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What to do when someone dies

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Firstly, we want to offer our deepest condolences during what must be a very difficult time for you.

We understand what an emotional time this can be. To also have the responsibility of registering the death and arranging a funeral can place a huge burden upon even the most resilient of people.

Secondly, we’ve put together this resource to help guide you through the initial steps you need to take and to help you understand when it is the right time to contact your funeral director.

1). Phone the GP surgery or NHS out-of-hours

If the death occurs at home during the day (8:00 am to 6:30 pm) you should first contact the family doctors’ surgery.

Under normal circumstances, the doctor will issue a Medical Certificate of the
Cause of Death which you will need to take to the registrar. If the cause of death is uncertain or death was sudden, then the GP will probably report the death to the coroner.

If the death occurs in hospital or a residential home, the medical staff in charge
will contact the doctor and let you know when the Medical Certificate is available.

If the death occurred in the evening or at a weekend then the process will remain the same but you may be redirected from the family doctors number to secondary NHS support contact. Alternatively, you can call the NHS out-of-hours service directly via 111.

2). Contact your funeral director

Once the death has been verified by a qualified medical practitioner, the next step is to phone the funeral director. If your loved one took out a pre-paid funeral plan then they will have nominated a funeral director – or they may have told you who they wish to undertake their funeral.

There is no need to contact your funeral director prior to this time, for example, to let them know that a death is imminent. Funeral directors are always ready to guide you through the next steps at any time of day as soon as a death has been certified.

Our approach

Whenever we receive the sad news of a death, it is important that we establish the surrounding circumstances before we can advise you of the correct steps to take next. We will ask you a few simple questions to help us guide you as we never make assumptions about any situation.

If the death occurs at home we will ask whether you would like your loved one to be removed to our chapel immediately or whether you would prefer to have some time with them at home. There is no reason why the deceased cannot stay at home until the time of the funeral, although it may be advisable to carry out some preservative treatment, if this were to be the case.

When we do call to take the deceased to our Chapel of Rest, we appreciate that this is an extremely difficult time for the family. Please be assured that we take great care at this stage and we are sensitive to each individual situation.

At this point, we would also guide you through the early steps of arranging a funeral. We would make an appointment to either visit you at your home or for you to visit us, so that we can discuss all the arrangements.

Throughout this time, we will be on-hand 24/7 to answer any questions or concerns you may have, or if you just need to hear a friendly voice.

Common questions

What should I do about registering the death?

All deaths need to be registered by the Registrar of Births, Marriages and Deaths in the county where the death occurred.

This should be done within five days (although it is understood this may not always be possible) – unless the coroner is involved.

We can give you the details of an appropriate registrar so that you can make an appointment. If you have any difficulties with transport, please contact us and we will be able to help at no extra cost to you.

The registrar will also give you the opportunity to have a ‘Tell Us Once’ appointment after which they will inform all government departments of the death, which can save you many emotional hours on the telephone.

When you visit the registrar, you should take the Medical Certificate of Cause of Death issued by the doctor, and the deceased’s Medical Card, if available.

The registrar will need the following information about the deceased:

  • Date and place of birth
  • Full name
  • Name and date of birth of any surviving spouse
  • Maiden name, if applicable
  • Former occupation

We will need the Green Certificate, if the registrar issues one. You will also be asked if you require any copies of the death certificate which you will need to present to banks and insurance companies etc. We always recommend getting several copies to deal with the deceased’s estate. A small charge will apply for each copy made.

When would the coroner become involved?

The coroner would only be involved if the death is sudden or suspicious, or the death is the result of an industrial disease.

The term “sudden” can include the death of any person who has not been seen by a doctor within fourteen days before the death happened.

In some cases the coroner, after discussion with a doctor, will give the doctor permission to issue a death certificate. The usual course of events, however, is that the coroner will order a post mortem examination to establish the cause of death.

The coroner will then either issue a certificate to allow registration of the death in the usual way or, alternatively, they may order an inquest if the cause of death was not natural. This would normally happen a few weeks after the death to allow time to thoroughly examine the circumstances surrounding the death.

When there is to be an inquest, the coroner will issue a form to allow the funeral to go ahead. However, registration of the death cannot take place until after the inquest. The coroner can issue temporary death certificates if required for banks or other financial institutions.

The only other time that the coroner would be involved is if someone dies abroad or if there is a request to move the deceased out of England and Wales.