What to do when someone dies

When someone dies there are many decisions and arrangements to be made and sadly, these have to be made at a time of personal distress. Some of these things can be done by a close relative or friend; others need to be done by the executor or administrator of the estate.

The first steps

Notify the family doctor

If someone dies at home, the family doctor should be contacted immediately. If the death was expected the doctor will give you a medical certificate showing the cause of death and explain how to get the death registered. If someone dies unexpectedly or the family doctor has not seen the person within 14 days of death, the death is reported to the coroner - the doctor or lawyer responsible for investigating unexpected deaths.

Register the death at your local register office

The Registrar will need the following information:

  • the medical certificate showing the cause of death
  • the full names of the deceased person (including names they once had)
  • the date and place of death
  • the usual address of the deceased
  • their date and place of birth
  • their most recent occupation
  • the name, occupation and date of birth of their spouse of civil partner
You should also take the deceased person 's NHS number, and birth and marriage/civil partnership certificates if possible. The registrar will provide the forms which enable burial or cremation, and information about any available benefits.
  • find the will - the deceased person 's solicitor may have a copy if you can't find one. If there is a will, contact the executor if this isn 't you, to enable them to start the process of obtaining probate.If there is no will, then family members need to decide who will apply to sort out the deceased's affairs and apply to the court for 'letters of administration'
  • begin funeral arrangements - you will need to check the will for any special provisions, and comply with any organ donor card requests. Check whether the deceased had paid into a funeral plan; if not, consider how the funeral will be paid for (help with funeral costs is available in limited circumstances from the Social Fund). If the death has been reported to the coroner, then this may delay the date on which the funeral can be held, so you will need to check this before finalising the arrangements

Dealing with the property of the deceased

Probate is the legal process of settling the estate of a deceased person. If there is a will it says what will happen to the estate, and will appoint people responsible for doing this ("the executors"). If there is no will, the person is said to have died "intestate" and the estate will pass in accordance with legal rules, and will be administered by someone appointed by the court to act under letters of administration ("an administrator").

Probate involves collecting the assets of the deceased and settling any liabilities, to calculate the full value of the estate. Inheritance Tax ("IHT") will need to be paid on the amount by which the estate exceeds a certain level (the amount of the exemption changes from year to year) and arrangements for paying the tax must be paid before probate can be granted and the assets distributed.

Whoever deals with the estate will need to:

  1. Secure the house and/or other property of the deceased, insuring the house, car and any other valuable items as necessary
  2. Make arrangements to deal with the deceased's mail
  3. Close down accounts, and cancel or change insurance details, subscriptions, agreements, payments or direct debits
  4. Contact any government agencies, for example, to cancel a driving licence or passport
  5. Organise the valuation of assets
  6. Write to all financial and business organisations in which the deceased had an interest to identify any assets or liabilities
  7. List the deceased's assets and liabilities to assess whether IHT will be payable

If you are instructing a solicitor to act for you in obtaining a Grant of Probate, then the more information you can provide about the deceased 's financial affairs, the quicker the process will be. Information may include:

  • Bank statements
  • Life insurance policies
  • Details of pension payments
  • A list of any shares, bonds or other investments
  • Details of any other assets e.g. property, cars or works of art
  • Information about any debts or other liabilities

Coping after bereavement

If you or someone you know needs counselling or support after bereavement, then there are many organisations offering these services, as well as information, advice or practical support, for example, Cruse Bereavement Care.

Anyone who lived with or was dependant on someone who died may be able to claim certain benefits, for example, a reduction in Council Tax. Other benefits include bereavement allowance, widowed parent 's allowance and bereavement payment. Your local Jobcentre Plus will be able to help with these.

You may want to contact the Bereavement Register and the Deceased Preference Service to remove the deceased 's name from mailing lists and databases.

How we can help

The experience of the members of our probate team can help sort out the estate of a deceased person and to obtain a Grant of Probate or Letters of Administration as quickly as possible, thus causing the minimum of distress and inconvenience to the bereaved.

For information of users: This material is published for the information of clients. It provides only an overview of the regulations in force at the date of publication, and no action should be taken without consulting the detailed legislation or seeking professional advice. Therefore no responsibility for loss occasioned by any person acting or refraining from action as a result of the material can be accepted by the authors or the firm.