Dealing with a Death

Dealing with a death is never a pleasant experience. The death itself is always stressful. For those left behind there will be a large number of things which need to be done so we have compiled below a very basic guide which we hope will at least help you remember some of the things which need to be done.

What To Do First

If The Death Occurs In Hospital

If the death occurs in hospital, the hospital staff will contact the person named by the deceased as next of kin. This may be, but need not be, a relative. You may, if you wish, request to see the hospital chaplain. The hospital will keep the body in the hospital mortuary until the executor arranges for it to be taken away. Most funeral directors have a chapel of rest in which the deceased will be held pending the funeral. Hospital will arrange for the nearest relative to collect the deceased’s possessions.

If The Death Occurs Elsewhere

Expected Death

If the death was expected, contact the doctor who attended the deceased during their final illness. If the doctor can certify the cause of death he or she will give you the following items:

  • Medical Certificate – that shows the cause of death (this is free of charge and will be in a sealed envelope addresses to the registrar).
  • Formal Notice – that states that the doctor has signed the Medical Certificate and tells you how to get the death registered.

You may wish to contact the deceased’s minister of religion if you have not already done so. Arrangements for the funeral may be made by a funeral director.

If the death followed illness from HIV or AIDS there may be special rules for handling the body. The following organisations can advise on funeral arrangements:

London Lighthouse
FACTS Health Centre
Terence Higgins Trust

Unexpected Death

If you discover a body or the death is sudden or unexpected, you should contact the following people:

  • the family doctor (if known)
  • the deceased’s nearest relative
  • the deceased’s minister of religion
  • the police, who will help to find the people listed above if necessary


If there is any reason to suspect that the death was not due to natural causes, do not touch or remove anything in the room. The death may be referred to the coroner. The doctor may ask the relatives for permission to carry out a post-mortem examination. This is a medical examination of the body which can find out more about the cause of death and should not delay the funeral.

Reporting A Death To A Coroner

In any of the following circumstances the doctor may report the death to the coroner.

  • an accident or injury
  • an industrial disease
  • during a surgical operation
  • before recovery from anaesthetic
  • if the cause of death is unknown
  • the death was sudden or unexpected

You will be advised if the death has to be reported to the Coroner, in which case the death cannot be registered nor the funeral take place, without the Coroner’s authorisation. Where the death is reported to the Coroner, the Coroner’s Office will contact the relatives.

A Coroner can order a post-mortem examination without getting the relative’s permission. This will ascertain the cause of death. He may also wish to hold an investigation into the circumstances leading up to the death (this is called an inquest). When an inquest is called, the Coroner’s Office will contact the relatives. This should not cause undue stress as it is a legal formality.

In such cases the Death Certificate will be issued direct to you from the Coroner’s Office and the relatives must then go to the Registrar to register the death. When an inquest is to be held, the death cannot be registered until the conclusion of the inquest, but a certificate will normally be issued at the opening of the inquest to allow the funeral to take place.

When Does The Death Need To Be Registered?

Normally within 5 days unless the Coroner is investigating the circumstances relating to the death. This 5 day period may be extended to 14 days in certain circumstances.

Who Must Register The Death?

People with legal responsibility to register include:

  • A relative
  • A person present at the death
  • The occupier of the premises where the death occurred if he/she knew of it happening
  • The person arranging the funeral. This does NOT mean the funeral director.
    (See also the list on the Notice to Informants attached to the Doctor’s medical certificate of cause of death).

What Documents Do I Bring To The Register Office?

  • The medical certificate of cause of death issued by the doctor treating the person who has died.  This is essential – the Registrar can do nothing without it.  (If the Coroner is involved, the Coroner’s Office will advise you what to do).
  • The deceased person’s birth certificate or passport (if available) can be helpful.
  • The deceased person’s medical card (don’t worry if this is not available).


What Questions Will The Registrar Ask Me?

The Registrar will interview you in private and will need to know the following information:

  • The date and place of death.
  • The full name and surname, and maiden name if the person who has died was a married woman.
  • The occupation and, if the deceased person was a married woman or widow, the full name of her husband.
  • The usual address.
  • If the person who died was married, the date of birth of the surviving spouse.
  • Whether the person who has died was receiving a pension from public funds.


The Registrar will enter all these details in a computer and will then give you the opportunity to check that they are correct. The information will then be written into a register. This is the ‘original’ legal record and you should check it through very carefully before signing it, as any mistakes discovered later on may be difficult to correct.

What Documents Will I Receive?

  • A ‘Green Form’ which enables you to arrange the funeral
  • (If the Coroner is involved different procedures may apply).
  • You will also be given a form for Social Security purposes.
  • Certified copies of the entry (“death certificates”) can also be obtained upon payment of the statutory fee.
  • Where Must The Death Be Registered?
  • The death must be registered in the District Register Office for the area (town/city) in which it occurred.


Please contact us for further help and advice.

Like to know more?

Call us on (01494) 810 083 or email at