Before you can start making arrangements for a funeral, or begin sorting out the estate and affairs of the deceased, you will need to register the death. This should be done within five days of the person dying, if possible.
The Government offer an online tool that may help you.
Below is a practical guide to help you through the process;
Where did the person die?
It will make a difference how you register the death depending where the person died, whether in England or Wales, other parts of the UK or abroad. If the person died abroad the laws of the country they died in must be followed.
Where do I get the medical certificate?
To register the death, you will need a medical certificate signed by a Doctor, which confirms the cause of death. If the person died at home you should contact their GP as soon as possible. If the person died in hospital then this is usually collected from the Bereavement Office. You will need to call the office the day after the death to arrange an appointment to collect the medical certificate and the person’s belongings. Depending on the circumstances, it may take a few days for the certificate to be available. If the death has been reported to the Coroner you will not be able to register the death until the coroner gives permission.
Who can register the death?
Generally, it should be a relative who registers the death, but if they are unable to, then the following people can register the death:
- If you were there at the death
- If you are an administrator from the hospital (if the person died in hospital)
- You are in charge of making the funeral arrangements
Where to register the death?
If you can register the death at the Registry Office in the area where the person died then you will be able to collect all the necessary paperwork when you register. If you register the death in another area then the papers will be posted to you, so this method may take a few days to receive the paperwork. It would be sensible to call the Registry Office to book an appointment. It will normally take about 30 -45 minutes to register the death.
What do I need to take?
When you attend the Registry Office you must bring with you the medical certificate, signed by the Doctor. You will also need to give the Registrar the following information about the person who has died:
- the person’s full name at the time of death
- any names previously used, eg. maiden name
- the person’s date and place of birth
- their last address
- their occupation
- the full name, date of birth and occupation of a surviving or late spouse or civil partner
- whether they were getting a State Pension or any other benefits
It is helpful, but not essential, if you can bring as many of the following documents relating to the person who has died with you too:
- Birth Certificate
- Council Tax Bill
- Driving Licence
- Marriage or Civil Partnership Certificate
- NHS Medical Card
- Proof of Address (eg. utility bill)
What documents will I get?
Once the Registrar has completed the necessary register and forms, then you will be given:
- a certificate for burial or cremation (a green form). This will be needed by the funeral directors.
- a certificate of registration of death (BD8 form) which may need to be completed and returned in the pre-paid envelope also supplied, if the person was in receipt of any benefits or state pension
- Death certificate (fee payable)
There is no fee to register the death but there will be additional fees to obtain multiple copies of the death certificate. It is worth obtaining several copies of the death certificate when you register, as it is cheaper to do this now than requesting further copies at a later point.
When dealing with the person’s affairs, you will need to send an original death certificates to various organisations. If you only have one certificate you will have to wait for it to be returned, before informing the next organisation, which will delay you obtaining the necessary information to complete the papers necessary for a Grant, if needed.
What if a coroner is involved?
There are certain situations when a coroner has to be involved. It can be upsetting for the family of a person who has died, but a coroner’s involvement cannot be prevented. The circumstances in which a coroner will always be involved are as follows:
- the person’s doctor had not seen them in the 14 days before they died or immediately afterwards (28 days in Northern Ireland)
- a doctor had not looked after, seen or treated the person during their last illness (in other words, death was sudden)
- the cause of death is unknown or uncertain
- the death was violent or unnatural (for example, suicide, accident or drug or alcohol overdose)
- the death was in any way suspicious
- the death took place during surgery or recovery from an anaesthetic
- the death took place in prison or police custody
- the death was caused by an industrial disease.
This does not mean there will always be a post mortem in every circumstance listed. For example, a coroner will discuss with a person’s GP where they hadn’t been seen by them in the 14 days before they died before a decision is made. If a post mortem is ordered you cannot object. You can inform the coroner if you have strong religious views or other objections to a post mortem, but this will not prevent the post mortem happening if the coroner orders it.
You will find more information on post mortems here: https://www.hta.gov.uk/guidance-public/post-mortem-examinations
You will not be able to register the death until the coroner’s investigations are completed and they have issued a certificate to allow you to register the death. This may cause a delay in funeral arrangements being finalised.
Is there going to be an inquest?
If the cause of death cannot be established by post-mortem or the death was violent, unnatural or took place in police custody then an inquest may be ordered by the coroner. Relatives cannot insist on an inquest taking place.
Relatives can attend an inquest which is a public hearing. They can also ask questions of witnesses. Relatives may be able to get legal advice and assistance at the inquest and legal aid or reduced fees may also be available in some circumstances. This website may be of assistance: http://www.inquest.org.uk
The inquest will provide more information to enable a cause and reason for death to be established by the coroner. Inquests may lead to criminal prosecutions.
The coroner may allow the person’s body to de released before the inquest is over to allow a funeral to take place. No funeral can happen until the coroner issues a certificate to allow the death to be registered.
Can I arrange the funeral?
Once you have the death certificate you can continue with any funeral arrangements. Some helpful information about funerals can be found here.
Please note that information which we provide in our guides is in outline for information purposes only. The information is not a substitute for advice from a professional adviser. We cannot guarantee that information provided by our guides will meet your individual needs, as this will depend on your individual circumstances. You should therefore use the information only as a starting point and always seek professional advice if you are unsure.
If you have recently lost someone and believe that you are the person who needs to deal with their estate, these guides may help you. The guides will assist you in all the steps necessary to deal with a simple estate, that is below the threshold to pay any Inheritance Tax, from registering the death to distributing the estate.
Citizens Advice or National Debtline. Or for informal help and support you can visit the Forum
We now feature a number of specialist Probate solicitors on our sister site, JustBeagle.com