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Verifying and certifying a death

When someone dies, contact your GP or a district nurse who will come to certify the death as soon as possible.

On this page:

If the person dies at home

Verifying the death

While it may be clear that the person has died, a doctor or other healthcare professional will need to verify the death. They do this by making certain checks to be sure that the person has died. It’s best not to move the body from the home before this has taken place. Usually this will be done by the person’s regular GP who treated them during their illness and visited them in the two weeks before their death.

If there is no Marie Curie Nurse or other healthcare professional there at the time of death, you’ll need to call the GP’s surgery. The surgery, or someone from its partner service, will make arrangements for someone to visit to verify the death and help you. If the person dies between the hours of 6.30pm and 8am, on weekdays and anytime over weekends or bank holidays, call your GP practice and you’ll be given a number to phone for an out-of-hours doctor. Have a pen and paper ready when phoning.

If a Marie Curie Nurse or other healthcare professional is present at the time of death, they will check the person’s care plan to see whether the GP needs to be called or if other arrangements are in place. The Marie Curie Nurse or healthcare professional will ask for permission to call the appropriate person, according to the care plan, and carry out any arrangements you have made with the GP or district nurse. Some Marie Curie Nurses are trained to formally verify a death in a person’s home if this has been agreed by local health services beforehand. But they’ll respect any arrangements you’ve made with the GP or district nurse.

Getting a medical certificate

As well as verifying the death, a registered medical practitioner will need to certify the death. This is usually the person’s regular GP. They’ll complete a medical certificate of cause of death if the death was expected and they’re sure it was from natural causes.

They’ll also give you a notice to informant, which will be attached to the medical certificate of cause of death. It tells you how to register a death. Sometimes a GP will verify and certify the death at the same time, but if a district nurse or an out-of-hours doctor verifies the death, you’ll need to get a medical certificate of cause of death from your GP the next day.

If the person’s regular GP isn’t available, or if their GP has questions about the death, it may need to be reported to the coroner.

A death may also be reported to the coroner if someone died from an industrial disease (an illness they have as a result of their work), like mesothelioma. This may result in an investigation to find out why and when the death occurred. This is called an inquest. Try not to worry if the death is reported. If you have concerns, contact the coroner’s office to find out what will happen next.

The medical certificate of cause of death is the document that should be taken to the registrar’s office in the local council where the death occurred. Most register offices ask that you book an appointment in advance, so it’s best to contact them first. Visit the website   , National Records of Scotland   or nidirect   to find details of your local office.

Second certification for cremation

If you’re planning to have a cremation rather than burial, be prepared for a phone call from another doctor. They may ask you questions about the death. If you find these upsetting, contact one of the support organisations in our directory.

If you need the GP’s support

The GP won’t visit the person’s home if it has been agreed that another healthcare professional will formally verify the death. However, if you or your family need support from the GP at this time, ask them if they’ll visit you, even if they’re not your own GP (they may not always be able to do so).

Support from the nurse

If you have a Marie Curie Nurse or other care professional in the house when the person dies, tell them if you want them to stay until someone arrives to verify the death. Or, if you’d prefer them to leave, do say so.

If the person dies at a hospice or hospital

Hospices and hospitals have their own arrangements for verifying and certifying a death. They’ll issue the medical certificate of cause of death and give you information about registering the death.

A member of staff will offer you advice about contacting a funeral director, or what to do next if you don’t plan to use a funeral director. 

There will be a different process to follow if someone dies abroad. 

If a post-mortem is needed

A post-mortem is an examination of a body to try to find out the cause of death. You won’t be able to arrange a funeral or cremation until a doctor has decided whether a post-mortem is needed.

If the cause of death was clear or expected, a post-mortem isn’t needed. It may also not be needed if the person who died was seen by their GP within the last 14 days before their death (28 days in Northern Ireland). There may be some exceptions to this. If the death needs to be reported to a coroner, the coroner may decide that a post-mortem is necessary. If this is the case, it will be done by a pathologist working for the coroner’s office (in Scotland this is the procurator fiscal). A pathologist is a doctor who helps to find out the cause of death.

Once the cause of death has been established by the pathologist, the coroner will issue their medical certificate to the local registration service. The death will be registered from this document. In this instance, a medical certificate of cause of death doesn’t need to be collected from the GP or hospital.

In Scotland

Each medical certificate of cause of death needs to be independently reviewed by a team of medical reviewers. There is an electronic medical certificate of cause of death form to reduce potential delays in the review process.

What happens after a death is verified and certified

After the death has been formally verified and certified, the next stage depends on whether you have decided to use a funeral director or are handling the arrangements yourself.
If you’re using a funeral director, you can contact them once you’re ready. You don’t have to rush. The funeral director will generally come within an hour of being contacted.

If you want a little more time to sit with the body, wait for family or friends to arrive, or simply to collect yourself, ask the funeral director if they could come a bit later.

Some people may find it distressing to see the person’s body being moved or watch the preparations beforehand. You may want to ask the funeral director what will be involved, as some people may prefer to leave the room.

Can I 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. If you’re 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.

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