zinc-lined coffin and can include requirements such as wrapping the coffin in hessian, or bubble-wrapping

How long does it take to repatriate a body?

This depends on the country, time zones, and cause of death. If the cause of death was natural, it can take anything between 5-7 days for the body to arrive in the UK.

However if they died under suspicious circumstances, or perhaps an accident, death will need to be investigated, post- mortem conducted – where the body may be held by police.

In these cases repatriation can take 10-15 days or even up to 3 months to complete.

Can I take deceased ashes on a plane?

If conducting a funeral abroad or if you were with the deceased when they died abroad, you are required to employ a local funeral director to arrange the cremation process. If you are unsure of where to start with this, you can contact the British consulate to help you find a suitable individual.

Carrying ashes of a loved one with your luggage on a plane is accepted, most airlines require them to be stored in a suitable container. Also remember to carry with you the necessary documents, such as the death certificate or certificate of cremation.

If the former is not the case and the loved one died alone abroad, and you wish to repatriate their ashes there are certain regulations that you may have to follow – depending on the country.

However, a death certificate, certificate of cremation and the certificate of sealing are essentials. As well as air freight, ashes can be sent by courier and the cost is less expensive compared to shipping a body

Repatriation costs

The cost of repatriation depends on several factors. These include the country where the body of the deceased is going to or coming from, who the reparation provider is, the type of coffin selected and whether the coffin must be hermetically sealed (airtight).

Services such as organising a memorial ahead of a flight, cremation before a flight or visiting your loved one ahead of a flight may require an additional fee.

Repatriation costs can range from £2,000 to as great as £17,000. Fees differ from one repatriation service provider to the next, so it is definitely handy to get a few quotations first before you make a final decision – so you can work within your budget.

Does travel insurance cover repatriation of body?

If your loved one had travel insurance, you may be able to claim the costs of the repatriation arrangements from this. Their insurance company should be contacted as soon as possible to see if this would be covered. 

If you are covered, the insurance company will most likely assign a local assistance firm to assist you with some things during the process. 

Registering the Death of Your Loved One

In this section, we discuss how, when, where and who to register the death of your loved one, as well as the essential information you need to take along when you register the death.

What happens if I don’t register a death within 5 days?

Failing to formally register a death within 5 days may result in a fine. However exemptions will be made if a coroner is investigating the cause of death – in such cases you will not be able to register the death until this investigation is complete.

How do I register a death?

Registering a death is a normal and formal procedure after death and must be done so within 5 days (8 days in Scotland). The most ideal place to register a death is the registry office near to where the person died, as this more than likely to make the process slightly faster.

How do I find my local register office?

You can simply find this information by searching “local register office near me”, on the internet. A list of offices near you will be shown. Remember to call and book an appointment with the office, you may have to wait a couple of days to be seen.

Who can register a death?

In most circumstances, a close loved one will be the individual registering the death, however depending on the conditions surrounding the death, the following are also permitted to act in this capacity:

  • Any relative of the deceased 
  • Someone that was present at the time of death
  • Any person living at the address where the death took place
  • The owner of the building where the death took place (providing they are aware of the death)
  • The individual arranging the funeral, but not the funeral director What will the registrar do when I come to register a death?

The registrar will ask who you are in relation to the deceased. You will also be asked to provide details about yourself, and certain documents of the deceased and will lastly provide you with a death certificate. 

What do I need to register a death?

Along with the registration, certain documents and key bits of information also need to be provided. Officials such as the deceased’s:

  • Birth certificate
  • NHS medical card or number
  • A marriage certificate, driving licence or proof of their address. 

At this stage you will also be required to tell the registrar the following pieces of information:

  • The deceased’s full name
  • Their place and date of birth
  • The place and date of death
  • Their place of residence
  • Job occupation
  • Details regarding their spouse (name, date of birth, job)
  • Whether they received any state benefits (if the deceased, or if you both collectively received state benefits, their death may affect those claims.
    • For example, if you both applied for joint tax credit this will no longer be applicable and you are required to inform HMRC within one month of the death).

Which documents will I receive when I register a death?

When you register a death, providing you have the correct documents, you will receive a death certificate from the registrar.

What is a death certificate?

A death certificate is an official document issued by the government. The certificate declares the cause of death and other significant information such as the time and location of death, their date of birth and occupation.

How long does it take to get a death certificate?

Thankfully the process of getting the death certificate is not a tedious one, as they are usually issued within 30 minutes, once the necessary documents and information are provided.

How many copies of death certificates do I need?

The registrar will give you a certified copy of the death certificate, which is free. However more copies would be advised, as death certificates mostly function as proof for legal purposes.

For example, arranging a funeral, claiming life insurance, the implementation of a will, gaining access to pension benefits or settling estates.

Can I order more certificates later on?

Each certified copy of a death certificate will cost £11.00 in England and Wales. Certified copies of a death certificate are £8.00 in Northern Ireland and £10.00 in Scotland.

Do I have to register a death before a funeral?

A death must be registered at a local register office before a funeral can take place.

Who to Notify After A Death

In this section, we discuss who to notify and when to notify them after the death of your loved one.

Who to notify after a death?

Besides the somewhat burdening, agonising and exhausting process of informing family and friends of the death of a loved one, there are also other organisations that need to be informed too, a workplace, educational establishments, tax office are some of many that need to be informed.

Tell Us Once is a free service that enables you to report a death to most government organisations at once, making the process easier and less exhausting and emotionally draining. When you use Tell Us Once, they will notify the following services:

  • DWP pensions and benefits
  • Personal tax
  • Council tax
  • Passport
  • Driving licence
  • Blue Badge
  • Electoral register
  • Some public sector pension schemes 

Who else needs to be notified after death?

  • Bill providers
  • Work place
  • Educational institutions
  • Mortgage provider
  • Life insurance provider
  • Tax office
  • Contract providers
  • Faith community (e.g. christian,muslim etc)
  • Business associates 

When should you notify them?

You should notify all of them as soon as possible after you have received the death certificate.

Organ donation

Checking if the deceased registered themselves for organ donations is imperative. Nevertheless, even if such is the case the consent of family member’s is still sought after.

New government laws surrounding organ donation came into effect on 20 May 2020. The opt-out system was introduced in England to help save and improve more lives. This simply means that all adults subscribe to become organ donors after death, unless they have made it known that they do not wish to donate. 

Organs are not detached until a patient’s death has been confirmed. Moreover, death certainly does not equal disrespect! 

A specialist team is on hand to ensure that even when deceased, organ donors are treated with absolute care and respect during the process. Also it is strictly the organs and tissues specified by the donor (with the consent of the family) that will be removed.


Our hope is that this step-by-step guide has eased what can be a very draining process. Moreover, it is imperative that all significant bodies are notified in the coming weeks to avoid financial stress. Remember also that funeral arrangements can only begin after the death has been registered.

Next Step: Funeral Planning

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