Death and Bereavement
These pages aim to provide some useful help
and advice with the arrangements for dealing with a death. You will
find further information about registering a death at the following
If the Death Occurs in Hospital
If the death occurs in hospital, the hospital
staff will contact the person named by the deceased as next of
kin. This may be, but need not be a relative. You
may, if you wish, request to see the hospital chaplain. Most
funeral directors have a chapel of rest in which the deceased will
be held pending the funeral. The hospital will arrange
for the nearest relative to collect the deceased’s possessions.
If the Death Occurs Elsewhere
If the death was expected, contact the doctor
who attended the deceased during their final illness. If the
doctor can certify the cause of death he or she will give you the
- A Medical Certificate that shows the cause of
death (this is free of charge and will be in a sealed envelope
addressed to the registrar).
- A Formal Notice that states that the doctor
has signed the Medical Certificate and tells you how to get the
You may wish to contact the deceased’s
minister of religion if you have not already done so.
Arrangements for the funeral may be made by a funeral director.
If you discover a body or the death is sudden
or unexpected, you should contact the following people:
- The family doctor (if known)
- The deceased’s nearest relative
- The deceased’s minister of religion
- The police, who will help find the people
listed above if necessary
If there is any reason to suspect that the
death was not due to natural causes, do not touch or remove
anything from the room. The death may be referred to the
coroner. The doctor may ask the relatives for permission to
carry out a post-mortem examination.
This is a medical examination of the body
which can find out more about the cause of the death and should not
delay the funeral.
Reporting a Death to a Coroner
In any of the following circumstances the
doctor may report the death to the coroner.
- An accident or injury
- An industrial disease
- During a surgical operation
- Before recovery from an anaesthetic
- If the cause of the death is unknown
- The death was sudden and unexplained, for
instance, a sudden infant death (cot death).
You will be advised if the death has to be
reported to the Coroner, in which case the death cannot be
registered nor the funeral take place, without the Coroner’s
Authorisation. Where a death is reported to the
Coroner, the Coroner’s Officer will contact the relatives.
A Coroner can order a post-mortem examination
without getting the relatives’ permission. This
examination will ascertain the cause of death. He may
also wish to hold an investigation into circumstances leading up to
a death. (This is called an inquest). When an inquest
is called, the Coroner’s Office will contact the relatives.
This should not cause undue distress as it is a legal
In such cases an interim Death
Certificate will be issued direct to your from the Coroner’s
Office. When an inquest is to be held, the death cannot be
registered until the conclusion of the inquest, but a certificate
will normally be issued at the opening of the inquest to allow the
funeral to take place. Once the inquest is over the inquest
report will be sent by the Coroner directly to the Registry Office
in order that the registration can take place without disruption to
the family and certificates can then be purchased.
For more information on the Coroner click here to visit
the website of the Home Office.
When the Death Certificate has been issued by
the Registrar, you will also be given a certificate authorising the
funeral. The choice of a firm of funeral directors is
important as you should feel comfortable and confidence with
them. They may be known to you personally, may be
recommended by a friend, your GP or religious advisor or may just
have a good reputation in your area.
Below are links to various online directories
where you can search for Funeral Directors.
Yellow Pages: www.yell.com
The Funeral Standards Council, National
Association of Funeral Directors & Society of Allied
Independent Funeral Directors all have a code of practice and
should give you an estimate of costs – their own and those fees
they will pay on your behalf and add to the account.
You can ask for this estimate in advance and
it’s a good idea to ask different firms to quote so that you can
Your funeral director can make all the
arrangements for the funeral, burial or cremation, religious or
secular service. The funeral director can also advise on all
the procedures and documents needed to register the death.
If you are considering a headstone most
cemeteries will advise to wait for a period of approximately six
months before placing it. However, we suggest you contact
your preferred choice of monumental mason as soon as possible to
avoid any unnecessary delay after this waiting period.
There is no requirement to have a religious
ceremony, or any kind of ceremony at all at a funeral. People
that regard religion to be unimportant or have made a decision to
live their lives without it may prefer a Humanist or Civil
This type of ceremony is not intended to
oppose a religious funeral, but to provide a dignified and
respectful celebration of the death that has occurred.
At this type of funeral the services of an
officiant, on the lines of a minister or celebrant are commonly
employed. They will conduct the proceedings which can involve
readings of appropriate prose, tributes by attendees or the
officiant and the playing of appropriate music.
The British Humanist Association website
offers advice on all aspects of humanist ceremonies and produce a
booklet Funerals without God: A Practical Guide to Non-religious
Funerals which can be purchased £5 (including postage and
Celebrants are trained professionals who can
officiate at funerals, weddings, namings or any other rite of
If you don’t want a ceremony at all, members
of the family or close friends can attend the committal, which can
be in silence or with some music being played.
