What to do when someone dies – a look at the legalities and other practicalities.

Death certificate of Al Capone - practicalities after a death

This section primarily addresses the immediate family or close friends – whomever the dying person has requested to be with them at the time of their death and to take care of arrangements afterwards.

Be aware whether the person who has died has noted in an Advance Decision (or informed their Lasting Power of Attorney for Health and Welfare) what they want done with their body immediately after they have died and follow those requests.

Otherwise, in the minutes and hours after your loved one has died, give yourself time to be with their body and to say your goodbyes before starting on the practical arrangements. You may want to whisper words of encouragement and guidance to your friend helping them on their journey, to sing to them, play them music or the Osho Bardo CD, if they had previously requested this and/or this is familiar to them.

Alternatively you may want to just sit silently together. If there are friends and family present at the death, be sensitive to each other’s needs and perspectives, giving time for just the close family to be alone with the body and taking any practical discussions outside the room.

Needing to focus on practical arrangements can be a welcome distraction from what can be a very emotional time. Yet it’s important to take your time. There are a few things that need arranging quickly (see below) but most can be done more slowly, allowing you to consult with family and friends and to consider the various options if this had not be done earlier.

When someone dies, depending on the circumstances there are various legalities and formalities that need to be attended to. If the death is expected and occurs in a hospital or hospice, then the attending staff will take care and inform you of anything that needs to be done regarding the legalities.

If death is of natural causes and the person dies at home, you are required to call your doctor who will confirm the death and provide a Medical Certificate of Cause of Death. The doctor will generally then inform you of additional steps you need to make such as contacting an undertaker and registering the death. If the death is unexpected, accidental or criminal, the police need to be called immediately; they will bring a doctor to certify the death. In some cases – such as a death following an industrial disease where the coroner needs to be notified – the police will also need to be called.


Some resources with detailed guidance for those dealing with a death in the UK are given below:

Your Legal Rights & Responsibilities – a comprehensive collation of UK law relating to death – at times fascinating and surprising.


What to do when someone dies

In the UK, there are 3 things you must do in the first few days after someone dies.

  1. Obtain a medical certificate from a GP or hospital doctor. You’ll need this to register the death.
  2. Register the death within 5 days (8 days in Scotland). You’ll then get the documents you need for the funeral.
  3. Arrange the funeral. You can employ a funeral director or arrange it yourself.


What to do after someone dies

A brief guide to the main steps, with links to other, more detailed sources of information for those in the UK.


When someone dies checklist

A useful 10-point guide from ‘Final Fling’ in the UK.


When someone you care for dies

Includes how to register a death and moving on after being a carer.


Donation of organs, tissues or the whole body

If the person who is dying or who has died expressed a wish to donate their organs, their tissues or their whole body, it is essential to inform any professional involved in their care as soon as possible.

Registering a Death

Details of how to register a death in the UK.


Telling others about a death

When someone dies and it’s down to you to break the news – to a close relative, friend or carer, or to someone you don’t know very well– you’ll want to do that as sensitively as possible. These guidelines may help.


Practical, legal and financial matters

A guide for those in the UK, this includes certifying a death, registering a death, telling organisations, dealing with an estate, wills, probate, inheritance, compassionate leave, and death abroad.


Top 20 essential documents required by the next of kin

These include:

  1. Will
  2. Wishes
  3. Advance Decision
  4. Funeral Plan
  5. Powers of Attorney

…as well as birth, marriage, divorce certificates, medical records and financial documents and details. Ideally the deceased will have collected together this paperwork and stored it somewhere safe and known, such as with a solicitor or in an online Safety Deposit Box such as that provided by the UK organisation FinalFling.com


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