The first weeks following the death of a loved one


The death of a loved one can be one of the most difficult situations that we face in life. Losing someone you love or care deeply about is very painful and that is before you address the practical and financial issues.

Getting help to deal with these issues may relieve you of some of the burden during this difficult time.

If someone dies at home and it is expected

If the death was expected, say as a result of an illness, a doctor, usually the local general practitioner, should be contacted and asked to provide a death certificate. The GP will provide a notice saying that they have signed the medical certificate and even tell you how to register the death. If they do not, just ask.

Once the medical certificate has been issued, the funeral director can be contacted, and they will arrange for the body to be moved.

If someone dies unexpectedly

When someone dies unexpectedly, the death may need to be reported to a coroner. A coroner is usually either a doctor or a lawyer, or sometimes both. They are responsible for investigating unexpected deaths. Their investigation takes the form of either an inquiry or a post-mortem and the aim is to establish the cause of death. Inevitably, the investigation takes some time and, as a result, the funeral will need to be delayed.

The police will arrange for the body to be moved by a funeral director acting for the coroner.

If the death involved some kind of trauma you may require specialist cleaning services to help deal with the room or place where someone has died. There are companies that provide these services with sensitivity and discretion. The police or coroner may be willing to direct you to one of their regular suppliers.

If someone dies in hospital

The hospital will issue a medical certificate and a formal notice of death. This process can take some time as the certificate and notice can only be prepared by the medical staff who were directly involved in the care of the deceased whilst they were alive. Most hospitals operate appointment systems for collecting the deceased’s documents and belongings.

In some cases, the medical staff will have to refer the death to the coroner. This means that they will not be able to issue the medical certificate. In this situation, the coroner’s officer will give you further information about when you can register the death. This may occur where the person who has died was admitted to hospital under unusual circumstances and the cause of death is not immediately apparent.

The body will usually be kept in the hospital mortuary until a funeral director or family members arrange for the body to be transferred to a chapel of rest or back to the family home.

If someone dies abroad

If the death occurs overseas, the registration process in that country must be followed in order to obtain a death certificate.

You can arrange to have the funeral overseas but if you prefer to return the body back to the United Kingdom, you must use a professional funeral director. A professional funeral director will be able to advise you on the practicalities including how to obtain the necessary documentation from:

  • The Registrar of Deaths and sometimes the coroner in the UK;
  • Registration of death documents from the country of death; and
  • The British Embassy or High Commission.

A list of British embassies, high commissions or consulates around the world can be found here.

Be sure to check whether repatriation fees are covered by an insurance policy. If they are not, you need to be sure that you can afford these before agreeing to the repatriation.

For anything further, one of our specialists would be delighted to meet you either in our office or in your own home to talk through your requirements and answer any questions. Please contact us at any time.

Registering the death

Providing the death has not been referred to a coroner then an appointment must be made with the Registrar of Births and Deaths within five days in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, or within 8 days for Scotland. It is best to register the death in the district in which the deceased person died in order to avoid delays.  Details of all registrars can be found at:

What do I need to register the death?

The registrar will need the following information about the deceased:

  • medical certificate specifying the cause of death;
  • their full name, including previous names (e.g. maiden name or other married names);
  • their date and place of birth;
  • their last address;
  • their occupation; and
  • the full name, date of birth and occupation of their surviving/late spouse or civil partner if they were married.

If possible, you should also take with you the deceased’s:

  • birth certificate;
  • marriage or civil partnership certificate;
  • National Insurance number;
  • NHS medical card;
  • proof of address, e.g. bank statement or utility bill;
  • driving license; and
  • passport

You should also take your identification with you to the appointment which will usually take around 30 minutes.

You will receive from the registrar:

  • A Certificate for Burial or Cremation (Green Form);
  • A Certificate of Registration of Death (Form BD8 Registration or Notification of Death) which you should complete and return in the pre-paid envelope to the relevant Department for Work and Pensions office. You may also be invited to use the ‘Tell Us Once Service’, which is a service which reports a death to most government organisations in one go;
  • A Death Certificate.

