What do I do when someone dies?
Losing a loved one can leave us feeling lost, and planning a funeral only adds to an already stressful situation. But not to worry, this guide is here to help you figure out what steps to take when someone close to us passes away.
From registering a death, to choosing the right funeral director, and finding a way to cover costs; here’s what to do when someone dies.
1. Before the funeral
The very first steps
The very first thing you must do when someone dies, is ask a doctor to issue a medical certificate stating the cause of death. You should then contact those closest to the deceased to inform them of the bad news.
If someone dies at home, you must arrange for a funeral director to collect the body. If your loved one happens to pass away in a hospice or a hospital, then the medical staff can offer advice on what to do next. Often when someone dies in a hospital, their body will be kept in the morgue for days, or sometimes even weeks which will give you more time to arrange the funeral.
If someone dies unexpectedly or under suspicious circumstances, you must call 999 as soon as possible. The police and paramedics will request a coroner who can investigate the cause of death. The coroner will most likely arrange for a funeral director to bring the body to the morgue for a post-mortem examination.
You are not obliged to use this funeral director for your own arrangements. Once a cause of death has been determined, you will be given forms granting the release of the body for burial or cremation.
How do I register a death?
To register a death, it’s advised that you visit the nearest register office to the location where the individual passed away. Registering a death won’t take long if you phone ahead and make an appointment. You will have 5 days to register a death if you’re located in England, Wales or Northern Ireland and 8 days for Scotland.
Click here to search for a register office near you.
Who can register a death?
You can register a death if you are a close relative to the deceased, someone who was present when they died, an administrator from the hospital in which they died or whoever is the executor or administrator of their estate.
What documents do I need to register a death?
You will need to bring the medical certificate stating the cause of death and it may help to speed things along if you have any of the following items at hand;
- Birth certificate of the deceased
- NHS card or National Insurance Number
- A marriage or civil partnership certificate
- Their passport, proof of address (this can be a utility bill)
- Their driver’s licence
- Council Tax bill
What happens after I register a death?
Once a death has been registered, you will receive the following documents;
- The Certificate of Notification of Registration of Death
- Copies of the Death Certificate
- The ‘Green’ Certificate for Cremation of Burial
- Information on government benefits for the bereaved
You will then be ready to start making funeral arrangements.
Does it cost anything to register a death?
Registering a death is free but you must pay for a death certificate. This costs £11 in England and Wales, £12 in Scotland and £15 in Northern Ireland.
We would advise you to get extra certificates in case you need them for claims to pensions, savings etc. as institutions like banks and insurance companies won’t accept a photocopied version.
Who must I inform when someone dies?
It’s not just family, friends and colleagues of the deceased who need to be informed of their passing. In fact, you may not realise just how many organisations you must inform.
After registering someone’s death, you should begin contacting the relevant government bodies and financial organisations immediately. You can notify just about every important government office at once by filling out one simple form or with a quick phone call with the Tell Us Once service. However, this service may not be available in your area. If this is the case, you’ll have to contact all relevant offices individually.
You must also contact any relevant financial organisations such as pension providers, banks or building societies, credit and store card companies, mortgage providers and insurance companies.
Utility companies like gas, water, phone and internet companies must be notified along with Royal Mail, the Bereavement Register and Mailing Preference Service who will help you to remove the deceased’s name from commercial mailing lists.
You may also need to inform the individual’s landlord if applicable.
How do I choose the right funeral director?
Choosing a suitable funeral director is the first step as it’s their job to handle all arrangements, with your guidance of course. You must meet with the funeral director at their office or in your home and you may need to meet with more than one funeral director to ensure that they are:
- able to provide you with everything you need to give your loved one the send-off they deserve
- offering an affordable price
Before getting into the personalisation of the ceremony, they will take care of all the practicalities like ensuring the handling of the body and the funeral service meets all legal, religious and personal guidelines. They will make sure that relevant paperwork has been transferred with little or no fuss, for instance, the Certificate of Burial or Cremation issued by the registrar once the death has been registered.
