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First steps

When a loved one passes  

The initial steps can be overwhelming. There are a number of tasks that need to be completed and it is often difficult to work out what should be done first. This can make an already tough time even more stressful the following information should simplify the first steps to be taken following a bereavement.

Getting a medical certificate

Before registering the death, you’ll need to obtain a medical certificate to confirm the cause of death. This process varies slightly depending on where the death occurred and whether a coroner is involved.

If the death happened at a hospital

When someone dies in a hospital, the staff will arrange for a doctor to issue a medical certificate of cause of death. If a doctor is unavailable at the time of death, you may receive an appointment to collect the medical certificate at a later time, along with any personal belongings that were kept at the hospital. You can ask the doctor what is documented on the medical certificate and let the medical staff know if you have any questions about the cause of death or anything else that is depicted. The person will then be taken to the hospital mortuary.

If the death happened at home

A GP will generally issue the medical certificate if the death occurred at a person’s home due to natural causes; in this situation, your local doctor should be contacted. If the death happens at home and is unexpected, the emergency services should be contacted so that the paramedics can confirm the death.  If the death occurs at a care home, the staff or manager will advise on the next steps and issue the medical certificate, as well as caring for the body until the Funeral Director arrives.

If a coroner is involved

If a coroner is involved, it may not be possible to receive a medical certificate immediately. A doctor may report the death to a coroner if:

  • The cause of death is unknown

  • The death was unnatural, violent, sudden, or unexplained

  • The person who has died was ill and not visited by a doctor or they were not seen by the doctor who signed the medical certificate within two weeks of their death

  • The death happened during an operation or before the person came out of the anaesthetic

  • The medical certificate is not available for any other reason


In the event that a coroner is involved, they may need to conduct a post-mortem in order to confirm the cause of death. They will then release the body and send the necessary forms to the registrar. If an inquest is held, an interim death certificate can be requested so that organisations can be informed in the meantime. However, the funeral cannot be held until the coroner has completed the inquest.

Registering the death

Once the medical certificate has been issued, the death must be registered before funeral arrangements can begin.  Unless there is an inquest being held or delays obtaining the medical certificate, the death should be registered within 5 days in England and Wales, or 8 days in Scotland. These timescales include weekends and bank holidays.

Who can register a death?

Generally, the next of kin or another relative is required to register the death, but the registrar may allow non-relatives to do so if necessary; for example, hospital staff/care home representatives who were present at the death or the person who is arranging the funeral.

Where is a death registered?

If possible, at a register office local to where the deceased passed away. If another register office is used, there may be delays, as the documents will need to be sent to another office in the area where the individual died.

How is a death registered?

You can call ahead and make an appointment at your chosen register office. You will need to provide the medical certificate of cause of death, birth and marriage certificates, and an NHS medical card (if available). The register office may also want to see the person’s passport, driving licence, Council Tax bill, and proof of address (such as a utility bill).

The registrar will require the following information about the deceased:

  • Date of death

  • Location of death

  • Home address

  • Full name and any former/other names by which the deceased was known

  • Date and location of birth

  • Their current or former occupation

  • Details of their spouse or civil partner

  • Whether they had any government pension or allowance


You will then receive the death certificate, which proves that the death has been registered. This varies in cost depending on the local authority. It is advisable to buy several copies, as most banks or insurance companies will not accept a photocopy, and it is more expensive to buy additional certificates at a later date. The registrar will also provide a certificate for burial/cremation.

Who needs to be notified

There is no legal requirement to notify family or friends of a death, but it is encouraged. Other than medical professionals (if the individual died out of hospital), consider contacting the person’s employer, educational establishments, social services, or care providers, if applicable. Telling financial organisations and property/utility providers can wait until later on, and it can be managed by a professional to take away some of the burden.

Locating and dealing with the Will

The next step involves establishing whether or not the deceased left a valid Will. The Will may contain specific funeral requests or details of how their funeral should be paid for. If the Will cannot be located, a Will search can be conducted by a professional. It is important to find the Will as early as possible, as there may be difficulties later on in the estate administration if there isn’t one, and the estate will need to be administrated under the rules of intestacy.

Locating other important papers

The birth, marriage, and death certificates should already be obtained. Other important paperwork includes pension information, insurance policies, bank/building society accounts, and more. These will be helpful later on if a Grant of Probate is required, so it is best practice to ensure you have these early on in the process.

Arranging the funeral

As previously mentioned, the deceased may have expressed their funeral wishes in their Will. They could also have a pre-paid funeral plan or have made a family member/friend aware of their requests. In this case, the funeral should be organised in line with the deceased’s wishes.

If no specific requests were made by the deceased, the person who’s organising the funeral will have to decide for themselves whether the individual will be buried or cremated, where the funeral will be held, whether flowers are required, and what readings/music will be used. The cost of a funeral is often covered by the deceased’s estate, but there are other options if the funds are insufficient to pay the funeral bill.

Estate administration

Estate administration is the process of dealing with all of a person’s legal and tax affairs after their death. This can include obtaining a Grant of Probate, but this is not always necessary. Probate and estate administration are terms often used together; however, probate is just one part of the wider estate administration process. All estates must be administered, but not every estate requires probate. 

Estate administration can include:

  • Closing bank accounts

  • Paying debts

  • Dealing with shares, investments, property, and assets

  • Redirecting post

  • Dealing with Inheritance Tax and Income Tax

  • And much more

The estate can be administered by an Executor who is named in the deceased’s Will. Alternatively, if the deceased died without leaving a Will, an Administrator can be appointed. However, a professional can be instructed if the Executor or Administrator would like help with the process.  We recommend Kings Court Trust who are an award-winning probate and estate administration specialist. Their estate solutions are designed so that the individual instructing us can have peace of mind that everything is under control. From only obtaining the Grant of Probate to full estate administration, they have a service for every estate and every family. When instructing them to administer the full estate, they will take on all legal and financial responsibility throughout the process.

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