What to do when someone dies

If someone you know has very recently passed away or you are wondering what happens after death and want to put plans in place, our guide has everything you need to know here.

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We explain what to do after a death in England and Wales, and we provide a checklist breaking down all the necessary steps. We also explain what happens to shares and bank accounts in the event of someone’s death.

What to do immediately after a death

When someone dies, such as a parent or another close family member, there are certain things you will need to do straight away (as their next of kin or executor), depending on how and where they passed away.

If someone dies at home during the night, and their death was expected as the deceased had a terminal illness, for example, you will need to contact their doctor who will arrange a medical certificate for you as soon as possible - this will state the cause of death. 

A medical certificate will then allow you to register the death officially, so that you can begin to make funeral arrangements and distribute their estate. There is no fee for getting a medical certificate.

If someone passes away unexpectedly, for an unknown reason, it is highly advised that you call 111 straight away (as stated by AgeUK) to ask what you should do. It is likely that you will need a coroner to investigate and find out the cause of death. Understandably, it will take a bit longer to get a medical certificate if an inquest needs to be carried out, so you should expect any funeral plans to be put on hold until you receive it.

When someone dies in hospital, the staff who was taking care of the deceased person will arrange the medical certificate and they will also be able to advise you on what to do next.

If someone passes away in another country while abroad, the death will need to be registered in line with the specific country’s rules. It will also need to be registered with the British Consul to ensure there is an official death certificate and it is registered in the UK.

What to do when someone dies after getting a medical certificate

Once you have received an official medical certificate after someone dies, you must register the death within 5 days of the death taking place if you live in England or Wales. For those who live in Scotland, there is a slightly longer 8-day window.

How to register a death

In the UK, it is an illegal act if you do not register a death. To do this, you will need to contact your nearest Register Office (preferably the one nearest to the deceased’s place of death), where it will cost £11 to receive the official certificate (in England and Wales). 

You may wish to get a few copies made as this may make it easier when contacting different organisations - if you want more copies, it will be cheaper for you to get them when you initially register the death.

It doesn’t take long when getting a death certificate issued; once you are at the Register Office, it should take between 30 minutes and half an hour.

How to register a death during coronavirus

If there are Covid-19 restrictions in place in the area where you intend on registering the death, you should be able to register a death electronically or via telephone.

With lockdown restrictions easing, your nearest Register Office should be open, but you will be expected to adhere to all social distancing rules and wear a mask before entering the building.

Checklist - 6 steps

When someone dies and you receive an official death certificate, you will need to do the following 6 things (as stated by the GOV.UK website):

  1. Make funeral arrangements (preferences may be stated in the deceased’s will).
  2. Inform the government using their Tell Us Once service.
  3. Find out if you are entitled to bereavement benefits and financial help.
  4. Check your own financial affairs - Your tax, benefits and pension could change depending on the type of relationship you had with the deceased person.
  5. If you are not from the UK, you will need to find out if you need a new visa.
  6. Take care of their estate (assets such as money, property, possessions, etc) - You may need to manage the will if you are named as an executor, in which case, you will need to deal with the probate process before administering the estate.

It is also important to check if they had life insurance in place to pay for funeral costs, mortgage as a claim will need to made so that the beneficiaries can receive this money.

When someone leaves a will

If someone dies and leaves a will, this can make the whole process of sharing out the estate much easier.

The executor of the will must initiate the probate process in order to distribute the deceased’s assets according to what is stated in the will.

When someone doesn’t leave a will

If someone dies without a will, this is known as dying intestate. The administration process can be more complicated and the distribution of assets can take longer. 

The executor of the will must apply for a grant of probate, and if approved, this will give them the right to administer the estate. As there is no will, however, the assets must be shared out in line with the UK’s intestacy rules.

Learn more: What happens if you die intestate in the UK?

What to do with shares when someone dies

Shares are considered to be part of a person’s estate, and in the event of their death, these will need to be distributed to the beneficiaries as per the instructions of their will. 

In order for the shares to be sold or transferred successfully, there should be existing certificates for them, otherwise things could get really complicated.

If there is no will, then again, the estate and shares will be distributed according to the intestacy rules. Someone will need to apply for a Grant of Letters of Administration to get permission to distribute the estate (i.e. be an executor).

What happens to a bank account when someone dies? - Registering a death

In the event of someone’s passing, the person dealing with the death and bereavement process will need to contact their bank to explain that the account-holder has died and they need to close the account and release any remaining funds. 

Generally, the death certificate will be required to prove this and the bank will want to see the Grant of Probate before they actually release any funds. By law, they must check that the money is being handed over to the correct person.

Once the executor or other administrator has given this information, the bank (if it is fully satisfied with the documentation provided) will then freeze the account and begin the process of releasing funds (each bank will have differing terms for this, so times will vary).

If the deceased had a number of bank accounts, you can visit the Death Notification Service who will notify them all at one, saving you hassle and time.

It’s important to make a will as it allows you to state all relevant bank details, which makes the process much easier for your loved ones.

Remember: A bank or building society is likely to inform the deceased life insurance provider about the death. Generally, the policy will be held in place two years after this notification, but this may differ between providers. To be on the safe side, we recommend putting in a claim as soon as possible to cover any costs.

What if the deceased person had a lasting/enduring power of attorney?

Usually, the person who is named as someone’s attorney will need to get in touch with the Office of the Public Guardian after the death of the donor to give back their Lasting Power of Attorney right, in addition to the death certificate.

A power of attorney is someone that acts on behalf of someone else who has lost the mental capacity to carry out daily activities or financial duties themselves. 

Learn more here: Should I get a Lasting Power of Attorney?

To find out more about other topics relating to preparing for death, take a look at our useful free guides, or register with us now to start putting plans in place to protect your family and loved ones.

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