You may or may not be aware of the what kind of service the deceased would have wanted. If you’re unsure you can always ask the funeral director for advice, it is their area of expertise after all.
To find a funeral director you know will maintain an exceptional level of professionalism, visit the National Association of Funeral Directors website to find a NAFD member.
I don’t want to use a use a funeral director, what are my options?
You can always take matters into your own hands when it comes to planning a funeral. DIY funerals can be a cost effective, more environmentally friendly and a more personal send-off.
Be aware that it may involve more planning, so expect to hold the funeral at a later date if the death was unexpected.
Be sure to contact your local council if you want to arrange a funeral in your local cemetery or crematorium
Disposition of the body
These days, people have all sorts of strange requests when it comes to the disposition of their bodies. Gone are the days of the standard burial or cremation being the only way; being cryogenically frozen, turned into a diamond or a tree, being buried at sea and even being shot into space are gaining popularity.
In many cases, the disposition of the body is important when determining the type of service you will hold. A burial for instance will involve a service in a church or another venue and then a subsequent burial service to follow while a cremation usually consists of one service, ending with a committal where the coffin is taken into the crematorium.
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Arranging the details of the ceremony
The details of the funeral service will depend largely on the values, personality, interests and beliefs of the person who is being honoured.
Those who are organising the ceremony will know the deceased well enough to organise a meaningful service. It may be religious, non-religious, traditional, non-traditional or it may be simply a family celebrating the life of a loved one from the comfort of their own home. There are a number of ways to celebrate the life of someone you love, and there’s certainly no right, or wrong way to do it.
Where is the best place to have a funeral service?
Again, this will depend on the type of funeral service. It may take place in a place of worship, a crematorium, a funeral home, a chapel at a cemetery or a family home.
Open or closed casket
You may consider holding an open-casket funeral assuming the body is intact. In some circumstances the funeral director may advise against an open casket as sometimes the body may be in a later stage of decomposition or the cause of death has affected the body in such a way that might be upsetting for some.
Choosing the perfect casket or urn
When it comes to purchasing an urn or a casket, you may want to go down the route of a traditional high-quality, polished wooden coffin, or maybe you want something a little different like an eco-friendly biodegradable coffin that’s more in-line with the deceased’s values or interests? What about a steel casket?
The point is, there are lots of options to choose from. For instance, some caskets include memento drawers and personalised finishing like custom colours or cushioning.
Generally, urns are made of wood, porcelain, brass, glass, copper and other materials. If you’re scattering the ashes as opposed to keeping the urn you might opt for a simpler option. If you plan on keeping your loved one’s ashes, there are lots of ways to personalise the urn by adding artwork, engravings or decorative touches.
Informing friends & relatives of funeral arrangements
Once you’ve finalised the details of the service, it’s time to inform family and friends of the funeral arrangements.
Bear in mind that attendees may have to plan around work or other commitments in order to attend, so try your best to make inform people as soon as possible.
You may wish to place a notice of death or an obituary in a local newspaper or with a local radio station to reach friends of the deceased whom you may not be familiar with. It's also important to think about informing those who may not have been in touch in some time. Be sure to include details of donations (money or flowers) and details of the funeral service like time and location.
2. On the day
Planning the journey to the funeral
Traditionally, a casket is transported to the funeral service in a black hearse while immediate family follows behind in a car or limousine – this is often arranged by the funeral home. Other mourners will then follow closely behind.
All vehicle headlights should be on, and the funeral home may provide other identifying flags or markers to participating vehicles.
There are many alternative hearses available these days and it’s not unheard of for people to choose something a very different like a horse-drawn carriage, a fire engine or even a tank.
The route that the funeral procession takes is determined by family of the deceased, it may pass by their home or places that were meaningful to them. Some decide to skip this part all together and request that mourners meet at the ceremony. The funeral home may charge more if you request a specific route.
Planning a truly meaningful ceremony
Choosing the right music
You must choose entrance and exit music to play as the coffin arrives and leaves the service venue. But what’s the best music to pick for a funeral service?
