29 October 2019

Funeral checklist: What to do when someone dies

10 min read



When someone dies, even in the face of grief, there are a host of practicalities you must tend to, such as finding and instructing a funeral director, arranging a service and deciding on a burial or cremation.  

Our simple guide shows you how to cope with the paperwork when someone passes on.

Who to call first 

If someone dies at home, tell the family doctor as soon as possible. If the death was expected, they can issue a medical certificate detailing the cause of death, along with a formal notification. You’ll need the certificate to register the death. If you’re considering cremation, you’ll need a second doctor’s signature. If someone dies in hospital, a doctor there will usually issue the certificate and death notice. This might be a good time to tell close family and friends.

Let the authorities know about the death

Register the death

Make an appointment at the nearest register office – you have to register deaths within five days (eight in Scotland).

Also, make sure you take the following documents with you to your appointment:

  • the signed medical certificate
  • the deceased’s birth certificate (if you can find it)
  • National Insurance number
  • marriage (or civil partnership) certificate

If someone dies abroad, the death can be registered with the national authorities and the British consul.

Expect to get the following paperwork when you register a death

The register office will issue a:

  • death certificate for a small fee
  • certificate for burial or cremation (the 'green form') for the funeral director
  • certificate (BD8) to send to the Department for Work and Pensions and details of any bereavement benefits

You can buy extra death certificates, which you may need for banks, insurers and so on. It can save you both time and money to obtain all this paperwork at once and reduce the administrative burden.

Use Tell Us Once

If it’s available in your area, use the government’s Tell Us Once service – ask the registrar for a reference number. This lets you report a death to most government organisations in one go. You’ll need:

  • date of birth
  • National Insurance number
  • driving license number
  • vehicle registration
  • passport number

You'll also need:

  • pension and benefit details
  • name and address of next of kin
  • contact details for whoever is dealing with the 'estate' (property, belongings and money)
  • and details of any public or armed forces pensions

If Tell Us Once is not available

Notify the tax office (HMRC), National Insurance office, appropriate benefits offices and the Department for Work and Pensions to cancel state or military pensions. Return the deceased’s passport and driving licence to the authorities and tell the local council. If you are unsure about pensions, the government offers a pension tracing service.

Who else to notify

This is not an exhaustive list. Get help to contact wider family and friends. Tell private pension providers, banks, building societies, credit-card providers, employers, mortgage providers, social services, utility companies, GPs, dentists and anyone such as magazines or charities receiving regular payments. The bereavement register can stop the deceased’s post. You might also want to close social media accounts.

Make funeral arrangements

Find out if the deceased had any specific requests. Ask friends to recommend funeral directors and check they are accredited with the National Association of Funeral Directors or National Society of Allied and Independent Funeral Directors.

If you want to plan the funeral yourself, contact your local authority. Some people have insurance to help with funeral costs or will have prepaid them. Funeral directors can arrange for the body to be laid in a chapel of rest.

Sorting out the wills and estate - first steps

If a person has left a will, it should specify what happens to their estate and name ‘executors’ to carry out the wishes of the deceased. If there’s no will, the next of kin can apply for the legal right to manage the estate, access bank accounts and so on. Through the will, the estate is distributed to beneficiaries and any debts paid off.

When someone dies, the paperwork can be overwhelming. But these practical steps can help you make that process a little less so.

Funeral plans from Royal London