How to register a death
The law in England and Wales says that a death must be registered within five days of someone dying, or eight days in Scotland. This should normally be done at the nearest register office to where the person died, though it may be possible to do this at a distance, by declaration, if need be. Usually a relative registers the death, or someone who was there when the death occurred. Sometimes depending on the circumstances, a personal representative (an executor or administrator of the estate), or a friend can organise this. If in doubt, ring the register office for the district where the death occurred; explain the circumstances and they will help you understand who should do this. You’ll need to make an appointment to see the registrar.
What you need
- The medical certificate of cause of death from the doctor or the hospital
- The NHS medical card of the person who has died, if possible
- Their birth certificate and their marriage certificate, if possible
What the registrar needs to know
- The date and place of the person’s birth and death
- Their address, full name and occupation
- Their maiden name, if they had one
- The name, date of birth and occupation of the spouse or civil partner, and if the deceased was widowed
- The details of any state pension or benefits they were claiming
What the registrar will tell you
After the registrar has entered all the details in the register, you will be given three documents:
- A certificate for burial or cremation. The funeral director will need this
- A certificate for Department of Work & Pensions benefits (or Department of Social Development in Northern Ireland). If the person was receiving any state benefits, fill out the section at the back and send it to the local Jobcentre Plus or social security office
- The death certificate. This is a copy of the entry in the register, and it is this certificate that the asset and liability holders will need to see. It is sensible to obtain several copies, say 6-10.
To find details of your local or other register office, contact the appropriate county council (or Metropolitan Borough Council or Unitary Authority).
What happens if the coroner is involved?
Sometimes a death may be referred by police or a doctor to the coroner for further investigation. For example, if the death was unexpected, the cause is not known or there was an accident or the circumstances are suspicious; this will change some aspects of the procedure and some of the paperwork involved. The coroner’s officer and other professionals involved will advise you. There may be a slight delay before you can register the death and in most cases there’s no delay to the funeral. If the coroner orders an inquest you will be given an Interim Certificate of the Fact of Death by the coroner instead of a death certificate so the estate can be dealt with.
Arranging the funeral
You can take your time with arranging the funeral, and there’s no great rush, unless there are religious or cultural factors to consider. You can contact a funeral director before the death has been registered and they will help you decide what type of ceremony and arrangements you would like.
Some people leave instructions about their funeral saying whether they want to be buried, cremated, or have other specific wishes for example with regard to the funeral service. Check the Will and any other papers to see if they have left a written record. Also look for details of any pre-paid funeral plan or insurance policy which can cover the cost.
Choosing a funeral director
It’s a good idea to talk to more than one funeral director. Funerals can be expensive, so it makes sense to compare prices. More importantly, it also gives you the chance to find someone you feel you can trust with the care of the person who’s died.
Help with paying for the funeral
Many people find it difficult to cover the cost of a funeral, but there are ways to help you cope. It’s important to discuss this with the funeral director
- If the assets have been frozen
Usually the assets of the person who has died are frozen until the estate is settled. If you need to use these to pay for the funeral, ask the person’s bank or building society to help.
- If you’re claiming income-related benefits
You may be able to get some help with the funeral payment from the Social Fund. Check with your Jobcentre Plus as soon as possible, this will make it easier to plan the funeral
- If the person was employed
There may be a death in service payment from the employer, or pension scheme. The Human Resources department at the company will help you
- If no one is able to pay
A simple dignified funeral will be arranged by the local authority, or hospital depending on where the person died