What to do immediately following the death of a loved one

 

  • If someone dies at home and their death was expected, for example due to a terminal illness, you should call the family doctor. The doctor will issue a medical certificate, which states the cause of death. You’ll also be given a formal notice stating they have signed the medical certificate and telling you how to register the death. Once the doctor has issued the medical certificate, and when you are ready to do so, you can call a funeral director of your choice who will move the body to a funeral home.

 

  • If someone dies at home unexpectedly, you should call 111 immediately and ask for advice. An unexpected death may need to be reported to a coroner (procurator fiscal in Scotland). A coroner is a doctor or lawyer responsible for investigating unexpected deaths. The coroner may call for a post-mortem or inquest to find out the cause of death. If a death is reported to a coroner, the funeral may need to be delayed.

 

  • If the person dies in hospital, the hospital will support you with the steps you need to take and will issue the medical certificate and formal notice. The body is usually moved to the hospital mortuary until the funeral director or relatives arrange a chapel of rest, or for the body to be taken home.

Who to tell about the death

 

When someone dies, there are a number of government departments you must inform.

 

You could use the Tell Us Once service to contact several departments in one go. Tell Us Once The service is offered by most local authorities, but isn’t available in Northern Ireland. You can arrange for an appointment to take place when you register the death, during which the relevant departments and services will be notified. If you prefer, you can access the service online or via the phone. You’ll need a unique reference number from the registrar to do this.

 

The departments that can be contacted in one go include:

  • Local services such as libraries, electoral services, housing benefit and council tax services

  • HM Passport Office

  • the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA)

  • the Department for Work and Pensions

  • HMRC for tax purposes If your local authority doesn’t offer this service, you’ll need to contact these departments yourself.

  • You’ll need to return a driver’s licence to the DVLA and

  • any passport to HM Passport Office.

 

 Power of attorney

  • If the person had a registered lasting power of attorney or enduring power of attorney and you were the attorney, send the original document and a death certificate to the Office of the Public Guardian.  In Northern Ireland, send it to the Office of Care and Protection. In Scotland, if the person had a power of attorney, notify the Office of the Public Guardian for Scotland in writing, enclosing a copy of the death certificate .

Other organisations to contact

You may need to contact other organisations, including:

  • personal or occupational pension scheme providers 

  • insurance company •

  • bank and building society •

  • employer or trade union •

  • mortgage provider, housing association or council housing office •

  • social services, or the social work department in Scotland, if the person was getting any community care services or equipment •

  • utility companies •

  • GP, dentist, optician and anyone else providing medical care

If the person left a will and named an executor  they are likely to take on these tasks. The role of the executor is to deal with the money, property and possessions of the person who died, known as their estate. You may wish to register the name and address of the person who died with the Bereavement Register, which removes their details from mailing lists and stops most advertising mail.

Arranging a funeral

 

The person who died may have left funeral instructions in their will or a letter about their wishes. They may have made a specific request – for example, a woodland burial or a coffin made of particular materials, such as wicker or cardboard. However, if there are no clear wishes, the executor of the will or nearest relative will usually decide if the body will be cremated or buried and what type of funeral will take place. If the person had certain religious or cultural beliefs, remember to reflect these in the service.

 

Before cremation can take place, a number of forms should be completed. These include a certificate from a doctor which is also signed by another doctor, and an application form completed by a relative. These are available from the funeral director.

 

 

Paying for a funeral

If you arrange the funeral, you are responsible for paying the bill so check first where the money will come from. The person who died may have paid into a life insurance policy or a pension scheme that provides a lump sum towards funeral costs, or into a funeral plan that has already prepaid the costs. If they left money, property or other assets, these can be used to pay for the funeral, as funeral costs take precedence over any debts. Sometimes banks and building societies will release money from the person’s account to pay funeral costs if they see a certified copy of the death certificate, but they do not have to do this until probate (known as confirmation in Scotland) is granted. Probate is the legal process of distributing the estate of the person who has died. If there’s a delay, you may need to pay the funeral costs out of your own pocket in the meantime. 

 

 

If you don’t want a public funeral, you could ask the funeral director about ‘direct cremation’. This is where the body is collected from a mortuary and taken to the crematorium. It’s less expensive, as there’s no need for a hearse, no ceremony at the crematorium and the cremation takes place at a time convenient to the crematorium. You can then hold a commemorative ceremony at a time and place that suits you.

