What to do when there is a death or stillbirth

The information provided below offers some useful help and advice with the arrangements for dealing with a death.

Register a death 

You will find further information about registering a death here.

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 following:

  • 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 death registered.

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 formality.

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 visit the website of the Home Office.