What to do when someone dies?

The first thing to sort out is registering the death with the Registrar and sorting out the funeral. The deceased will have an estate that needs to be dealt with, but that can happen later.

A doctor needs to certify the death and if there is to be a funeral, there needs to be 2 doctors who certify the death if the body is to be cremated, this is post Harold Shipman, if the body is cremated, there can be no later investigation into the circumstances of the death. The purpose of the 2 doctors is to confirm that there are no unusual or suspicious circumstances.

Registration of the death is essential, as the death certificates are required. On occasions you may only be issued with fact of death certificates, as there needs to be a Coroner’s inquest into the cause/s of death. These Coroner’s death certificates are usually fine to deal with the administration of the estate in respect of most things. For example the banks generally need to know that someone is no longer alive in order to ultimately have their bank account closed. However things that have an insurance element to them will need to know how they died and its causes, as this will make a difference as to whether the insurance element of the asset can pay out or not.

There is almost always a Coroner’s inquest when there has been a death due to industrial injury or in suspicious circumstances. An industrial injury can be something that happened years ago, as well as something that happened whilst at work. The Coroner will work with the Police and the Health & Safety Executive.

Coroner’s inquests are a complex area of law and specialist advice may be needed if there is an issue that arises in respect of a Coroner’s inquest.

Assuming that there is no Coroner’s inquest, and then the Registrar will register the death. They also now have a system that informs various aspects of the state or big organisations. So if a retired teacher has passed away, the Registrar can also inform the DWP (to stop their pension) and the Teacher’s pension Trustees. The same is true for retired armed forces personnel; their pension organisation is advised of the death.

The Registrar will take the doctors certificates and provide the necessary paperwork for the funeral to proceed and the death certificates to allow the administration of the estate to be sorted out in due course.

Arranging the funeral is generally straightforward, as the Funeral Directors will talk through the process and arrange the booking of the church or crematorium. It is then a question of trying to ensure that the format of the funeral is in keeping with the wishes of the deceased. Anything the Will says about the funeral is an expression of wishes and is not binding, but hopefully will be adhered to.

I’m going to say a brief word about body or organ donation. If it is for individual organs, then these will be resolved by the health authorities, who will sort out the transplant. It can be a comfort to the surviving family members to know that the organs of a loved one can help another or many others in some cases. For some families, they want their family member to remain complete and the choice is very personal. On occasions, people donate their whole body to science and may have a specific science or medical school in mind. The Executors will have to check with the school the process for donation.