The music at religious ceremonies generally consists of the deceased’s favourite hymns but different types of funerals may include other kinds of music, particularly the favourite songs of the deceased. “My Way” by Frank Sinatra and Monty Python’s “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life” are popular choices. You may also wish to include instrumental pieces to play during the ceremony.
Readings and eulogies
Who should read a eulogy?
Think carefully about who knows the deceased the best. It’s a good idea to choose someone who doesn’t shy away from public speaking.
What should I say in a eulogy?
The better someone knows the deceased, the more meaningful their words will be. Bible readings are common at traditional, religious funerals while poems are a popular choice for secular services.
Photos, videos and imagery
Photographs and videos are a fantastic way to remember the ones we love. It’s easy to forget that funerals are as much about remembering the life of a person than just mourning their passing.
Use an appropriate, clear photograph for the order service and the big display photograph. Many people choose to print other photos from throughout the deceased’s life and use them as decorations at the service and/or the wake.
Additionally, PowerPoint presentations and video compilations are increasingly being used as a comprehensive means of honouring the deceased during the service.
Pallbearers are usually male and are often members of the deceased’s family – their spouse, children, fathers, brother and so on – or their closest friends. Typically, there are six handles on a coffin and therefore six pallbearers. Pallbearers must have the emotional and physical strength to handle their role. Honorary pallbearers are often chosen to walk beside the coffin as it is carried if they cannot physically do it themselves.
It’s becoming increasingly common for families to request that well-wishers donate to a chosen charity in lieu of flowers while some buy floral tributes that are placed against the casket both in the hearse and during the funeral service. Traditionally, white lilies are a common choice, but many prefer to use the deceased’s favourite flower (if they had a preference).
Decorations & mementos
Decorations for the funeral service are often personalised in honour of the deceased and they should be easy to set up and take away when the time comes.
Decorations might include flowers, photographs, ornaments that were sentimental to the deceased, their favourite football team’s jersey, a hat that they wore every day or something else that they were heavily associated with.
These items are often placed on top of the coffin during the ceremony.
3. Planning your own funeral
Are you planning your own funeral? Of course, the above advice is still useful, however you may want to leave clear instructions with your family in order to personalise your legacy.
Discuss how you would like the funeral service to proceed and how you would like to handle the disposition of your body. This will make planning your funeral more straightforward while taking a weight of the shoulders of your loved ones.
What provisions should I have in place for my funeral?
- A will
- Financial support like a life insurance policy
- A discussion with family and friends about funeral arrangements or;
- A documented plan
Close and memorialise online accounts
One of the knock-on effects of the rise of technology is the abundance of online accounts we now have – everything from internet banking and shopping to social media. Give the details of each account to a family member so they can delete them or do so yourself if there’s time.
In the case of banking and phone providers especially, the process is much quicker if the organisation can speak directly to the account holder (although allowances will be made if that person has passed away).
Review your will
The most important preparation that must be done in advance of our death is the writing of a will. This legal document determines how your estate and assets are divided up after you die.
Most people leave money and property to relatives, though it has been known for people to leave everything they have to a charity close to their hearts. Determining who gets what eliminates the potential for ambiguity and rifts developing between relatives after your death.
4. How much does a funeral cost?
In the UK, the average estimated cost of a funeral is around £3,733. However, in reality those who have had paid for a funeral have paid significantly more with a total average spend of £4,136.
It’s a hard pill to swallow when we think about our loved ones being left out of pocket should the worst happen. But that doesn’t mean people are preparing for the worst, only 21% of UK adults have life or funeral cover in place to cover the costs of their funeral. Londoners are more unprepared for the costs of their funeral to be covered, whilst those in the South are the most prepared, those in the North East (27%) most likely to have life insurance in place followed by 26% of Scots.
British Seniors Insurance Agency looked at the average funeral cost over the next ten years using calculations based on the forecast CPI. Unfortunately, we found that funeral costs are set to go up by 22% (to £5,066 from £4,136 this year) by 2026 as they rise in line with inflation.
