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What needs to happen after death

What needs to happen

It can be a bewildering time immediately after the death of someone you have been caring for. This page will help explain a number of practical issues that need to be dealt with when a person has died.

Verifying and certifying the death

While it may be clear that the person has died, at some point an appropriate healthcare professional will need to verify the death - they do this by making certain checks to be sure that the person has died. It is best not to move the body from the home before this has taken place.

If there is no Marie Curie Nurse or other healthcare professional present at the death, you will need to call the GP’s surgery.

The surgery or someone from their deputising service will make arrangements for a doctor or health professional to visit to verify the death and advise you. They may ask what time the person died.

The GP will certify the death later. Arrangements may be agreed in advance with you.

A registered medical practitioner (usually a GP) will also need to certify the death by completing a form called a medical certificate of cause of death if this was an expected death and if they are sure the death resulted from natural causes.

They will also give you a formal notice that the medical certificate has been signed. This paperwork will allow you to register the death, obtain the death certificate and arrange the funeral. Often, people mistakenly call this the death certificate, but that is a different form issued by the Registrar later.

  • Sometimes a GP will verify and certify the death at the same time.
  • Sometimes another healthcare professional will verify the death in the person’s home while a GP certifies the death later (for instance, at the person’s home the next day or at a funeral director’s premises).

The doctor who certifies an expected death should be the person’s regular doctor who treated them during their illness and who visited them during the two weeks prior to their death.

If no GP meets these conditions, the GP of the person who has died will need to report the death to the Coroner (Procurator Fiscal in Scotland). This is generally a formality, and may simply lead to discussions between the GP and Coroner. A death may be reported to the Coroner for other reasons – for instance, if the person died of an occupational disease or if the GP has any questions about the death. Try not to worry if the death is reported and if you have concerns contact the Coroner’s office to find out what will happen next.

What next?

After the death has been formally verified, the next stage depends on whether you have decided to use a funeral director or are handling the arrangements yourself.

Our bereavement booklet (PDF, 311KB) has more information on the options available.

If you are using a funeral director, you can contact them once you are ready. You do not have to rush. The funeral director will generally come within an hour of being contacted. If this is too soon (for instance, you may want a little more time to sit with the body, or wait for family or friends to arrive, or simply to collect yourself), discuss with them what time you want them to come.

Some people may find it distressing to see the person’s body being moved or to see some of the steps that may need to be taken before moving the body. You may want to ask the funeral director what will be involved, as some people may prefer to leave the room.

Can you keep the body at home?

Funeral directors tend to take the body away promptly these days, but in most cases they don’t have to do so. If you are using a funeral director and want to keep the body at home for a few hours, discuss this with them and they will advise you.

If you choose not to use a funeral director the Natural Death Centre can give further advice on keeping the body at home.

If the person you cared for died in a Marie Curie Hospice, other local hospice, or hospital

Hospices and hospitals have their own local arrangements regarding verification and certification of death and will issue the medical certificate confirming cause of death. They will provide information about how to register the death.

An appropriate member of staff (for instance, bereavement or mortuary staff) should also be able to offer advice on contacting a funeral director, or what to do next if you do not plan to use a funeral director.

Registering a death

It is a legal requirement to register a death with the Registrar for Births, Deaths and Marriages. This must usually be done within five days in England, Wales and Northern Ireland and within eight days in Scotland.

A death can be registered by a relative, someone unrelated but who was present at the time of death, the occupier of, or an official at the building where the death occurred - for example, a matron of a nursing home or the person responsible for arranging the funeral (however funeral directors are not allowed to register deaths).

You will find the address of your local Registrar in Yellow Pages (under local government) or online for England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

The majority of deaths are registered by a relative of the deceased, but not always. There is no charge to register a death, but you will be charged for certified copies of the death certificate.

Arranging a funeral

The important thing when deciding how much involvement you want in arranging the funeral and how much you wish to leave to others is to make the choices you are comfortable with - and able to manage emotionally and financially.

This could mean taking charge of everything yourself, asking a funeral director to do everything or something in between.

If you decide to use a funeral director, you may wish to use one recommended by family, friends or a local minister or religious leader.

More information is available from the National Association of Funeral Directors or from the Natural Death Centre.

Our bereavement booklet (PDF, 311KB) also covers these issues in more detail.

Dealing with someone’s estate

If the person left a will the individual who is named as the executor in the will is responsible for administering the estate – for instance, settling debts and paying out legacies. More than one executor may be named.

If you are the executor, you may want to administer the estate yourself. If you prefer not to, you can instruct a solicitor to do so instead. They will charge for this work.

There are a number of organisations that need to know that the person has died these include

  • their GP and District Nurse
  • hospitals and social services if the person was having treatment or receiving support such as home help or home care
  • banks and building societies if the person had an account, loan or mortgage
  • utility companies
  • landlords

Administering an estate does not have to be complicated.  A number of leaflets and books provide detailed advice including:

Please note: Marie Curie Cancer Care provides links to third party websites where appropriate and is not responsible for the availability or content of any of these linked sites.

Bereavement booklet

Our bereavment booklet provides an overview of the practical and emotional issues that may arise if you are bereaved. It also points towards other organisations that may be able to help you with information and support.
Download file
Bereavement booklet
Bereavement booklet
Category: Documents
(PDF format, 201KB)
Children and teenagers

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