What to do after a love one dies
The first steps following a death
When someone dies, there are a series of practical matters that must be dealt with. Usually, it’s a family member who handles the affairs of the deceased but it can also be a close friend or carer.
Our guide below, provides advice and straightforward instructions on what you need to do and when.
Who do you need to tell when someone dies?
This depends on the circumstances:
- If the person dies at home and it was expected, call the deceased’s GP’s surgery immediately. If the GP or a district nurse is not available or if the death occurs at night call the NHS helpline on 111 and they will advise you what to do next.
- If the death occurs at home but was unexpected, you should call 999 immediately. The operator will provide information about what you should do. The police may wish to examine the area, so you should not disturb the scene. They will arrange for a funeral director to collect the deceased.
- If the death occurs in hospital, the hospital’s bereavement office will assist you in all you need to do, contact them as soon as you are able to after the death occurs.
- If the death occurs abroad, contact the British Embassy to seek advice. Typically, you will need to register the death in that country. If the person dies on board a plane or ship, the death will need to registered in the country to which the craft is registered.
Once the death has been reported, a medical professional will complete a Medical Certificate of Cause of Death (MCCD). If the doctor is unable to determine the cause of death, or if the death was sudden or not from natural causes, they will need to contact the coroner (procurator fiscal in Scotland) who may decide to carry out a post mortem examination or inquest. Once this takes place the death can be registered. A funeral cannot take place until the Coroner completes their inquiries.
How do I register a death?
A relative should register the death if possible. You can also inform the registrar if you were present at the death or you are making arrangements for the funeral.
You will need the Medical Certificate of Cause of Death in order to formally register the death at the closest register office to where the person died. In England, as long as the death has not been referred to the coroner, you must do this within five days of the death (in Scotland it’s eight days). If possible, you should also take all or any of the following that you can find belonging to the deceased:
- birth certificate
- marriage certificate or civil partnership certificate
- proof of address (e.g. a utility bill)
- council tax bill
- NHS medical card
- driving licence
During the coronavirus pandemic and social distancing restrictions, a pre-registration system has been put in place. The doctor will send an electronic copy of the MCCD to the registrar and the informant (person registering the death) will need to phone or email the registrar to begin the death registration process.
What happens next?
You will receive a Certificate for Burial or Cremation (known as the ‘green form’) and a Certificate of Registration of Death (form BD8 or the ‘death certificate’). You can buy certified copies of the death certificate and these are useful as certain organisations will need to see the death certificate in order to close or freeze accounts, release funds etc.
The following checklist can help you start the process of sorting out your loved one’s affairs.
What happens to a person’s debt following their death?
As an executor, the first thing you should do is contact all creditors (anyone owed money). Individual debts accrued in the deceased’s sole name (personal debts) will be repaid out of the estate – relatives will not be liable for the debt unless they acted as a personal guarantor or co-signatory. Sometimes, an insurance policy may have been taken out as part of the loan process, such as life insurance to pay off a mortgage, so check for any insurance policies tied to individual debts.
If a debt is in joint names, perhaps a loan was taken out by a husband and wife, the co-signee will still be liable for the debt in its entirety. However, you may find that the organisation is open to negotiating an affordable payment plan to help the debtor through any financial hardship caused by the death. If you, as executor or the deceased’s spouse, are struggling to handle joint debts after a loved one passes away, the Money Advice Service provides a list of places where you can get debt advice. https://www.moneyadviceservice.org.uk/en/tools/debt-advice-locator
Creditors will be paid from the estate in priority order starting with secured debt (mortgage, car loan, secured credit), followed by priority debts (such as income tax and council tax) and then unsecured debt (such as utility bills, store and credit cards, and personal loans). If the liquidated value of the estate does not cover all the debts, they may be written off, but this will depend on the type of debt and the way it was secured.
Wellers expert solicitors for probate and estate administration
For more information on the processes involved in probate and estate administration we have compiled a useful guide: Probate & Estate Administration Services. The downloadable guide includes information on the likely timeframes involved in handling an estate (although the coronavirus pandemic has caused some of these time frames to be extended as a result of lockdown restrictions and subsequent backlogs) and the associated costs involved in relation to disbursements (applications, searches, fees etc).