Civil Funerals can now be conducted by civil
funeral celebrants including those who are members of our own
staff or a Registrar. If you wish for this type of service
please let your Funeral Directors know. A Civil Funeral
can contain religious elements combined with tributes to the
deceased. The emphasis of Civil Funerals is the deceased’s
life experiences coupled with the needs of the bereaved. The
balance between religious aspects and life experiences is solely
that of the bereaved family. We aim to make the occasion
relevant to all who attend.
Non-Church of England Funerals
If you have to arrange a funeral for someone
who is of a faith different from your own, it is important to
contact the equivalent of the local priest of the denomination to
find out what needs to be done.
Non-Christian and Minority Group Funerals
A brief word on the practises of other faiths
is included below:
Most Muslim communities appoint one person who
is responsible for making funeral arrangements. It will be
their job to advise of the rules and to select a suitable funeral
There are many possible variations of rites
which depend on their form of Hinduism. The Asian
Funeral Service can give advice on and arrange Hindu
funerals. They can be contacted on 020 8909 3737
Jewish funerals are usually arranged by a
dedicated Jewish Funeral Agency, or the local community may have a
contract with a Gentile funeral service, which will be carried out
under strict rabbinical control. The Jewish Bereavement
Counselling Service offers support and can be contacted on 020 8349
If you have any difficulty in dealing with the
deceased’s property, possessions or guardianship of their children,
get advice from a Solicitor or Citizens Advice Bureau as soon as
From the CAB (or their website) you can get
the leaflets Legal Aid Guide and Getting Legal Help from a Citizens
Advice Bureau, public library, police station or a court, to find
out if you can get legal aid.
These places also hold a list of local
Solicitors which shows whether they take legal aid cases and if
they specialise in probate work. Again you can search
for local solicitors using the online directories below:
Yellow Pages: www.yell.com
The Legal Services Commission website also
contains leaflets and other useful information.
Many solicitors are prepared to offer up to
half an hour of legal advice for a small fee.
What is probate and do I need it?
The word “probate” is often misunderstood. It
conjures up images of months of difficulty and delay. This is
not inevitable and many simple probates are finished quite easily
in a month or so.
What is it?
It is a document issued by the Probate
Registry confirming that an executor has the right to wind up an
estate of the person who has died. The “estate” is the house,
money, and savings left by someone when they die. The
“executor” is the person chosen in the Will to sort out the estate
and make sure it goes to the people named in the Will.
Do I have to have it?
This depends upon the size of the
estate. Often, when the estate is very small no probate is
How do I get it?
By filling in some forms. If the estate
is small the forms do not have to give full details of it.
The important form is the “Executors Oath”. This is not
usually available from stationery shops but can be found in books
about probate. It has to be sworn as being true.
For more information on Probate, including application forms, fees
etc, visit the website of the Court Service – http://www.hmcourts-service.gov.uk/
Do I have to use a solicitor?
No, but it helps. You can also apply
direct to the Probate Registry yourself. Most
solicitors offer probate services and their fees depend upon the
amount of work necessary and the size of the estate.
In order for a will to be valid it must
Made by a person who is 18 years old or over,
and made voluntarily and without pressure from any other person:
and made by a person who is of sound mind. This means that
s/he is fully aware of the nature of the document s/he is writing
or signing and aware of her/his property and the identity of the
person who may inherit, and in writing, and signed by the person
making the will in the presence of two witnesses; and signed by the
two witnesses, in the presence of the person making the will, after
s/he has signed it.
A witness or the married partner of a witness
cannot benefit from a will, the will is still valid but the
beneficiary will not be able to inherit under the will.
Although it will be legally valid even if it
is not dated, it is advisable to ensure that the will also include
the date on which it is signed.
As soon as the will is signed and witnessed,
it is complete.
What if there is no will?
Speak to a Solicitor – it is safer in the long
run because various laws affect who is entitled to wind up the
estate and receive the money.
If the person who died was paying tax on
income from investments or as a self employed person or as an
employee, tell the tax office about the death as soon as
possible. This will enable the deceased’s tax affairs
to be settled. Depending on circumstances, this may involve
some more tax or claiming a repayment. The particular tax
office to contact will depend upon the deceased’s
For instance if the deceased was an employee
or had a pension from a former employer, the pay section of the
employer or pension organisation will know the deceased’s tax
If the deceased was self-employed, contact the
tax office nearest to the place of business.
If the deceased was unemployed, or retired
without pension from a former employer, contact the tax office
nearest to the home address.
Inland Revenue leaflet IR45 what to do about
tax when someone dies gives more information. Alternatively,
further information, and copies of IR45 leaflet are available at
the Inland Revenue’s website – http://www.hmrc.gov.uk/bereavement/index.htm.
Independent Financial Advice
Professional advice on financial matters can
be obtained from a variety of sources: your bank or building
society may be able to offer you assistance regarding investments
etc… however, they will generally only be able to recommend their
own policies and investment opportunities.
An Independent Financial Advisor will be able
to search around for the best investments, savings, life assurance,
mortgages etc, to suit your individual needs. It makes sense
to contact an independent Financial Advisor so that you can make
comparisons on all the different options that are available.