 

Help with funeral costs

 

If you’re responsible for arranging the funeral and you’re on a low income, you may be eligible for a Funeral Payment to cover various aspects of the costs. These payments are made through the Social Fund, a government fund to help people with one-off payments and emergency expenses.

 

If you receive money from the person’s estate, you’ll usually have to repay the Funeral Payment from this. A house or personal things left to a surviving spouse or civil partner are not counted as part of the estate.

 

There are strict rules about who can get help and how much you will receive. You won’t get a definite decision on your application for a payment until after the funeral has taken place, so it’s best to check if you are eligible for the payment before you make the funeral arrangements.

 

To be able to claim the payment you must be the partner of the person who’s died, or a close relative or close friend, and you or your partner must receive certain means-tested benefits, such as Pension Credit. The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) can refuse an application from a close relative or friend if it considers that another close relative could arrange and pay for the funeral.

 

You must claim within three months of the funeral, and you may not be able to get a payment if the person had a pre-paid funeral plan.

 

If there is no money for a funeral, or if no one is willing to pay for or arrange the funeral, the council will arrange a public health funeral, although they may seek the costs back from the estate. Contact your local council for further information or in Northern Ireland contact your local Health and Social Care board.

What will a Funeral Payment cover?

 

A Funeral Payment from the Social Fund will cover the costs of a simple, respectful funeral in the UK, including: 

  • buying a new burial plot and burial fees, or cremation costs 

  • reasonable costs for one return journey within the UK for the responsible person to arrange or attend the funeral 

  • money towards transport costs if the body has to be transported 50 miles or more 

  • up to £700 towards other items such as the coffin, religious costs and flowers

 

To claim a Funeral Payment, you need form SF200, which you can get from your local Jobcentre Plus or Gov.uk . You can also call the DWP Bereavement Service to make a claim. In Northern Ireland, contact the Bereavement Service.

 

If you don’t qualify for a Funeral Payment, or it doesn’t cover the full funeral costs, you may be able to get a Budgeting Loan from the Social Fund. These are interest-free loans of between £100 and £1,500 that you repay out of your benefits.

To claim you need form SF500, available from your local Jobcentre Plus or Gov.uk. If you receive Universal Credit, you can’t apply for a Budgeting Loan, but a Budgeting Advance instead. Contact your local Jobcentre Plus for more information.

Dealing with the estate

Probate (known as confirmation in Scotland) is the legal process of distributing the money, property and possessions, known as the estate, of a person who’s died.

First you will need to find out whether the person made a valid will. A will explains what should happen to the person’s estate. A bank, solicitor, will safe facility, the Probate Service or a trusted friend or relative may hold it.

If there is a will, the person who died will usually have appointed executors (in Scotland, these are called executors nominate) to deal with the estate. If no executors were appointed, or there is no will, the court will appoint an administrator (or executor dative in Scotland).

If there is no will, the person is said to have died ‘intestate’ and there are different rules – for example, their spouse or civil partner will automatically inherit all their personal possessions and at least the first £250,000 of their estate. The rules around how anything over £250,000 is divided up are complex, and you should take advice if you’re dealing with the estate.

 

If you are named as an executor in the will, or if the person died intestate and you think you are entitled to deal with the estate, you will need to apply to the local Probate Registry (the Probate Office in Northern Ireland or the local Sheriff Court in Scotland) for a grant of representation (or confirmation in Scotland). You can do this in person or through a solicitor. Call the Probate and Inheritance Tax Helpline for more information. Sometimes there is no need to apply for a grant of representation, for example, if the value of the estate is very small – usually less than £5,000 in England and Wales or less than £10,000 in Northern Ireland. In Scotland, confirmation may not be required for estates valued at less than £36,000.

 

In this case you need to write to the bank, building society or the organisation that is holding the money. They may insist on seeing documentation such as a death certificate and evidence of your relationship. In Scotland, you need the authority of the Sheriff Court to do this. The Probate and Inheritance Tax helpline gives general information and advice on matters relating to probate and can also help you get the forms you need to complete. You can also consult a solicitor, but they will charge for any advice given or work done on behalf of the executor.

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