What needs to be done when someone passes away
When a death which has been expected occurs at home or at a nursing home, the doctor who has been treating the deceased should be contacted. Provided the deceased has seen the doctor during their final illness (within the previous 14 days) the doctor or a colleague will either attend to confirm that death has occurred, or will give permission for the deceased to be transferred to a funeral firm’s premises, if it is your wish for this to happen. You can then contact the funeral firm of your choice, which will attend to transfer the deceased to its premises.
If a relative who has been a hospital in-patient dies, the doctors who have been treating the deceased will usually be able to issue the Medical Certificate of Cause of Death.
Ask the ward staff or doctor what you need to do to collect this certificate, or ring your local funeral firm for advice and contact numbers. Most hospitals will give family members the opportunity to sit with the deceased before transfer from the ward or private room. There may even be a chapel of rest at the hospital specifically for this purpose. The deceased will then be taken to the mortuary from where they will be collected by your chosen funeral firm.
If the doctor will not issue a Medical Certificate of Cause of Death it is usually because the circumstances surrounding the death mean it should be referred to HM Coroner for further investigation.
The doctor can only complete the Medical Certificate of Cause of Death if they know the cause of death having seen the deceased for this illness in the 14 days prior to death occurring.
The doctor cannot issue the Medical Certificate of Cause of Death if the deceased:-
- Has died a violent or an unnatural death;
- Has died a sudden death of which the cause is unknown;
- Has died in prison or in such a place or in such circumstances as to require an inquest under any other Act.
- If the death does not fall into these criteria but the deceased underwent an operation shortly before death or there is a suggestion of a possible industrial disease, then it is probable that the doctor will not complete the Medical Certificate of Cause of Death but refer the death to HM Coroner in whose sub-district the death occurred.
- If the death is referred to HM Coroner their office will arrange for the deceased to be taken to their mortuary in order that the death can be investigated and, if necessary, an inquest opened.
All deaths have to be registered, and the people closest to the deceased person have a legal obligation to do this. Deaths in England and Wales or Northern Ireland should be registered within 5 days – if this is not going to be possible, you should inform the Registrar. In Scotland, deaths must be registered within 8 days.
In England and Wales, the death has to be registered at the registrar’s office in the area where the death occurred. This is the case even if the death occurred a distance from home. However, there is a facility available to attend your local registrar’s office to register a death that occurred in another area. This is called Registration by Declaration, and involves the two registrars transferring documents by fax and post in order to register the death. Depending on the circumstances, this can delay the date of the funeral – ask your chosen funeral firm for advice.
When registering a death that was expected and that has occurred in England or Wales, you will need to take the medical certificate showing the cause of death (signed by a doctor) with you. If available (but don’t worry if not), also take the deceased’s:-
- birth certificate;
- Council Tax bill;
- driving licence;
- marriage or civil partnership certificate;
- NHS medical card;
- proof of address (i.e. utility bill).
You will need to tell the registrar:-
- the person’s full name at the time of death;
- any names previously used, i.e. maiden name;
- the person’s date and place of birth;
- their last address;
- their occupation;
- the full name, birth date and occupation of a surviving/late spouse/civil partner;
- whether they were getting a State Pension or any other benefits.
You should also take supporting documents that show your name and address (i.e. a utility bill) but you can still register a death without them.
The informant will then sign the register, certifying that the information that has been given to the registrar is correct.
When the Coroner is involved, the Medical Certificate of Cause of Death is replaced by one from HM Coroner. Your funeral firm or, if necessary, the Coroner’s Office, will be able to advise you when you will be able to attend the Registrar’s Office to register the death.
You do not need to have registered the death to begin making arrangements with your chosen funeral firm. However, in order for the funeral to take place it is necessary to have registered the death. The funeral itself cannot proceed without the death being registered. It is for this reason that some funeral firms may be reluctant to make arrangements for a funeral before they are given the registrar’s Certificate for Burial or Cremation (the “Green Form”).
This information is supplied by the National Association of Funeral Directors. For more details of what to do when someone dies and funeral procedures go to http://www.nafd.org.uk/funeral-advice/faqs/