When a loved one dies it can be difficult and upsetting to consider the practical side of a death, and hard to know what steps to take and who to contact. You may have been able to make plans beforehand for some of the things you need to do, and this can help to take some of the stress off you in the early days. But sometimes, you may not have had a chance to think about these things. Remember that you do not need to do everything yourself. This is often the time when friends and family can help you by doing some of the practical tasks. Below we have summarised seven steps to consider, and of course, we are always available to support and guide you through this process.
Report the death to 111/GP/999
If your loved one has died at home, even if under regular circumstances, it is important to contact 111 and your GP so that they can certify the death quickly. If you have support from your local palliative care team, they will help you to do this. If the death was unexpected, you should contact 999.
If your loved one dies whilst in hospital, you should follow hospital policy, which will be specific to the hospital.
Contact the funeral director (undertaker)
Once you have reported the death, the GP or emergency services will contact an undertaker to transport your loved one to a local hospital, hospice, mortuary or undertaker’s facilities. Generally, there will be no charge for this service, as there is an expectation for you to arrange the funeral service with them and, therefore, this is included in funeral costs.
If you are struggling to choose a funeral director, you can contact us for help and support. You can learn more about funeral costs and the financial support available here.
A post-mortem (or autopsy) may be carried out if the cause death is unknown and will be performed by a coroner. This is carried out within three days of the referral.
Register their death
If the cause of death was known, you should register you loved one’s death with your local Registry Office within five days of their death. You will need to have the medical certificate from your GP (or coroner) if a post-mortem was performed. Other useful documents to have at hand include their NHS card, birth certificate, and if applicable, a council tax bill and marriage/civil partnership certificate. You will receive one official death certificate once their death has been registered, plus a green form, which allows a burial or cremation to take place. You may consider requesting further copies of the death certificate (for a small charge) if you need to share this with multiple agencies.
Let others know
Sharing the news that your loved one has died can be a very difficult task, adding further emotional strain. It is worth sitting down and trying to make a list of everybody you need to tell. Not only will this make it easier to keep track of what you have done, but you may be able to share some of the responsibility with friends or family. Some organisations won’t be able to take instruction from you until you have the death certificate.
Talking to children about the death of a loved one comes with its own challenges. The children in your family may not be able to comprehend death and might need further help to understand the situation. The Child Bereavement Trust, Cruse Bereavement Care and Marie Curie have useful resources to help explain death and grieving which you could take a look at.
The UK Government have set up a service (Tell Us Once) allowing you to report a death to all major and local government authorities at one time, including:
• DWP pensions and benefits
• Personal tax
• Council tax
• Driving licence
• Blue Badge
• Electoral register
Learn more here.
Plan their funeral or memorial service
It is up to you and your family how you wish to commemorate and celebrate your loved one’s life. They may have expressed their wishes to you or left a Will explaining what they would like. If you have lost a child, you may already have considered how you would like to commemorate their life. Some of the different options include:
• A service at your own place of worship and burial in your local cemetery/church
• A service at your own place of worship or at the crematorium, and then a cremation
• A non-religious ceremony. This can be arranged by you, by family or friends or by organisations including The British Humanist Association or an independent celebrant
• A service, religious or not, in your own home
• A service of thanksgiving, sometime after the funeral
It can be very difficult to ask all the questions and take in all the information you need to consider. It can help to have another close family member or friend with you when you are making these decisions. We are here to listen and guide you through this process if needed, and to help you consider and plan a service that reflects the life of your loved one.
It can be helpful to involve brothers and sisters in the funeral, whatever their age. Give them a choice about whether or not to be there and talk to them about what will happen so they are prepared. A member of your family or a friend could be asked to help care for them at the funeral. It’s generally best to give children simple, straightforward explanations about what is happening. It is also important to let the school know about the death of a pupil’s brother or sister, so staff can provide support and be aware of any emotional or behavioural changes.
Manage their belongings
When a loved one dies, there is a need to begin the process of managing and sorting their belongings, to see which of these items you wish to keep. It is important to do this in your own time and at your own pace, to allow yourself to consider what items are important hold sentimental value to you and others within the family.
If your loved one has left a Will, this should say who will be responsible for dealing with their estate (executors), including any leftover money, possessions and property and distributing this in accordance with the instructions in their will.
If there are items that do not have a sentimental attachment, you could consider donating these to a charity shop, many charities have suffered financial hardship in the last two years and donating to a charity could be a way to honour your loved ones memory.
If you have medical equipment, medicine and dressings that belonged to your loved one, it is important to ensure these are returned to your community nursing service or local pharmacy to be disposed of properly. Any practical aids may also need to be returned to your local authority.
Plan for the future
Moving forward in your life after the death of a loved one is a difficult but necessary step to coping with your grief. In the past community members have done this in the form of doing something to honour the deceased memory (such as setting up a fundraising page) or through another meaningful gesture (such as putting together a memory book of photos and letters from friends, planting something special in the garden, creating a patchwork from clothing) all in the loved ones name. If your loved one had a Will or Letter of Wishes this would be the time to carry these out too.
Most likely you will still feel pain, sadness, anger and other strong emotions throughout this process and long after, this is normal and okay. Losing a loved one can be very traumatic and may impact you in many different ways over a short or long period of time. Our support is here whenever you need it, whether your loss was recent or many years ago, you can reach out to our Care and Support team for a friendly chat, help or advice or join Reflections Families for informal support from people who truly understand.