What to do after a loved one dies - checklist

When a loved one passes away, the number of decisions to be made and the weight of responsibility upon you can feel overwhelming. To help you during this difficult time, we have compiled a step-by-step guide to assist you throughout the process. The guide includes information on:

  • Registering a death
  • Funeral arrangements
  • Updating records
  • Sorting out finances and assets
  • Applying for probate

If you have any questions or need further assistance, our qualified team of solicitors are here to help provide legal advice to clients across the UK. Contact us by calling 0800 068 3192, or fill out our online enquiry form and we will be in touch.

How to register a death

Following the death of a loved one, you have five days to register the death at the local register office. To do so, you will need the medical certificate of cause of death, which can be obtained from the doctor or hospital. Alternatively, if the death was reported to the coroner, they will advise you as to the next steps regarding the paperwork. There is more information available about the coroner process here.

Once you have the certificate, make an appointment with the Registrar of Births and Deaths. If you are unsure as to where the nearest registrar office is, you can visit the official government website here. In addition to the certificate, you should take the following documents with you, if available, in order to complete the registration as easily as possible:

  • Birth certificate
  • NHS medical card or number
  • Marriage or civil partnership certificate
  • Driving licence
  • Proof of their address

In addition, the registrar will need the following information about the individual:

  • Full name (and any other names they had, such as a maiden name)
  • Date and place of birth
  • Date and place of death
  • Address
  • Occupation

If the deceased was receiving any benefits, including a state pension, then this should be shared with the registrar, along with the name, occupation and date of birth of their spouse or civil partner.

What happens after the death is registered?

Once the death has been successfully registered, the office will provide you with the following documents:

  • A Green Form, which is a certificate for burial or cremation
  • Form BD8, which is a certificate of registration of death
  • Information about bereavement benefits
  • A death certificate, which you will be charged for

It is important to make sure these documents are kept in a safe place. At this stage, it is worth considering whether you will need additional copies of the death certificate for the will or to claim any pensions, savings etc.

Making funeral arrangements

In many cases, the deceased will have left instructions for their funeral in a will or in a letter containing their wishes. If this is not the case, the nearest relative or executor of the will is responsible for deciding what type of funeral will take place, and whether the body will be buried or cremated.

A funeral director will be able to guide you through the details involved in arranging the ceremony. You can find a director by visiting the National Association of Funeral Directors or the National Society of Allied and Independent Funeral Directors.

When deciding which funeral director to use, you can ask them to provide quotes on the following costs and base your decision on their response:

  • The funeral director's services
  • The coffin
  • The transfer of the deceased from the place of death, and care of them before the funeral
  • The hearse to the nearest crematorium or cemetery
  • Any additional arrangements and paperwork

It is worth bearing in mind that there may be extra charges for a member of the clergy to lead the service, for use of a crematorium and also for any doctors. You may need to pay these costs upfront.

How to pay for a funeral

Due to the variety of expenses involved in the coordination of the funeral, as well as any costs associated with the wake that you may wish to hold following the burial or cremation, arranging a funeral can become quite expensive.

In order to cover the costs, you can explore the following funding options:

  • Money from the deceased's bank or building society
  • Asking family or friends for contributions
  • A lump sum from a life insurance policy
  • A pension scheme the person paid into
  • A pre-paid funeral plan
  • The deceased's estate

Updating the records of the deceased

After the passing of a loved one, there are many government organisations that need to be notified as soon as possible, including:

  • The Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA)
  • The UK Passport Agency
  • HMRC
  • Local services, such as libraries, electoral services and council tax services

If it is available in your area, the Tell Us Once service can be used to report a death to these government departments in one go. Should this service not be available, you will have to contact these bodies individually.

Other organisations you may need to contact include:

  • Pension scheme provider
  • Insurance company
  • Bank and building society
  • Employer
  • Mortgage provider, housing association or council housing office
  • Social services
  • Utility companies
  • Internet provider
  • GP, dentist, optician and anyone else providing medical care
  • Any charities, organisations or magazine subscriptions the deceased made regular payments to
  • The Bereavement Register, which removes their details from mailing lists and stops most advertising mail

Sorting out finances and assets

Dealing with the assets left behind by a loved one can be a challenging process. If the deceased has left a will naming you as the executor of the estate, you will need to make an application for a grant of probate, which will legally permit you to deal with their property, money and possessions.

Before you do so, you must estimate and report the estate's value, which can lead to you paying inheritance tax.

If no will was left, you will need to decide who is best placed to sort out the deceased's estate. Once this has been decided, they should contact the Probate Registry to apply for Letters of Administration in order to become legally responsible for taking care of the deceased's estate.

It is important to note that neither probate nor Letters of Administration will be needed if the person who died jointly owned land, property, shares or money, as these will pass onto the surviving owners.

When it comes to gaining access to assets, every organisation has its own rules and so you should contact each asset holder (for example a bank or mortgage company) to find out if probate is required.
The process of applying for probate

A grant of probate and Letters of Administration are applied for in the same way; however, the process is different in Scotland and Northern Ireland.

The steps for England and Wales include:

  • Check if there's a will and adopt the necessary process for application
  • Value the estate and report it to HMRC
  • Pay any inheritance tax that is due
  • Apply for probate
  • Collect the estate's assets
  • Pay off any debts, for example, unpaid utilities bills
  • Keep a record of how property, money or possessions will be split
  • Distribute the assets to the beneficiaries mentioned in the will

If you have any concerns or queries about applying for probate, you may wish to consult a solicitor for additional support and guidance.

How we can help

At Percy Hughes & Roberts, we specialise in making a will, contested probate, grant of probate, intestacy law, inheritance tax planning matters and disputed wills. We can provide expert advice relating to any of these issues. Get in touch by contacting Alison Beech, Carol Edwards or any other member of the team, by calling call 0800 068 3192 or completing our online enquiry form.