What to Do When Somebody Dies

Posted: 26/10/2017

When somebody dies it can be a massive shock and we simply do not where to put ourselves or what to do. But there are a few things you need to do legally after a person has died that can get lost in the heat of the moment after the death.

To help relive you of the added stress, we will be talking you through what you need to do, step by step, after someone you know has died.

In the first few days after a person dies there are three main things that you must do, these are:

  • Retrieve a medical certificate from a GP or a doctor at the hospital. This is required to register the death legally.

  • Next, you will have to actually register the death. This must be done within 5 days in England and Wales and within 8 days in Scotland. Then you will get all the documents to need for the funeral.

  • Arrange the funeral. To do this you can use a funeral director or you can have the option to arrange it yourself.

Getting a medical certificate


Before you can register the death of a family member or loved one, you must seek out a doctor to issue you with a medical certificate which states and confirms the cause of death of that person.

If the death was expected then the cause of death will have to be determined by a medical professional. It will be detailed on an official document which is called a Medical Certificate of Death (MCOD) what the cause of death was. The details on the certificate are as follows:

  • the full, legal name of the deceased

  • the age of the person when they died

  • the exact date that the death took place

  • the location where the death took place

  • the cause of death

Typically, the case of death will be written in a formal medical language and terminology. The document will clearly state the main cause of death as well as other contributing factors that may have brought about the main cause of death. The doctor will also write up about the last time they may have seen the deceased before their date of death, it may be the case that they have not seen them as patient before which they will state.

In the case that it is not clear why the person has died and it appears to be from natural causes, the doctor will usually be able to easily identify the cause that wasn’t so obvious to someone who was not a medical professional. Consequently, the doctor should be able to issue the document swiftly.

However, if the doctor is unsure about what brought about the death or has not seen the patient for 14 days (according to the law in England, Scotland and Wales) or 28 days (according to the law in Northern Ireland).

Register the death

The registration of a death is needed for a formal record of the death. This registration is done by the Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages. You will need to find one from your local area, the telephone number should be online or in a telephone directory.

If someone is to die at home, their death should be registered at the register office in the area in which they lived. If the death had taken place at a hospital or in a nursing home, the death is to be registered at the register office in which the hospital or nursing home is located.

Please note that a death should be registered within 5 days if you live in England or Wales and within 8 days if you live Scotland. However, the registration can be held off for a further 9 days in each case if the registrar is aware that the medical certificate is not yet issued for a legitimate reason. If the death of a person has alternatively been reported to the coroner, the death cannot be registered until the investigations that are overseen by the coroner have been concluded.

It is a criminal offence to fail to register a death across the UK.

Typically, the death should be registered by one of the following people:

  • a relative who was present at the time of death

  • a relative who was present during the period in which the deceased was last ill

  • a relative in the area where the death took place

  • anyone who was present at the death

  • the person who is arranging the funeral (bar the funeral director)

  • the owner or the legal occupier of the property in which the death took place and who was aware of the death when it happened

The death certificate


A death certificate is needed to deal with the money and property which has been left behind by the deceased, as well as the will. You may need to have several copies of the death certificate, which will come with a fee per copy. You can obtain copies of the death certificate from the General Register Office.

You will need to get a death certificate before you can start arranging the funeral, which is the next step.

Arranging the Funeral


The last step you need to think about when someone has died is arranging their funeral. In a lot of cases, people who know they are going to die in the near future due to illness or old age leave instructions for the arrangements for their funeral. There is no legal obligation to carry these out, however, it is generally seen as disrespectful to the person who has died.

Most people seek the services of a funeral director to help them with all the aspects of arranging the funeral. You should be sure to choose a funeral director who is part of either the:

For more information on what a funeral director does, click here.

If you want to read more about pre-paid funeral plans, click here.