What is a medical certificate of death?
If the death was expected, the cause of death has to be determined by a medical professional. The cause of death will be detailed on an official document called a medical certificate of death (MCOD). You’ll need a copy of the medical certificate before you can register the death. The certificate gives:
- the name of the deceased
- their age
- the date of death
- the place of death
- the cause of death.
The cause of death is usually written in formal medical terminology, stating the main cause and other conditions that have contributed to the death. The doctor also has to write when they last saw the patient and whether the deceased has been seen after death.
If it’s clear why the person died, and it was from natural causes (for example, if your loved one suffered from heart disease), it should be simple for a doctor to determine the cause of death and issue the medical certificate straightaway.
However, if the doctor is unsure about the cause of death, or hasn’t seen the patient for 14 days (in England, Scotland and Wales) or 28 days (in Northern Ireland), they won’t be able to issue the medical certificate immediately. In these cases, the death must be reported to a coroner. If the coroner sees no need to investigate, the doctor can then issue the medical certificate. If the coroner decides that a post-mortem examination is needed to determine the cause of death, this will be carried out and the relevant documents will then be passed to the registrar.
How is a medical certificate of death different from a death certificate?
- The medical certificate of death is a piece of paper issued after someone has died. It details the cause of death and you need it to register the death.
- The death certificate will be given to you after you’ve registered the death. You may need to show it to companies and organisations in order to prove that the person is deceased, for example if you need to close down their bank account. We explain more in our page about registering a death.
Who will issue the medical certificate?
The person issuing the medical certificate will depend on where your loved one died. If they died at home, the GP may give you the certificate personally or you may be asked to collect it from the GP’s receptionist. If the death occurred in hospital, or a care home, the administrative staff will usually give the certificate to the next of kin. They will also usually include some further information about how to register the death.
If you know whether your loved one wanted to be buried or cremated, let the doctor who is completing the medical certificate or the coroner’s officer know. Additional forms are needed for a cremation to take place, and it’s easier for the professional staff if they are aware of this at an early stage.
What is a verification of death?
In some cases, there isn’t a doctor around to issue the medical certificate of cause of death. Since it’s sometimes necessary to move the body before a doctor is able to attend, for example if the death occurs in a public place, medical staff other than doctors can confirm that someone is deceased. This is called verification of death.
A verification of death is a temporary measure until a registered medical practitioner (the GP if it’s a home or care-home death, otherwise a hospital doctor) can write the medical certificate of cause of death.
Read about the first steps that need to be taken after someone has died, whether at home, in hospital or in a care home.
We explain how to formally register a death and what information you’ll need.
Our checklist of what to take with you when registering a death will help this upsetting experience run smoothly.