What to do when someone dies

Death is a natural part of life, but is still a difficult and often confusing time to get your head round when you experience the death of a loved one. When someone dies there are many things that happen both emotionally and financially, from the moment of death to the funeral and beyond.

Dealing with this admin can be slow and expensive, especially if there aren’t arrangements already in place. Here are some of the main things to consider when someone dies.

Registering a death

When someone dies, one of the first things you need to do is contact their doctor to certify the death. The doctor will examine the body and complete a medical certificate that confirms the cause of death. You’ll need this certificate to register the death officially.

The next step is to register their death with the Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages at a register office. This is a legal requirement and helps to keep an accurate record of who has passed away. When you contact the registrar to register a death, they’ll explain the process in more detail for you.

In England, Wales and Northern Ireland you must register the death within five days, even if it happens on a weekend or public holiday. For Scotland, this is eight days. Once you’ve registered the death, you’ll get a ‘certificate for burial’ or ‘an application for cremation’. You must give this certificate to the funeral director or crematorium before the funeral can take place.

Death certificate

Obtaining a death certificate is a necessary step after the loss of a loved one. It’s required for several reasons, including registering the death with the local authority, applying for a grant of probate, accessing the deceased’s bank accounts and other financial assets. You will also need it when cancelling the deceased’s utilities and other contracts, arranging their funeral, and even closing their social media accounts.

In addition, a death certificate is also necessary for some legal processes, such as transferring property or claiming insurance. Without a death certificate, these legal processes can’t move forward and it can cause significant delays in settling the estate of the deceased. The cost of the Death Certificate is £11 and they’re usually sent within a week of applying. It can be helpful to get multiple copies to prevent legal processes being held up if they’re misplaced or already in use, as often original versions of the certificate are needed by different companies.

Inform the government

After a death, you’ll be given a ‘certificate for burial’ or ‘an application for cremation’. This gives permission for the body to be buried or cremated. A funeral director can help you understand your burial or cremation options.

If the deceased had a will, you need to notify the executor named in the will. The executor is responsible for carrying out the wishes of the deceased and distributing their assets. If there’s no will, the next of kin will need to apply for letters of administration to manage the estate. A solicitor can help you with this.

You also need to inform organisations about the person’s death, such as banks, utility companies, and government agencies like HMRC and DWP. This will allow them to cancel any benefits or services the deceased was receiving.

Tells Us Once service

Tell Us Once is a service that lets you tell the government about a death once, and they’ll inform the other government departments and agencies that need to know. This can save you a lot of time and effort, as you don’t have to contact each department or agency individually. The registrar from the Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages will either:

  • complete the Tell Us Once service with you; or
  • give you a unique reference number so you can use the service yourself online or by phone.

To use Tell Us Once, you’ll need:

  • the Tell Us Once reference number from the registrar;
  • the person’s name, date of death, and some other details - such as their address and contact details for their executor or administrator; and
  • permission from any surviving spouse or civil partner, the next of kin, executor, administrator, or anyone who was claiming joint benefits or entitlements with the person who died.

You may also need some other information, such as their National Insurance number or passport number. If you have this information, it’s helpful to provide it. Tell Us Once will inform the following organisations about the tax, benefits, and entitlements of the person who died, and they’ll cancel future pension payments:

  • His Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC);
  • Department for Work and Pensions (DWP);
  • passport office;
  • Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA);
  • local council;
  • Veterans UK;
  • Social Security Scotland; and
  • public sector pension schemes.

Once you’ve told Tell Us Once about a death, they’ll send you a letter with a reference number. You may need to give the reference number to other organisations. You’ll still need to contact banks, mortgage providers, insurance providers, and other companies the deceased had contracts with to close or change the details of their accounts.

Inheriting the deceased’s pension

When someone dies their spouse, civil partner or beneficiaries may be able to access their pension. The rules for pension death benefits will vary depending on the type of pension and the deceased’s age when they pass away.

Pensions aren’t typically part of an estate and as such they don’t usually count towards an inheritance tax threshold. If the deceased was aged over 75 when they died, their beneficiaries may be subject to income tax.

Bereavement counselling and asking for help

If you’re grieving the loss of a loved one, it’s important to know that you’re not alone. The charity Marie Curie provides free bereavement support if you need a safe space to talk about your feelings.

Find out more on The Pension Confident Podcast

Losing a loved one can be deeply upsetting and have a big impact on your life, including your finances. If you’re grieving, you may feel overwhelmed and unsure of what to do. Listen to episode 20 of The Pension Confident Podcast and hear from our guests as they discuss power of attorney, wills, and probate. You can also watch the episode on YouTube or read the full transcript.

If you’re interested in learning more about looking after family members, what to do when expecting a baby, or family problems like illness, divorce or bereavement, head to our Family and Care section.

Risk warning

As always with investments, your capital is at risk. The value of your investment can go down as well as up, and you may get back less than you invest. This information should not be regarded as financial advice.

Last edited: 06-04-2024

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