What to Do When Someone Dies


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By Cai Bradley

Updated on Monday 20 January 2020


Family holding hands after a death

After breaking the sad news to friends and family of their loved one’s death, figuring out exactly what needs to be done can be quite overwhelming. There are several organisations to inform, documents to gather, and a range of financial issues that need taking care of (particularly if you’re the administrator or executor of the person’s will).

From registering the death to dealing with inheritance tax, here’s what you need to do after a death.

Step by step: What to do after a death

Here’s what you need to do when someone dies, step-by-step:

  1. Register the death
  2. Arrange the funeral
  3. Tell the government about the death
  4. Check if you can get bereavement benefits
  5. Deal with your own benefits, pension and taxes
  6. Check if you need to apply to stay in the UK (if applicable)
  7. Deal with their estate

Of course, some of the above may not apply to you and some may find that there are additional tasks that need doing, which generally depends on your situation and the circumstances surrounding the person’s death. Regardless, listing exactly what you need to do when someone dies is a useful starting point.

Registering the death of a loved one

You are required to register the death of a loved one within five days in England and Wales (8 days in Scotland), but before doing so you will need either a medical certificate from a GP or hospital doctor, or permission from the coroner that you can register the death (in cases where the death was reported to a coroner).

You should receive a certificate for a burial which you can then provide to the funeral director, or you are able to apply for cremation. Depending on the final wishes of the deceased, one of these must be done before a funeral can take place, of course.

While you’re in the process of registering the death, you could also inform the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) of the death to stop or amend the relevant benefits.

Here’s a full list of what you need to register a death:

  • A medical certificate of the cause of death (or a coroner’s permission)
  • NHS or medical card
  • Birth certificate
  • Driver’s licence
  • Council tax bill
  • Marriage or civil partnership certificate (if applicable)
  • National Insurance number of the deceased and the surviving partner
  • Proof of address (via a utility bill, for example)
  • Passport

Do not delay registering the death if you can’t find any of the above documents, they are usually only required to speed up the process.

Arranging a funeral

A funeral is usually only held once the death has been registered, and is typically arranged in line with the final wishes set out within the person’s will.

Most people choose to arrange a funeral through a funeral director who is a member of either the National Association of Funeral Directors or the National Society of Allied and Independent Funeral Directors (SAIF), as those organisations follow a strict code of practice and are reliable.

The cost of a funeral can be quite expensive, with the current average being £3,757 in the UK according to recent research. You could, of course, end up paying more or less depending on the requirements and preferences set out by the deceased before they passed away.

Due to their hefty prices, you can get help paying for a funeral if the person who has died has not left behind enough money to fund it (if they didn’t have a sufficient life insurance policy, for example).

The typical costs associated with a funeral include:

  • Minister fees
  • Burial pot or exclusive right of burial (EROB) and the interment
  • Headstone fees
  • Burial plot maintenance
  • Paying for the place of worship (church, chapels, etc.)
  • Memorial costs
  • Funeral director fees

Remember that arranging a funeral yourself isn’t always cheaper than doing so through a funeral director, as their fees alone cover a wide range of services and features, but by all means explore your options.

Read more: Average Cost of a Funeral in the UK

Who to inform after a death

In order to minimise the emotional distress that comes with informing different government organisations of the death of a loved one, there is now a Tell Us Once service in place. The Tell Us Once service allows someone to inform most of the relevant government departments of a death at the same time.

The service must be used within 28 days following the death, and you will need the following details of the person who passed away:

  • Date of birth
  • National Insurance number
  • Driving licence number
  • Vehicle registration number
  • Passport number

You may also need some additional information about their benefits, public sector pension schemes and so on. You can find a full list of all the details you need on the GOV.UK website.

If the Tell Us Once service isn’t available in your area, you will be required to contact the following organisations yourself:

  • HM Revenue and Customs
  • National Insurance Contributions Office
  • Child Benefit Office
  • Tax Credit Office
  • Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) – DWP Bereavement Service
  • Personal and workplace pensions
  • Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA)

You are also required to inform other relevant people and organisations, including landlords or housing associations, banks, and utility companies.

Bereavement benefits in the UK

When a loved one passes away, you might be able to get financial help if you are eligible. You could get Bereavement Support Payment if your spouse or civil partner has passed away, or Guardian’s Allowance if you’re raising a child whose parents have died.

Bear in mind that your own tax, benefits, and pension might also need to be amended depending on who has died and your relation to them. For example, if you get money from an inheritance or pension, you could be required to pay more tax.

Some people might also need to check whether they need to apply for a new visa if their UK residency depends on their relationship with the person that passed away.

Dealing with someone’s estate when they die

If you are the executor of the will or even a close friend or relative of the person who’s passed away, you may be required to deal with their estate (including their money and property). If so, you will probably need to apply for probate – the legal process that grants the authority to deal with another individual’s estate.

Once probate is granted, executors are then required to value the estate, open a bank account for it, and use it to clear any outstanding debts in line with the final wishes of the deceased. Executors are also tasked with the responsibility of distributing the estate in a way that is representative of the requirements of the person that has passed away.

Read our full guide on dealing with the finances of someone who has passed away for more information and everything you need to know, from applying for probate to paying inheritance tax.

What is inheritance tax?

In short, inheritance tax (IHT) is a tax that’s owed to the government upon death. It is usually deducted from someone’s estate when they pass away before it reaches the beneficiaries as inheritance.

Inheritance tax must be paid on any estate above the £325,000 threshold (nil-rate band) at 40%, so if your estate is worth £400,000, your IHT tax bill would be £30,000 (40% of £75,000). Fear not though, there are ways to avoid inheritance tax legally in the UK, but the majority require some planning before death. 

Read more in our full guide to inheritance tax in the UK.


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