What to do when someone dies.

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By Sandra Moores

Private Client Manager

The family and friends of the person who has died can usually deal with most of the practical things that need doing immediately after a death. Solicitors normally get involved a little later, when the executors ask for their advice about the estate. If there is no family member or friend to deal with the practical matters, then solicitors can help with some or all of these too.




If the person who has died lived alone, someone should go to his or her home on the day of the death. Take the security precautions that you would take when leaving your own home empty for a while, such as locking all doors and windows, stopping deliveries of papers and milk and moving valuable items so that passers-by cannot easily see them.

Everything that is in the home of the person who has died should remain there. This makes it easy to arrange for all the person’s property to be valued. (It has to be valued for inheritance tax purposes.) If there are very valuable items and you believe they are not adequately insured, consider moving them to a more secure place but consult the executors or close relatives of the person who has died or the person’s solicitors before you do this.

If you know that the person who has died had a gun licence and kept firearms at the property, report the death to the police so that they can make arrangements for the guns to be kept safely. If the person had a pet, make temporary arrangements for it to be looked after by family or friends or through an animal rescue charity.


On your first visit to the home of the person who has died, look for papers relating to the insurance of the property and its contents, even if you do not have time to look for other important papers at this stage. Then ring the insurers, tell them about the death and make sure that there is adequate home and contents cover in place. Keep a note of your conversation with the insurers and put it with the papers relating to the insurance. Hand all these papers over to the executors or their solicitors as soon as possible.


When someone dies, a doctor issues a medical certificate which states the cause of death. The death then needs to be recorded formally on the register for births, deaths and marriages. A death must be registered within five days after the date of the death.  If the death was in hospital or in a private home (including a nursing or residential home), the following people can register the death:

  • A relative.
  • Someone who was present at the death but who is not a relative.
  • Someone representing the “occupier” of the building where the death occurred (for example, the warden of a block of sheltered flats, the manager of a residential home).
  • An official from the hospital.
  • Anyone who has taken responsibility for arranging the funeral.

If the death was not in a public building or a private home, the following people can register it:

  • A relative.
  • Anyone present at the death.
  • Anyone who has taken responsibility for arranging the funeral.

A relative should, if possible, register the death but the registrar allows non-relatives if no relative is available.  Whoever registers the death should take to the register office:

  • The medical certificate from the doctor.
  • The following information:
    • date of death;
    • place of death;
    • full name of the person who has died;
    • any former names;
    • occupation;
    • last address;
    • name, date of birth and occupation of the person’s spouse (including a same-sex spouse for marriages on or after 13 March 2014) or civil partner (whether living or dead); and
    • information about any state benefits the person was receiving.

The registrar also issues a certificate for burial or cremation. Give this to the funeral director who is making the funeral arrangements.

If the death is reported to the coroner and the coroner is satisfied that the death is natural, then the coroner notifies the registrar and the death is registered in the usual way. However, if the coroner decides that an inquest is necessary, the registrar cannot issue a death certificate or a certificate for cremation (see the section below on deaths reported to the coroner and inquests).


It is not essential to find the will before the funeral. However, it is best to find it (or at least a copy) as soon as possible after the death because:

  • The person who has died may have said in the will what kind of funeral he or she wanted .
  • The administration of the estate goes more smoothly if the executors are involved from the outset.

People who get solicitors to make their wills for them often keep a copy of the will with their important papers. The original is usually kept by the solicitors’ firm: the address and phone number of the firm is often on the cover of the copy will.

If you cannot find a will (or a copy) in the home of the person who has died, ask the person’s bank and his or her solicitors if they know where it is.

Otherwise, you can contact any solicitor whose practice includes wills and probate. The solicitor can help with the searches for the will and can also explain what happens to the property of an individual who dies without leaving a will.


Only the executors appointed in a will are entitled to see the will before probate is granted. If you are not an executor, the solicitors of the person who has died or the person’s bank, if it has the will, cannot allow you to see it or send you a copy of it, unless the executors agree. However, they can tell you who the executors are. They can also let you know what the will, or a note kept with it, says about the kind of funeral the person wanted.

If the person who has died left a will which does not appoint you as an executor but you know the people who are appointed executors, make sure they know about the death. You and the executors can then decide who is to register the death, if this has not already been done, and who is to arrange the funeral.



By taking on the responsibility for arranging the funeral, you are also taking on the responsibility of paying for it. You will eventually be able to reimburse yourself from the estate of the person who has died, if there is enough money in the estate to cover the funeral expenses.

You, or other family members, may be willing to pay the funeral expenses, on the basis that you will claim repayment from the estate later. However, there are other ways of paying for the funeral:

  • Look through the papers of the person who has died for anything relating to a pre-paid funeral plan. If you find that the person subscribed to a plan, contact the provider and follow the procedure it recommends.
  • A bank where the person who has died had an account may be prepared to release money from the account. The bank “freezes” an account when it learns about the account-holder’s death, making no further payments out. However it may make an exception for funeral expenses. Contact the bank to ask whether it will release money to pay for the funeral.



You may need to contact the solicitors of the person who has died soon after the death to ask if they have the will and to find out who the executors are.


If you are an executor appointed in the will of the person who has died, or the person is intestate and you are entitled to be appointed an administrator, then in the months following the death you will be involved in the administration of the estate.