Our Probate and Estate Administration Team are available on 01225 755656. Alternatively, you can email them or complete the contact form at the foot of this page.
When you lose a loved one, working out what needs to be done is daunting. The people and organisations to be contacted and the steps to be taken can seem endless. Below, we have set out a brief guide and checklists to help you navigate your way through this difficult time. However, no guide can be exhaustive, and should you require any further information or guidance, please contact our team.
- What to do when someone dies at home
- How to register a death
- People and organisations to notify
- Arranging the funeral
- Is there a Will?
- Do you need to instruct a probate solicitor?
What to do when someone dies at home
If somebody dies at home, and their death was expected, perhaps due to a terminal illness, what to do next will depend upon the time of day. During the day, contact their GP or the NHS helpline (111). At night, call the NHS helpline for advice. In both cases, a doctor will attend.
If the cause of death is clear, expected, and there are no unusual circumstances, the doctor will issue a Medical Certificate of Cause of Death, allowing the death to be registered. On the other hand, if they have any doubts about the cause of death, even if it was clearly from natural causes, they will contact the coroner, who may order a post mortem to establish the cause of death.
If the death was unexpected, you should dial 999 straight away and the Police and Ambulance Service will attend. The operator will provide you with immediate advice, including on attempting resuscitation if appropriate. Other than attempts at resuscitation, you should leave the area untouched. The paramedics will confirm the death, and the Police, acting on the coroner’s behalf, will arrange for the body to be collected. The coroner may then order a post mortem before issuing the document required to allow the death to be registered.
How to register a death
To register the death, you will need to make an appointment with the registrar. During lockdown, these are taking place by telephone.
The death must be registered in the district where it occurred, so if the death occurred at home it must be registered at the register office for the district where the deceased lived. If it took place in a hospital or a nursing home, the appropriate register office is the one in which the hospital or home is situated.
You will need a Medical Certificate of Cause of Death. If your loved one has died in hospital this will be provided to you by the hospital. Where possible, you should register a death within five days of the date of death, but where the registrar has been informed that a medical certificate has been issued, this can be delayed for another nine days. If a post mortem has been ordered, the death cannot be registered until the coroner’s investigation is complete.
You can register a death if you are a relative of the person who died. If there are no relatives, the following people can usually register:
- Someone who was present at the death;
- Occupier, matron or owner of the care home where the death occurred;
- Hospital administrator of the premises where the death occurred;
- House or flat mate of the deceased if they lived in shared accommodation;
- Person arranging the funeral.
If at all possible, you should take the following documents with you:
- The deceased’s birth certificate;
- Evidence of change of name such as a change of name deed;
- Recent utility bill showing the address of the deceased;
- The deceased’s marriage or civil partnership certificate;
- Proof of identity and address for you, the person registering the death (for example, a driving licence and utility bill).
The registrar will ask you for the following information:
- Date of death;
- Place of death;
- Name of the hospital or care home, name or number of the house, name of the street and village, town and so on. If the death occurred in an ambulance or other vehicle, you need to provide information about the location of the vehicle when the death occurred, and the intended destination;
- Name and surname;
- Name the deceased person was known by at the time of their death, and also any other name(s) they were known by previously;
- Maiden name of a woman who has married;
- Date of birth (if the exact date is unknown, the approximate date);
- Place of birth;
- Occupation of the deceased;
- Name and surname of husband, wife, widow, widower, surviving civil partner and their occupation (if they are deceased, whether they were retired before they passed away);
- Usual address.
After registering the death, the registrar will provide you with the following:
- Certificate for burial or cremation, known as the “Green form” (but in some cases, the coroner will issue this form) which the funeral director will require before they can arrange the funeral;
- Death Certificate (note that you will very likely need certified copies for different purposes and it is cheaper to buy copies immediately from the registrar than to apply for them at a later date);
- A “Tell Us Once” reference number, which will enable you to easily inform a number of national and government organisations that someone has died.
People and organisations to notify
Unfortunately, there will very likely be numerous people, companies, and organisations to notify. These may include:
- Bank, building society, mortgage lender, credit card companies, insurance companies;
- Private pension providers;
- Utility companies;
- Primary healthcare providers, including GP, dentist, and optician;
- Telephone (landline and mobile), internet, cable, and satellite providers;
- Online subscription services, eg Netflix or Amazon Prime;
- Other organisations to whom the deceased made regular payments or subscriptions;
- Local deliveries such as newspapers and milk;
- Services such as Meals on Wheels and Home Help;
- Social media companies such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram;
- For government departments, follow the link to “Tell Us Once”, provided above. This will enable you to quickly notify organisations such as the DVLA, HM Passport Office, the Department for Work and Pensions and TV Licensing.
Arranging the funeral
You will need to provide to the funeral director the “Green Form” given to you by the registrar. This will enable them to proceed with arranging the funeral.
It’s worth remembering that once you have the funeral director’s invoice, you can take it to the deceased bank. Although the account will be frozen, provided there are sufficient funds in the account, the bank should agree to settle the invoice directly with the funeral director.
Is there a Will?
Where there is a Will, in most cases you will find a photocopy, the original being held securely by the deceased’s solicitor or at their bank. Should you find an original Will, it’s essential this is kept as safe as possible. It will name the executors appointed by the deceased to administer their estate. If you are not named as an executor, it’s important that you leave the handling of the estate to them.
If there is no will, this is referred to as dying intestate and the intestacy rules dictate who should administer the estate.
Do you need to instruct a probate solicitor?
There is no requirement for the executor(s), or others entitled to administer the estate, to instruct a probate solicitor. Many people, particularly if they have the necessary skills and time – and the estate is reasonably straightforward – apply for probate without using a specialist solicitor. However, you should be aware that applying for probate and dealing with an estate carries legal obligations. Indeed, you can incur personal liability should you get it wrong! That is why most people instruct a solicitor.
There are certain situations where instructing a specialist solicitor is particularly recommended. These include:
- Where the Will names a charity or charities as beneficiaries;
- When the estate may be liable for Inheritance Tax;
- If the deceased died intestate, particularly if the value of the estate is likely to exceed £250,000;
- If there are concerns over the validity of the Will;
- If the Will has been, or is likely to be, contested. For example, where dependants of the deceased person have not been mentioned in the Will;
- If the Will mentions “Trusts” or is otherwise complex;
- Where the deceased person had foreign property or assets;
- If the deceased person had business or agricultural assets;
- If the estate is insolvent. In other words, if the value of all the assets is less than the liabilities.