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What to do after someone dies

Posted by AK Lander | On November 26, 2018 15:22

We’ve put together a step-by-step checklist of what to do when someone dies, including advice for looking after your wellbeing during these crucial stages.

When you’ve lost a loved one, the grief can sometimes be all-consuming, leaving you feeling foggy and unable to think about filling out forms and choosing a memorial headstone. But for a lot of us, when someone dies we have put our grief aside and step up to be the one to sort through all the legalities involved in registering their death.

We’ve put together a short step-by-step guide of what to do when someone dies, including some tips and advice for looking after your wellbeing during these important stages.

Step 1: Discovering the death

Registering the death with medical professionals needs to be done immediately. But depending on where your loved one died and the circumstances, you will need to do one of the below.

If your loved one died in hospital

A medical professional will be able to officially pronounce the death of your loved one. You will be given a medical certificate and formal notice, which you will be able to use to register the death.

If your loved one died at home

The first thing you should do is contact your loved one’s GP or call the NHS helpline on 111. A doctor will then be able to check over your loved one, confirm the death and issue a death certificate and formal notice.

If your loved one dies suddenly or unexpectedly

You will need to call both an ambulance and the police. You will need to do your best to keep your composure here, as ambulance staff will likely ask you to stay on the phone and give you specific instructions to follow.

In case the cause of death isn’t immediately clear to the authorities, you shouldn’t touch anything or disturb the scene. The emergency services will usually contact the coroner on your behalf to investigate the scene and the cause of death if it is needed.

If your loved one dies abroad

You will need to obtain a death certificate and register the death according to that country’s policies and regulations. It’s also worth noting that you will also need to register the death back home in the UK too.

Step 2: Registering the death

Within five days, you’ll need to ensure you find the Births, Marriages and Deaths registrar in the area where your loved one died and book an appointment. You will need to bring along the Medical Certificate as well as the following information:

  • Name of the deceased (including maiden name if applicable)
  • Date and place of birth
  • Address
  • Occupation
  • Name, date of birth and occupation of their spouse or civil partner
  • Whether your loved one was receiving any state benefits (such as a pension)
  • Optional: NHS medical card, birth certificate, certificate of marriage/civil partnership

Once the information you’ve brought has been processed, you will be given a death certificate, allowing for burial or cremation and any other forms you may need to pass on to your funeral director.

Step 3: Arranging the funeral

Once the death has officially been registered, it will be time to start planning your loved one’s funeral. From finding the right venue to arranging the order of service, check out our in-depth guide to planning a funeral here.

Tips and advice

Grief in its early stages can be hard to deal with, especially when you have to sort out all the legalities and paperwork. We spoke to a senior counsellor from The Dove Service, a bereavement support charity, about how to cope during this difficult period.

Ask for help from an advisor

“After a death, there can be many practical issues to deal with and sort out. Sometimes people can feel very overwhelmed and find it difficult to know where to start, even organising a funeral can feel too daunting. Try not to feel as if you have to do everything on your own, even though it is difficult, it is important to ask for help. We do not deal with death every day, so for many it can be a new and frightening experience, so getting advice and asking for support is essential to help you cope.

“Some hospices, hospitals and other organisations have bereavement staff that can provide information and advise you on what needs to be done.

The Bereavement Advice Centre is a very good resource, which also offers support and advice (0800 634 9494) for people on what they need to do after a death.”

Don’t be afraid to talk to someone about your grief

“Although people may have similar emotions and feelings when experiencing grief, we all react in a different way and come to terms with our grief in a very individual way. There’s no right or wrong way to grieve, there’s no checklist or manual, it’s very much what works for the individual in finding ways that help you to cope.

“Life seems to carry on regardless, so we may feel like we have to put on a brave face for the outside world and feel pressured by others to be ‘over it by now’ and ‘back to normal’. It’s important to remember that our ‘normal’ has changed, as death can feel like an upheaval or life changing experience, so there is no ‘back to normal’ because losing someone significant to you can leave a big void that can feel impossible to fill.

“Coming to terms with and processing our grief can be a complicated exercise, often very confusing and at times overwhelming; it can also depend upon the type of the relationship and circumstances surrounding the death. The stronger the bond, the more painful it can feel; this is a logical and natural response, even though many people have difficulty with this - it’s actually okay, not to be okay.

“Not everyone who is bereaved needs support through counselling, but talking to someone in the safe, confidential and non-judgemental space of a counselling session can help you to make sense of what is happening and the complex emotions that you are experiencing. It is important to talk about grief, rather than bottling the feelings up or avoiding them, because death and bereavement is something that everyone will go through at some point in their life.”


Resources:; Which?; Dignity Funerals