What to do when someone dies

News of a death can come in the form of a phone call or you may have been with them until the very end. When death comes your reaction will be of shock, disbelief and deep grief.

Mixed emotions will surely follow; numbness, disbelief, fright and bewilderment as to what to do next.

Should you be responsible for reporting the death, making, funeral arrangements or executing the Will you are likely to feel overwhelmed.

If death occurs at home:

Contact the family doctor ad in most cases they will issue a death certificate plus a formal notice stating that they have signed the certificate, which will also tell you how to register the death.

There are some cases where a doctor cannot issue the certificate, which include:

  • If the deceased was not seen by a doctor during their last illness or within 14 days prior to death
  • If the cause of death is uncertain
  • If death was sudden, violent or caused by an accident
  • If death was caused by an industrial disease

Under these circumstances the doctor may report the death to the coroner and an inquest may have to take place

Contact the police:

If death is violent, accidental or there are suspicious circumstances.

If death occurs in hospital:

The medical certificate of ‘Cause of Death’ will be issued by the hospital doctor unless the coroner needs to be informed.

The hospital will keep the body in their mortuary until a funeral director or family arrange for collection.

Registering the death:

A death should be registered within 5 days. Ideally, at the register office in the same area as the person died or there could be a delay.

Make an appointment beforehand as registering a death will take up to half an hour.
To make an appointment an on-line booking service is available in most areas.

Arranging the funeral:

Arrangements for the funeral can be made as soon as you feel able to undertake the task. The funeral director will give you all the advice, guidance and support you need.

If the death has been reported to the coroner this may affect the date when that funeral can take place.

Check to see if the deceased’s Will includes: instructions for the funeral. Also check whether the deceased had made funeral arrangements and paid for them in advance.

If you are next of kin and there are no specific instructions about who is expected to do so, it is up to you to make the funeral arrangements.

Taking into account the wishes of the deceased you will need to decide:

  • Which funeral director to use
  • Whether the deceased is to be buried or cremated
  • Where the body will rest until the day of the funeral

You will also need to decide:

  • Whether there will be a funeral service.
  • Decide who will conduct the funeral service and where it will take place
  • Whether you want flowers for the funeral or donations for a named charity.

Who can register the death?

If the person died in a house or in hospital, the death can be registered by:

  • A relative
  • Someone present at the death
  • An occupant in the house (eg manager of a nursing home)
  • An official from the hospital
  • The person making the funeral arrangements

Most deaths are registered by a relative. You will have to give your relationship to the deceased and your full name and address. Details of what information you will need are given on the envelope containing the medical certificate.


A stillbirth will need to be registered within 42 days. The midwife caring for you, or the register office, will explain to you who can register the stillbirth, when and what paperwork you need to take with you.

For more information regarding registration of a stillbirth, and emotional help, visit: www.tommys.org or call 0800 0147 800

Documents and information you will need to register a death

Having confirmed that you are are able to register the death, you will need to take to the appointment:

  • Medical certificate
  • Marriage/civil partnership certificates
  • NHS medical card

You will need to tell the registrar:

  • The person’s full name at time of death
  • The deceased’s date and time of death
  • Any names previously used, including maiden name
  • The person’s date and place of birth
  • Their last address
  • Their occupation
  • The full name and date of birth and occupation of spouse or civil partner
  • Whether they were receiving a state pension or any other state benefit.

Documents you will receive

If a post-mortem is not being held, the registrar will issue you with:

  • A certificate of burial or cremation (a green form), giving permission for the body to be buried or for an application for cremation to be made.
  • A certificate of registration of Death (formBD8) issued for social security purposes if the person received a state pension or benefits
  • You can ask the registrar for extra certificates that you may need for the Will and any pension claims, insurance policies, savings bank certificates and premium bonds (photocopies are not accepted). These certificates must be paid for. You may apply for extra copies later but these will cost more.

Organ and body donation

Human bodies are used to teach medical students about the body and how it works, and to train and develop the skills of surgeons and pathologists.

Researchers use human tissue to improve understanding of how diseases start and progress and what keeps us healthy.

Organs such as kidneys, liver and lungs are used in transplants to treat people whose organs have failed.

Many people are helped by transplants of corneas (to restore sight) and skin grafts (particularly burns victims). The average donated body enables 12 other people to live or to live better. This thought often helps to comfort the bereaved.

To find out more about leaving your body, tissue or organs for medical research, contact Human Tissue Authority at: www.hta.gov.uk or call 020 7268 1900.

To join the Organ Donor Register, visit: www.uktransplant.org.uk or call the Organ Donor Line: 0300 123 23 23. Lines open 24 hours a day.

The above information is by courtesy of The West Sussex Bereavement Guide.