What to do when someone dies

There are many arrangements to be made and people to be informed following a death. The following five steps outline the legal requirements:

  • Obtain the Medical Cause of Death Certificate

This is required to enable you to register the death. If the person has died at home, it will be the GP of the person who has died who provides the certificate; if the death has occurred in a hospital or care home, it will be the doctor who had been treating the person.

In a hospital you may meet with a Hospital Bereavement Officer or staff from the Patient Advisory Liaison Service - these people, or the staff at a care home, may return any belongings to you. If the death has been referred to the Coroner, however, they will not be able to give you the certificate, but they will explain what will happen next.

  • Register the death

Deaths must be registered with the Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages. In England, Wales and Northern Ireland, this must be within five days of the death; in Scotland within eight days.

You will need to make an appointment to register the death, and it is quicker to go to the office in the district where the person has died, so call this office first. You can search for details of Register Offices on funeralmap. Just tick 'Register Office ' and enter the town in the search box.

  • Decide who is to organise the funeral

You can ask a funeral director to help with the arrangements but some people arrange all aspects of the funeral themselves.  There are no laws, rules or regulations about funeral ceremonies.

If you decide to make your own arrangements, an excellent source of help is the Natural Death Centre - http://www.naturaldeathcentre.org.uk

You can search for funeral directors on the funeralmap.

  • Decide on cremation or burial

The person who has died may have left instructions as to their preference, if not, the decision may fall to you.

  • Decide on the type of funeral

You can arrange a religious funeral ceremony, a civil funeral (with or without religious content) led by a civil funeral celebrant, or a humanist funeral with no religious content led by a Humanist Officiant. You might even decide to lead the funeral ceremony yourself. There are no rules on this, in fact there is surprisingly little legality when planning a funeral. You decide whatever you feel is most suitable.

Local Funeral Directors know who is available locally to lead ceremonies and will explain the options. They will know the local ministers of religion and will be able to contact them, or you can search on www.achurchnearyou.com. Professional Celebrants can be found at The Institute of Civil Funerals - www.iocf.org.uk and Humanist Officiants can be found at http://www.humanism.org.uk. You can also search for celebrants in your area on funeralmap.