If you find yourself ‘in charge’ when someone dies, don’t be alarmed; use this ‘when someone dies’ checklist to keep you right.
Get our 10 Step Guide to make sure you’ve notified authorities and have the paperwork in order.
Before you do the paperwork, give yourself a breather.
If you’re likely to be at the bedside, take your time to sit with the person who’s died for a while. There’s no rush. Say your goodbyes. Do what feels right for you. Take the time you need because quite quickly, things move into a strange phase that may feel a bit business-like.
You may find the days between the death and any funeral a strange time. There’s a lot to organise and you may well welcome the distraction of a to-do list among mixed emotions.
Although it may feel like the clock is ticking and time is against you, don’t be rushed into decisions. Take your time to think, talk to others, consider your options. Despite what most folk think, you don’t have to hold the funeral within the week. It’s up to you.
There are only 3 things you must do in the first week after someone dies.
- Determine the cause of death: Get a Cause of Death Certificate (form 11) from a GP or hospital doctor. (You’ll need this to register the death.) Phone your GP or 999 for the ambulance service at the time of death for a doctor to attend and determine the cause of death. If the cause of death is obvious and not suspicious, the doctor will give you a Cause of Death Certificate straight away.
- Register the death: Take the Cause of Death Certificate to register the death at your local Council’s Register Office within 5 days (8 days in Scotland). They will give you the documents you need for the funeral.
- Arrange the funeral: we have lots of advice on rules and ideas for a funeral. You can get professional help from funeral directors and celebrants. See our Marketplace for these and other services.
The rest is all choice, mostly guided by tradition.
The Department of Work and Pensions is developing Tell us Once to make it easier to sort out the paperwork when someone dies. It allows the public to notify lots of government organisations about a death in one go e.g. income tax, benefits, pension, driving licence, passport and Council Tax.
Many councils offer the same service for housing, libraries, leisure centre memberships, social and care services, schools, and electoral registration. Check if your Council is one of them.
If not, you will need to register the death and let the relevant parts of government know yourself.
Benefits and death
If the person who has died was on benefits, then it’s important to get them stopped quickly-otherwise you could be the recipient of an unwanted bill 6 months later.
If you’re helping sort things after a death, get a couple of certified copies of the death certificate from the Registrar at the point of registration. You will need to provide these for organisations that deal with assets (money, property) to allow access to accounts. You can ask each organisation to return the certificates before contacting the next one.
See changes to Death Certification in Scotland.
Help with paperwork when someone dies
Organisations like Citizens Advice Bureau are set up to help with advice like paperwork when someone dies. There are also some private organisations offering help. Check our Marketplace for help.
Organising paperwork and arranging a funeral may provide a sense of purpose in a time of uncertainty and adjustment. Check with friends, family, partner or lawyer whether the person who died left any written wishes or had talked about preferences. If you’re lucky, their Wishes will all be captured on Final Fling. If not, decide whether it feels OK to make decisions or your own or whether it would be good to have support and input from close relatives and friends. Current friends may have a better idea of views, beliefs and preferences; family may have old memories to draw on for painting a rich life story.
There are plenty of professionals – like funeral directors on arrangements for the funeral or celebrants on the content of the funeral who can help and advise. Family or friends may have experience to share. There’s advice all over this site and links on where to get help.
Think about making your own end of life plans using a free My Final Fling account. Save others the burden of tricky decisions at a tricky time.