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5. Planning for funeral costs
With these shocking statistics in mind, an important part of planning for your own funeral is deciding how you’re going to pay for it. More and more people are thinking ahead to try and take the stress and financial strain away from their families. If you’re thinking about paying for a funeral in advance, there are a few options you can consider.
How can I pay for my funeral?
- Money generated from your estate
- Out of your own pocket
- Funeral insurance
- Dipping into savings
- Life insurance
Guaranteed Life Insurance
Guaranteed life insurance is a great option as far as funeral finances and general after-death financial planning are concerned. If you take out a life insurance policy to be paid upon your death, some of the money could be used to pay for your funeral, or at least certain elements such as the coffin, transportation or burial plot. In many cases, a guaranteed life insurance plan is the most reliable way to ensure that the burden of paying for your funeral does not fall on your family and will go a long way toward easing the general financial strain that may accompany your death.
The advantages of a British Seniors Over 50s Life Insurance plan include:
- Unique Cash In option - get 50% of your benefit amount before you die, from your 80th birthday or after 15 years, whichever is later
- Guaranteed acceptance - if you're a UK resident aged 50-80
- Choose your benefit amount from £1,000 to £20,000 - depending on your age
- No health questions - no health or medical question
- Guaranteed no increases - fixed monthly premiums let you plan for the future knowing the cost will never increase
- Flexibility - apply to increase or decrease your monthly premium amount for free
- Immediate cover - for accidental death, plus death by any cause after just 24 months
- 3X benefit amount paid out - up to £60,000 if death is due to an accident
- Things to consider:
- Consider the benefit amount you choose as inflation may reduce its buying power over time
- Depending on how long you live you may pay in more than we pay out
- You can choose to Cash In your policy if you are 80 or after 15 years, whichever is later. There is no cash in value before this date
- If you choose to take the Cash In amount, your cover will end
- Cash In value is the return of premiums equal to 50% of the benefit amount and will only change if you change your benefit amount
Saving for funeral expenses
You can put aside a portion of your estate to help your relatives with the costs by yourself, without pension companies or financial providers getting involved. It’s a good idea to open a joint bank account with the person who will organise the funeral so they can withdraw the funds and then close the account upon your death. Different banks and building societies have different policies regarding the management of joint accounts so ensure that your needs will be met before signing an agreement.
Funeral payment plans
Prepaid funeral plans, which are also sometimes referred to as annuities, guarantee a certain level of service by allowing you to pay today’s prices for the type of funeral you want in the future. Funeral plan providers will offer a few different plans with varying levels of service (such as different types of coffin, the option of following limousines in the procession and so on). Customers purchase a plan and can either pay the full amount upfront or commit to a monthly fee.
How can funeral insurance help me?
Funeral insurance works in the same way as other types of insurance and is generally available from specialist providers and even from funeral directors themselves. There will be various plans available so it’s important to compare them as much as possible to ensure that you’re getting everything you want (or as much as possible) out of the one you choose and remember that you’ll also have to budget for what isn’t included. You should be able to pay everything up front if you wish, as opposed to monthly payments.
6. After the funeral
Choosing and placing a memorial
When we lose someone we love, we often want to pay tribute to them in a meaningful way. Many people do this by arranging an engraved headstone or by arranging a memorial of some kind.
This may be something placed on their grave, a plaque mounted on the ground or in a crematorium, or a maybe even a park bench.
There’s been a recent trend in people planting memorial trees in honour of their loved ones. Just remember, you may have to contact the council or relevant local authority if you wish to place a bench or plant a tree in memory the deceased.
Dealing with legal and financial matters
Once the funeral is over and everything has settled down a bit, you will have to start thinking about legal and financial matters. This may be outstanding debts, dealing with someone’s estate, sorting the will (or lack of will), inheritance tax and so on. For more information on this please visit the Age UK website.
Where can I get bereavement support in the UK?
Grief can be exceptionally hard to handle and there’s no reason why you should have to face it alone. Your GP can always refer you to a local bereavement support service or, if you don’t feel up to making a trip to your doctor you can always find them with this handy online service from the NHS.