29th October 2019

What to do when a person dies

It is not always obvious that there are procedures to follow. The first is where did the death occur? The most likely locations are at home, in a hospice, in a nursing home or in hospital. If at home and the death is sudden or unexpected, call the Police. If not unexpected or if it is far from sudden, then call the GP on call or a Community Nurse for verification of “life extinct”.

If you have already selected one, now is a good time to call a funeral director so that they can take the deceased into their care. If the death occurs in a hospice or a nursing home, a member of staff will take care of the certification of death. Again, either the nursing home, hospice or next of kin can contact a funeral director to take the deceased into care. If the death occurs in hospital and you are the next of kin, arrange to see the Hospital Bereavement Department and let them know whether the funeral will be a cremation or burial and again, contact your preferred funeral director or ask the hospital to do so on your behalf.

So what is a medical certificate for cause of death?

This is issued at the date of death and is made available for collection shortly after from the GP’s surgery or the Bereavement Services Department of the hospital. If the GP cannot certify the cause of death, he or she will refer the facts to H M Coroner.

Registering the death

An appointment is required by law within 5 working days in the district where the death occurred. The Registrar for Births Marriages and Deaths will require a number of documents or information about the deceased including:

• Place and date of birth and death;
• Full name (including maiden name where appropriate);
• Home address;
• Marital status;
• If the deceased was a married woman, her spouse’s full name and occupation;
• Occupation

The Registrar will then give you the “certificate or burial of cremation” known by its colour as “a green” as it is a green-coloured form. This should be passed to your funeral directors as soon as possible.

The Registrar will also hand you a white Department of Work & Pensions (DWP) form. However, DWP now has a “Tell us once” service that ensures any beneficial entitlements are dealt with efficiently once you have registered the death and contact a number of Government Departments. This saves the person named as Executor or, in the event of there being no Will, the person entitled to act as Administrator, significant work.

There is often concern as far as the method of bodily remains disposal. Ultimately, it is down to the choice of the person or persons entitled to act as Personal Representatives. Where there is a Will, this will be the persons who are named at the primary level of entitlement to act as Executor. If there is no Will or no valid Will in place, then it will be the persons who are entitled to act as Administrators by reason of their familial relationship to the deceased. Whilst Wills can give guidance as far as what the deceased’s wishes were, it is important to understand that it is, ultimately, the decision of the Executors and the Will is not binding on the subject. Sometimes religious or other beliefs may mean that burial is the only option. However, the majority in the United Kingdom opt for cremations and the cost is usually lower than it would be for a burial given the scarcity of churchyard sites.

The Coroner

There are a number of reasons why the Coroner may become involved in a death. The procedures will be explained in clear manner by the Coroners’ Office. If the Coroner is involved, then a contracted firm of funeral directors will take the deceased to the Coroners’ Mortuary. That firm does not need to be used by the Executor or Administrator as far as the funeral is concerned, if the Executor or Administrator does not wish to. If the death was expected, then the involvement may be for technical reasons in which case the normal registration procedures will probably come back into place and you will be told of that. In some cases, the Coroner may perform a post mortem to establish the cause of death before allowing the release of the body for the funeral. If the verdict is one of natural causes and circumstances, the Coroner will issue a Form 100 to the Registrar, which will enable the Registrar for Births, Deaths and Marriages to go through the usual registration process with the Executor or Administrator. Where there is a cremation rather than a burial, the Coroner will issue a Form 6 to the funeral director instead of “the green”. Where there is a burial, the Coroner will issue a Coroner’s Burial Order directly to the chosen funeral director. Other instances of the Coroner’s involvement are too detailed to put in this brief note.

For more information please contact Edward Walter, Partner at Buss Murton Law LLP on
T: 01892 502 320 or E: ewalter@bussmurton.co.uk

Edward Walter

Edward Walter