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What to do when someone dies

Losing a loved one is never easy. And it’s even harder when responsibility for handling their affairs falls on your shoulders. For many, you’ll never have had to deal with this before, so it can be confusing knowing what you need to do and when. To help ease the burden, we’ve created this article that outlines the steps you need to take when someone passes away.

Immediate first steps

If someone dies in a hospital 

The hospital should issue a medical certificate and help you with the next steps. The body will be kept in the mortuary until arrangements for collection have been made.

If someone dies at home or in a care home and their death was expected

Call their family doctor and also next of kin if it isn’t you. The doctor should be able to issue a medical certificate and help you with the immediate next steps like arranging collection of the body.

If someone dies unexpectedly outside of a hospital 

Phone 999 immediately.

If someone dies abroad

Phone 112 in an emergency. You’ll also need to obtain a local death certificate and inform the local British consulate or embassy.

Within the first week

Although many tasks can wait, the following is a list of the steps you should take within the first week. 

  1. Notify relatives, friends, and their family doctor.
  2. Notify their employer and/or educational establishment.
  3. If they lived alone cancel any deliveries (like newspapers or milk), collect valuables, secure their property, and make arrangements for any dependents or pets.
  4. Take the medical certificate to your local registry office within 5 days (8 days in Scotland). It’s also worth buying extra death certificates. If you think their affairs are reasonably uncomplicated, 5 should be enough to ease the administration process later on. (If you’re unsure about probate and what it entails, this link will take you to an article that explains it for you).
  5. Arrange a funeral. Check for a funeral plan that may have been created (and even paid for) already. Instructions may have been left with another family member, in their will, or with their solicitor.
  6. If you relied on the person who has died for your right to live in the UK, you need to check whether or not you need a new visa.
  7. If you haven’t already, find a Will - make sure it is the most up-to-date version by checking with close family and their solicitor if they had one.

Further steps

Administration

This should be carried out by the executor(s) named in the Will or the next of kin if there isn’t a Will. Administration in this context means figuring out where and what their assets are and getting access to them with a view to either selling or transferring them to whoever is entitled to inherit. If the estate owes any debts, these will need to be paid off first, before you can distribute the inheritance.

Responsibilities

It can be an honour to be appointed as executor in someone’s will, but you should know that administering and finalising someone’s estate can often take anywhere from 3 to 6 months and sometimes longer. Handled alone, it can be a lengthy process that takes a bit of work. We’ve created a low-cost online service that can help guide you and make the workload lighter. Alternatively, you can also employ a solicitor to help with the process. But keep in mind that this can become very costly.  

It is also worth noting that executors are personally liable should they make any mistakes like not reporting the correct value of the estate to HMRC. We can help reduce the risk by showing you what to do, when to do it and how to do it.

Probate

‘Grant of Probate’ (‘Grant of Confirmation’ in Scotland) is a legal document that some organisations will need to see before releasing assets to executors. Although the process of ingathering and distributing an estate is often referred to as the “Probate Process” (What is Probate?), it is possible to do it without the official paperwork. There are many elements to the process but, as long as you stay organised, it is often possible to do it by yourself, without the need for a solicitor.

Consumer watchdog Which? Claims about 1 in 3 people in the UK try to complete this process themselves, as it can potentially save them thousands in legal fees. 

That said, if there are complex parts of the estate, you may need a solicitor’s help. Our online service will bring this to your attention. Unfortunately, if there are any big disagreements then you will almost certainly require a solicitor.

Click here to read part 2 of this article, where we’ll offer a comprehensive overview of managing the probate process and the specific actions you’ll need to take.