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What to Do When Someone Dies

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

Here are some of the things you will need to do if someone close to you dies.

Who to notify when someone dies

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 register the death. 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

Next you will need to ensure the death is formally registered. 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
  • their date and place of birth
  • the address of the deceased
  • their most recent occupation
  • the name, occupation and date of birth of their spouse or 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.

Speak to their solicitor about their will

If you are unsure where the deceased person’s will might be, contact their solicitor as they may have a copy. If there is a will, you will need to identify the executor 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

A will should specify any special provisions and organ donor card requests, so these must be checked before any funeral arrangements can be made. You should also check whether the deceased had paid into a funeral plan; if not, you might need to discuss 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, this may delay the date on which the funeral can be held, so you will need to check this before finalising any arrangements.

Grant of Probate and Letters of Administration

Probate is the legal process of settling the estate of a deceased person. If the deceased has a will, it specifies what will happen to the estate and will appoint people responsible for managing 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. It will be administered by someone appointed by the court to act under Letters of Administration (an administrator).

To settle an estate, the assets of the deceased and any liabilities must be gathered and the full value of the estate calculated. Inheritance Tax 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. Arrangements for paying the tax must be paid before probate can be granted and the assets distributed.

In summary, whoever deals with the estate will need to:

  • Secure the property of the deceased, insuring the home, car and other valuable items as necessary
  • Make arrangements for the deceased's mail
  • Ensure accounts are closed and any insurance details, subscriptions, agreements, payments and direct debits are cancelled or changed
  • Cancel their driving licence and/or passport
  • Organise the valuation of assets
  • Write to any organisations in which the deceased had an interest to identify any assets or liabilities, such as bonds or shares
  • List the deceased's assets and liabilities to assess whether Inheritance Tax will be payable

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

If you will be instructing a solicitor to act for you in obtaining a Grant of Probate, 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 artworks
  • Information about any debts or other liabilities

Coping after bereavement

If you need advice or support following a bereavement, there are many organisations offering these services, as well as information and practical support, such as Cruse Bereavement Care.

Additionally, anyone who lived with, or was dependant on, someone who died may be able to claim certain benefits, such as 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 advise you further around these.

How we can help

At Copley Clark, our team of experts have a wealth of experience across family law and matters concerning property, wills, probate and trusts. We can help settle the estate of a deceased person and to obtain a Grant of Probate or Letters of Administration as quickly as possible, causing you minimum distress and inconvenience during a period of grief.

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.