What to do when someone dies?

Such events can be overwhelming, below is a short summary of the steps you need to take in the immediate aftermath.

Obtain a ‘Medical Certificate of Cause of Death’

This document is obtained by notifying a doctor who will certify death. A certificate will usually be issues rapidly, under certain circumstances, for example in case of a sudden death, a Coroner may need to be notified. In this instance a certificate may take longer to obtain.

Once a certificate is obtained, you should contact a funeral director. They will collect the deceased and take them into their care. If the death occurs in hospital your loved one will be taken into the on-site mortuary until registration of the death.

A few situations result in additional steps. Should death occur in a foreign country, the British Embassy should be contacted for registration. Repatriation can then take place, a Coroner should be notified on return to determine whether investigation is required. In the case of an unexpected hospital death, next of kin may be approached for permission to perform a post mortem examination, to establish cause of death.

Registering the death

Deaths must be registered within 5 days (in England) or 8 days (in Scotland). Registration is usually done by a relative of the deceased and is necessary before funeral arrangements can be progressed properly. This can be done via an embassy if death has occurred abroad.

To register death you should visit your local Registrar’s office (see: https://www.gov.uk/register-offices). You should take with you the ‘Medical Certificate of Cause of Death’, it is also helpful to take the following if available:

  • Birth certificate
  • Driving licence
  • Passport
  • Marriage Certificate
  • NHS medical card
  • Proof of address


Funeral Director and Funeral Arrangements

Funeral directors can be found readily online. In the event that the deceased has made prior funeral arrangements, you can find their preference in this regard. The funeral director will collect the deceased and care for them in a funeral home, while arrangements for the funeral itself are made.

With respect to the funeral itself, considerations such as whether to bury or cremate and location of funeral are central. The deceased’s wishes may be set out in their will, whilst not binding, these should be respected.

The existence of a funeral plan should also be confirmed as these may save a great deal of money and organisational burden.