There is no fee for registering a death but there is a small fee for obtaining death certificate. The fees vary from £4 in England and Wales to £8 in Northern Ireland. Additional charges do apply if you later want further copies and it is, therefore, best to ask for more copies initially when the fees are cheaper. Having a number of copies will help when it comes to registering the death with several organisations at the same time.

Funeral

Firstly, check whether the deceased arranged a funeral plan since they will have specified in it how they would like their funeral to be organised.

Most people instruct a funeral director to arrange the funeral. A funeral director will take time to sit with you and plan your loved one’s funeral. If using a funeral director, it is prudent to choose one who is a member of one of the following:

National Association of Funeral Directors;

National Federation of Funeral Directors;

Society of Allied & Independent Funeral Directors.

These organisations have codes of practice and must give you a price list when asked. The British Humanist Association can also help with non-religious funerals.

It is possible to arrange the funeral yourself. Although still unusual, “DIY funerals” can be less expensive, more personal and intimate and, sometimes, more environmentally friendly. This type of funeral often takes place when someone makes their wishes clear before their death and plans for it themselves, as it can involve more advance planning. Contact the Cemeteries and Crematorium Department of your local council if you want to arrange a funeral in your local cemetery or crematorium.

Paying for the funeral

Funerals can be expensive. If you are paying for the funeral, you should first think carefully about what you can afford.

The funeral can be paid for by:

  • you or other family members or friends;
  • a lump sum from a life insurance policy or pension scheme;
  • a pre-paid funeral plan;
  • money the deceased person had in a bank or building society. The bank or building society will usually agree to release some funds to pay for the funeral. To do this, the bank or building society will need to see both the death certificate and an invoice for the funeral; or
  • the deceased person’s estate.

Most funeral directors will ask the family for an up-front payment of part of their fees. If possible, you should avoid doing this as the bank or building society may be reluctant to reimburse you and you may have to wait a number of months for probate to be obtained before being reimbursed.

Help with funeral costs

For those who are on a low income, and who meet the relevant criteria, you may be able to get a Funeral Payment from the Social Fund. The Social Fund is funded by the Department for Work and Pensions and can help pay for some of the costs of the following:

  • burial fees for a particular plot;
  • cremation fees, including the cost of the doctor’s certificate;
  • travel to arrange or go to the funeral;
  • the cost of moving the body within the UK, if it’s being moved more than 50 miles;
  • death certificates or other documents.

Additional funds of up to £700 may be paid for any other expenses, such as funeral director’s fees, flowers or the coffin. Where the deceased had a pre-paid funeral plan, the Social Fund will only pay up to a maximum of £120 to help pay for the items not covered by the plan.

The payment is recoverable from the deceased’s estate, if sufficient funds are available.

There are strict rules about who can get help and how much you will receive. You must be claiming Pension Credit or certain other means-tested benefits, and had a close relationship with the person who died – for example, you may have been their partner. Your application to the Social Fund for a Funeral Payment is made on form SF 200.

The Social Fund’s website provides further information on who qualifies and how to apply: http://www.crisisloanhelp.com/

If you do not qualify for a Funeral Payment – or it does not cover the full costs of the funeral – you may be able to get a Budgeting Loan from the Social Fund. These are interest-free loans of between £100 and £1,500 that you repay from your benefits.

For anything further, one of our specialists would be delighted to meet you either in our office or in your own home to talk through your requirements and answer any questions. Please contact us at any time.

In the weeks following the death

It is important to begin looking for a will as soon as possible after the death since it may contain guidance on how the funeral should be arranged.  The will is also needed to establish who has authority to deal with the administration of the estate – “the personal representatives”.

Wills are frequently held for safe keeping by a solicitor, but a copy is usually kept with the personal records of the deceased in their home. A solicitor will not release a copy of the will unless they have seen the death certificate and have also been instructed by the personal representatives to do so. If a will cannot be found, family members will need to make extensive enquiries to see whether a will had been made. These enquiries may involve contacting solicitors local to the deceased, the deceased’s bank, the Principal Registry of the Family Division or the National Will Register.

