Legal Guides

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What to do after someone dies

A close family member has recently died and dealing with Probate work meant I knew what was needed and was able to provide a list for my family of the steps we needed to take.

It has also made me realise that there is useful information that should be made available.  In addition, it means talking to your loved ones about the matter as it relates to choices that must be made after death.

Here are the steps you should take:

1  Register the Death

When someone dies, the law states that the death must be registered within 5 days provided you have a medical certificate.  However, the procedure is different if the Coroner is involved.

There is useful information here:

You cannot just turn up a Register Office – you must make an appointment (either online or by telephone).  Often the first available appointment will be more than 5 days after the death.

It should be a relative who registers the death but can be someone who was present at the death, someone arranging the funeral or someone from the hospital.

You need a great deal of information about the person who has died when you attend for your appointment; this includes the following details about the deceased:

  • Date and place of birth
  • Maiden name
  • Marital status
  • Usual address and place of death
  • Spouse/civil partner details
  • Occupation or, if retired, last known occupation.

I had to register a death once for a client where I was the executor and he had no family; I was told off by the Registrar as I didn’t know his last occupation, so I make sure I always ask my clients this when I am taking instructions for Wills.

Bear in mind, the death certificate is a public record, so you may want to put the occupation the deceased felt was their main one not their last job, the one they feel defined them.  So, this is something that needs to be discussed with family members, preferably while the person is alive.

The Death Certificate is very difficult to amend once completed; you must sign that the information is all correct.  If the address is wrongly recorded by the Register Office, all that can be done is to insert the correct address at the bottom of the certificate.  You therefore need to check very carefully that all the details are accurate.

Once the death is registered, a Death Certificate will be provided and you are given a form to pass to the funeral company.

2   ‘Tell us Once’

Most Register Offices provide a form and reference number for the ‘Tell Us Once’ procedure which is a really helpful system.  It means that you complete a form online which notifies all the appropriate Government agencies, eg Council Tax, Department for Work and Pensions, HMRC, Passport and Driving Licence etc.

To do this, you will need the National Insurance number primarily but also driving licence, passport numbers, and details of any benefits received.

Usually, the relevant departments will automatically deal with the death without any further recourse to the family, such as asking for repayment of overpaid benefits or transferring pensions to a surviving spouse or civil partner, depending on when the deceased person retired, or refunding excess tax paid.

3  Arrange the Funeral

There is useful advice here:

You normally need to make an appointment to discuss the arrangements, and cannot just turn up at your chosen funeral director.

It is often a good idea to arrange for a pre-paid funeral plan in advance, most funeral companies offer these.  If the funeral is not pre-paid, you may be entitled to assistance from the Government if the deceased or close family member receives benefits, see:

Also, if the deceased had money in a bank account or building society, the financial institution can send a cheque direct to the funeral company for the funeral expenses once they receive an invoice, even if you need Probate and have not yet applied for this.

One of the most important issues to discuss with your loved ones in advance is what sort of funeral they would like.  Things to consider are:

  • Do they want burial or cremation?
  • Do they want a church or crematorium?
  • Religious or humanist funeral?
  • Would they like music at the funeral and which songs?
    • These must be songs that are available to buy, not just from YouTube, most crematorium have a library of songs that can be used but they are subject to copyright laws.

4  Probate

The Probate process can easily be a subject for another article but basically it relates to obtaining assets the deceased had and having the legal authority to do this. Normally, the Grant of Probate is required to transfer assets to the person the deceased wanted them to go to.

However, joint assets such as property or bank accounts transfer automatically to the survivor and you just need to show the death certificate to the Land Registry (depending on what the deeds say) or financial institution, as appropriate.

Even if the account is sole, many banks and building societies allow the account to be closed without the need for probate (under the “Small Estates” procedure), and just require a form to be completed.

If probate is needed, we would obviously recommend you use a solicitor, but you can apply in person, see:

This article was written by Wendy Hewstone, Solicitor, Access Law Solicitors, Southampton

DISCLAIMER: This article should not be regarded as constituting legal advice in relation to particular circumstances. This article is merely a general comment on the relevant topic. If specific advice is required in connection with any of the matters covered in this article, please speak to Access Law directly. 

Published on 7th March 2018
(Last updated 10th July 2023)