What to do when someone dies
Which? will help you understand the decisions you need to make in the days and weeks after a loved one has died. Find out about the steps to take, from registering the death and arranging a funeral to carrying out probate and understanding inheritance tax.
What to do when someone dies: step-by-step guide
Click on the steps below to discover what to do at each stage in the process after someone has died.
Get a medical certificate
Register the death
Tell friends and family
Plan the funeral
Pay for the funeral
Find the will
Establish who the
Obtain a grant of probate
Administer the estate
Which? Money Helpline
If you have questions about the financial aspects of dealing with a death, contact the Which? Money Helpline. Our team of friendly experts can help with accessing funeral plans, working out inheritance tax, dealing with banks and much more.
Need advice on probate?
If you're the executor or administrator of an estate, we can guide you through the probate process and answer your questions along the way.
Call 01992 825 001 or visit Which? Legal Probate to find out more.
What to do when someone dies: video
Watch our short video to understand the first steps to take when a loved one passes away.
It's up to you whether you employ a professional or carry out probate yourself. Find out more with our probate guide.
|use a probate solicitor||opt for DIY probate|
Coping with bereavement
Having an understanding of grief won’t protect you from the experience, but it can reduce the fear of some quite unexpected and sometimes shocking feelings. Some of the most common emotions felt when grieving are:
- Feeling numb
- Acceptance and relief
- Yearning and searching
- Profound sadness with lethargy and prolonged
bouts of crying
To understand more about grief, how to cope with it and/or support others, see our guide, coping with bereavement.
Wishing to mark the place where someone has been buried or cremated with something tangible is important to many people. The most common memorials include:
- A memorial tablet or headstone in a churchyard or cemetery where a coffin or ashes casket has been buried
- An entry in a book of remembrance at the crematorium
- A niche in a wall at the crematorium where ashes can be left in an urn
- A plaque, perhaps placed near a memorial plant
You can read more about your choices and organising a memorial in arranging for a memorial.
What to do when someone dies abroad
If someone has died overseas, the death needs to be registered in that country in order for you to obtain a death certificate. Talk to the British Consul about how to do this.
What to do when a child or baby dies
When a child or baby dies, you’ll still need to register the death in the normal way. However, you will also need to notify certain organisations - gov.uk has more information on this.
1: Get a medical certificate of the cause of death
Timeframe: One to two days
If the death is in a hospital, hospice or care home: staff will take the appropriate steps to get the medical certificate of the cause of death signed.
If the death is at home: you will need to inform a GP to verify the cause of death.
Once the medical certificate of the cause of death has been issued, a funeral director can remove the body.
If a baby or child has died, the process will be slightly different. See the advice below this step-by-step guide for further information.
Find out more: the first steps when someone dies
2: Register the death
Timeframe: One to five days
After a GP has given you the medical certificate confirming the cause of death, you need to register the death at a register office within five days.
In addition to the medical certificate, it can be helpful to take these pieces of paperwork with you relating to the deceased person:
- Birth certificate
- NHS medical card or National Insurance number
- Proof of their address, such as a utility bill
- Driving licence
- Marriage or civil partnership certificate
There are a number of other organisations that will need to be informed of the death. Ask the registrar about the Tell Us Once scheme, which will reduce the number of people you have to contact.
Find out more: registering a death
3: Tell friends and family
Timeframe: One to two weeks
Grieving following a bereavement is intensely personal and no two people will mourn the loss of a loved one in the same way.
Telling friends and family about what has happened is one of the ways we learn to accept that a death cannot be reversed. Other ways that you or a relative may express a bereavement are described in the ‘Bereavement’ section below.
If you are supporting someone through a bereavement, the best thing you can do is to be there for them, even if you spend time with that person sitting in silence or talking on the phone, via email or other messaging.
Find out more: coping with bereavement
4: Plan the funeral
Timeframe: One to 14 days
Everyone has to be cremated or buried in the UK and the choice is a personal one. Sometimes this will be specified in the will, but if not it’s down to the surviving family or close friends to decide.
Once you have made the decision, it’s usual to choose a funeral director who will help you plan the funeral itself. Among other questions, you might want to consider:
- How formal an event is wanted?
- What sort of coffin do you want?
- Where will the ceremony take place?
- Who will be invited?
- Who will conduct the funeral?
- Will there be readings?
Find out more: arranging a funeral
5: Pay for the funeral
Timeframe: three to four weeks
The overall cost of a funeral can vary considerably depending on what you choose and where you live, but on average a burial funeral costs £4,104 and a cremation funeral £3,282, according to SunLife.
Funeral costs may include:
- Funeral director’s fee
- Cremation or burial
- Doctor’s fee
- Fee for whoever officiates at the ceremony
- Car hire
Banks will usually pay the funeral director from the person’s estate shortly after the funeral.
Some people take out a pre-paid funeral plan covering a pre-determined level of expenditure. In some cases you may need to pay extra.
Find out more: paying for funerals
6: Find the will
Timeframe: One to two weeks
When someone dies it isn’t always obvious where their will is - or whether they made one at all.
The first place to look is among their personal papers. You’ll need the original document to carry out probate. It also needs to be the most recent version the deceased made. If you’re unsure, try searching the National Will Register. This lists wills held by solicitors across the UK and costs £40 per search
If no will was made, this is known as dying intestate, and certain rules will apply in terms of how the estate is distributed and who inherits what.
Find out more: search the National Will Register with Which? Wills
7: Establish who the executor is
Timeframe: one to two weeks
The executor, usually a family member or friend, is responsible for carrying out probate. Often, several people are joint executors. This means they’ll all need to sign key documents - though one of them will normally take the lead in coordinating probate.
If one of the joint executors is a probate solicitor or other professional, they will expect payment - but you can ask them to renounce their executorship.
Similarly, if you are named as an executor but would rather not take on this responsibility, you can renounce your role.
The expert team at Which? Legal can advise on questions about the probate process.
Find out more: what is probate?
8: Obtain a grant of probate
Timeframe: three to six months
As executor you can either carry out probate yourself or appoint a solicitor to act on your behalf.
If you go down the DIY route, you’ll need to apply for a grant of probate by sending a form, together with the will and death certificate, to the Probate Registry.
You also need to send a form to HMRC declaring the value of the estate. Once your valuation is accepted, you’ll have to pay any inheritance tax due. After this, you receive the formal grant, which allows you to distribute the estate to the beneficiaries.
Find out more: understand the differences between DIY probate and using probate solicitors
9: Administer the estate
Timeframe: six to 12 months
The final stage of probate involves gathering all the assets of the deceased’s estate together in a special executor’s bank account and then paying them out to those named as beneficiaries in the will.
If there is a property to be sold, you can do this now, adding the proceeds to the rest of the estate.
If you’re acting as an executor, you need to keep careful records of all the money you raise and how this has been distributed, along with any expenses (such as funeral costs or conveyancing fees) you’ve had to pay.
Find out more: estate administration