If a will cannot be found, the estate will be distributed in accordance with the intestacy rules. In this situation, it is important to establish the family relationships to determine who is entitled to receive a share of the estate. This is not always easy but professionals can be instructed who will research the deceased’s family history and prepare a family tree.

Who do I need to contact?

Housing

Before contacting any organisations, it is prudent to remove all valuables for the house and ensure that it is secured.

Once you have done this, you should look to notify landlords, housing associations, local authorities, mortgage providers, etc. about the person’s death

Home insurers are rather reluctant to insurer unoccupied properties. Without an occupant any problems with the property could go unreported for days/weeks and small issues which could have been repaired easily can quickly become expensive to repair. Specialist insurers offer policies for unoccupied properties and some offer deferred payment arrangements under which a single premium is only paid once the property is sold or transferred to a beneficiary.

Where a property had been occupied by a single person, who either owned or rented the property and that person dies, the property is exempt from council tax payment for as long as it remains unoccupied, and until a grant of representation is granted. Following the grant being issued, a further six months exemption is possible as long as the property remain unoccupied and has not been sold or transferred to someone else. It is important that the personal representatives keep the council tax office informed of:

  • the date the grant of representation is issued,
  • details of the transfer or sale of the property or the end date of the tenancy,
  • when the estate is settled.

During this time the council may contact the personal representatives periodically to review entitlement to the exemption.

Six months from the date the grant of representation is issued, the full council tax will be due to be paid by the personal representatives.

When a property was previously occupied by two adults, the council tax charge might have been in both names or only in the name of one of the occupants. Providing only one person continues to live in the property, the council will transfer the council tax account into the survivor’s name and grant a 25% sole occupier discount.

Creditors

It is important to notify creditors of the death. Before any monies can be distributed to beneficiaries under a will, the personal representatives must first pay any outstanding debts that the deceased had at the time of their death. It is a common misconception that a person’s debts die with them.

Government

Following a death, a number of Government departments may need to be notified for security purposes and to ensure that their records are as up-to-date as possible. These departments include:

  • HM Passport Office to cancel the passport;
  • HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) for their taxes;
  • Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to stop their State Pension and benefits;
  • Driver and Vehicle Licensing Authority (DVLA) to cancel their driving license, car tax and car registration documents;
  • Local Council for their Council Tax, electoral register and other housing benefits; and
  • Public sector or armed forces pension schemes for their pension.

Tell Us Once is a free service operated by Government set up to report a death to most Government organisations in one go. On submitting the deceased’s details, the Tell Us Once service will contact the majority the organisations listed above.

Tell Us Once is not available in Northern Ireland or the following local authorities:

  • Brighton and Hove
  • East Sussex
  • Eastbourne
  • Harrow
  • Hastings
  • Lewes
  • Liverpool
  • Manchester
  • Medway
  • Rotherham

Banks, building societies and other asset holders

Each bank and building society has a limit under which they will close a deceased person’s bank account without needing a grant of probate. In lieu of a grant of probate, the bank or building society will agree to close an account having seen the death certificate.

Most banks and buildings societies will also ask the personal representatives to sign an indemnity to confirm that they are the persons legally entitled to gather in the monies on behalf of the estate.

The Death Notification Service is a free online notification service that has recently been created to allow you to notify a number of participating banks and building societies of the death of a loved one. The service saves you the time and effort of having to contact these institutions individually. A list of the participating institutions is available here. To use the service, a free account is required to be set up and you need to provide as much information as possible about the person who has died. If you have account details for the organisation you want to notify, this will enable the organisation to respond to the notification more swiftly.

For anything further, one of our specialists would be delighted to meet you either in our office or in your own home to talk through your requirements and answer any questions. Please contact us at any time.

Additional support

After the legal formalities of a death have been finalised, strong feelings of grief and loss can remain. The following organisations exist to offer your support and help you come to terms with your loss.

Bereavement UK

Cruse Bereavement Care

Cruse Bereavement Care Scotland