After the death of someone you have been caring for
There are certain things you may need to consider after the person you have been caring for has died.
If you are in a hospital or hospice, the nursing staff will be nearby. If your relative died at home, you should let your doctor know within a few hours. The GP, or a doctor who is covering for them, will come as soon as possible. If you are alone, you could ask a relative or friend to come and be with you. You may want a spiritual leader to be with you as well.
The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) publishes a leaflet called What to Do After a Death in England and Wales.
You can get a copy from your local Jobcentre Plus office or library, or you can download it from dwp.gov.uk The registrar will also give you a copy if you need one.
The Scottish Government produce a similar leaflet called What to Do After a Death in Scotland. You can get a copy directly from them by phoning 0131 244 3581, from your local Citizens Advice Bureau or by downloading it from the scotland.gov website. The registrar will also give you a copy.
These booklets outline all the things that you need to do at this time. The Consumers’ Association, which trades as Which?, also has a book called What to Do When Someone Dies, which is available in most public libraries or can be ordered by calling 0800 252 100.
We have included on this page some practical tips from carers about dealing with the death.
Our Bereavement section has more on how to cope with grief, and, when you're ready, offers suggestions for ways to celebrate the life of your loved one.
You might want to help to wash and clothe (lay out) the body. In a hospice or hospital the nurses will usually do this, but they will be happy to let you help if you’d like to. At home, if you’ve contacted an undertaker, they’ll show you what to do.
This process is different for different religions but may involve carefully washing and drying the body, closing the eyelids, and making sure the mouth is supported and closed. The person’s hair is tidied and sometimes washed.
The doctor will give you a medical certificate of the cause of death, with a slip of paper called ‘Notice to informant’, which tells you how to register the death. If a post-mortem has been arranged, a certificate may not be available until afterwards.
You need to take the death certificate, together with the person’s birth and marriage/civil ceremony certificates, to the registrar’s office in the area where the death occurred. This needs to be done within five days (eight days in Scotland).
At the registrar's office
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The registrar will ask you several questions about the person who has died, and will look at all the documents you have brought with you. They will then enter the details in a register that you’ll need to sign. A certified copy of the entry in the register, commonly known as a ‘death certificate’, will then be completed.
Some registrars’ offices now operate an appointment system, so check before you go. You can find the number of the local registrar’s office listed under ‘Registration of Births, Deaths and Marriages’ in the business section of your local phone book and it may be on the envelope containing the medical certificate.
If you aren’t able to attend in person, several other people could act as an ‘informant’ and register the death for you. Details of who can act as an informant are listed on the back of the ‘Notice to informant’.
Slightly different information is needed when registering a death in England and Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland, so it’s important to read the details of the ‘Notice to informant’ carefully and make sure you have all the information before you go to the registrar’s office. If you can’t find some of the documents, you may be able to register the death and take them in at a later date.
Number of copies
Before you attend the registrar’s office, it’s helpful to know how many copies of the death certificate you need. You can buy these ‘certified copies’, which are duplicate original certified copies of entry, not photocopies, at the time of registration. The cost varies between local authorities. If you need copies at a later date they cost more and are harder to get.
You will usually need one certified copy for each life insurance policy or similar that you need to claim. Other organisations, such as your bank, will just need to see the original certificate, or will make a copy for their records. The executor, if there is a Will, can help you work out how many copies will be needed.
Certificate from the registrar
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The registrar will give you a certificate of burial or cremation to say that the death has been registered and that the funeral can take place. You need to give this to the undertaker.
The registrar will also give you a certificate for social security purposes that is used to obtain or adjust any benefits or allowances.
Post-mortem (examination of the body)
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In most cases when someone dies from cancer, a post-mortem won’t be needed, but there are occasions when it can give helpful information to help you understand exactly what happened. For example, the cancer may have been diagnosed at an advanced stage and only the secondary tumours identified. A post-mortem may show where the cancer started.
People who die from mesothelioma need to have a post-mortem as this is an occupational disease. A post-mortem may also be necessary for anyone who has ever been a miner and for some people who are claiming occupational compensation. You can agree to a limited post-mortem, where only the relevant parts of the body will be examined. This may feel like a more acceptable option, yet it will still allow the doctors to get the answers needed.
Funerals and other religious services
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We live in a multi-cultural and multi-faith society, and each group has its own traditions and ceremonies. Funerals and memorials are one way in which we seek to pay our respects to the person who has died. They play a big part in helping us to acknowledge the death and say goodbye to the person. This allows people to express grief and draw strength from other people who knew them.
Before making any funeral arrangements it’s important to consider several issues:
What were the wishes of the dead person?
Have they expressed their wishes in a Will?
What are the wishes of their relatives and friends?
How will the funeral be paid for? Is there a pre-paid funeral plan?
Some people have no religious beliefs, while others will have a strong religious or spiritual faith, or may have lived their lives as humanists, agnostics or atheists. You may have very clear ideas about how you want to pay your respects to the person’s body and how you want the service to be dealt with. It isn’t necessary to have a religious leader to conduct a funeral or memorial service.
If you’re unsure what to do or didn’t have a chance to discuss this with your loved one, an undertaker can guide you through issuing the death notices and planning the funeral service. You can also get information from the registrar.
People who have a spiritual or religious faith often have a clear idea of the person they wish to conduct the funeral and where they wish the funeral or memorial service to take place.
A funeral, religious or spiritual service can be held wherever you wish, for example, in the person’s home or their favourite place. Often, services are held in the church where the body will be buried or in the chapel next to a crematorium, but they can be held in other places if you like.
You may be able to claim help towards funeral or cremation costs from the Social Fund. Speak to your social worker, if you have one, or contact your local Citizens Advice Bureau or the Department for Work and Pensions to find out exactly what expenses will be covered.
After the memorial service, the body of the person is cremated or buried.
Cremation takes place in a designated crematorium, sometimes close to a church. The ashes of the person are given in a small container to the next of kin. The ashes can be scattered or buried in a place chosen by the dead person.
Burial is usually in a churchyard or other designated burial place, although it’s possible for people to be buried in other places, such as a garden. If you want to bury the person on property that you own or in a place that they loved, you can get information from The Natural Death Centre.
If you and your relative or friend didn’t have the opportunity to discuss their choice of burial or cremation, and there is a Will, it’s important to consult the executor to see if the Will provides this information. If you had the opportunity to discuss plans for the funeral before death, this makes it much easier to be sure you are arranging a service of remembrance that would have reflected the person’s wishes. Some people also have strong views on the clothes they wish to be buried or cremated in.
Probate is the official validation and approval of a Will. You must apply for it to the local probate court before the contents of the Will can be actioned. This will take several weeks. If there was no Will, ‘letters of administration’ should be applied for but this may take even longer. None of the dead person’s property should be sold or given away until probate is granted. In Scotland, probate is called ‘confirmation’ and ‘appointment of executor-dative’ is equivalent to ‘letters of administration’.
Which? publishes a useful book called Wills and Probate, which will help you understand the probate process - you can order a copy by calling 0800 252 100. The solicitor who helped to prepare the Will can also answer any questions you may have. It’s important that the executors of the Will understand their role and keep you up to date on progress.
Things will be much easier for you if you’ve made sure that you have access to enough money in your own account to see you through the first few weeks and months, as probate can take a long time. Some money can be released early to pay for immediate incidental costs but it’s much easier to have independent funds in a joint account.
You may be entitled to new or different benefits after the person you are caring for has died. For more information ask your social worker, if you have one, the local Department for Work and Pensions office, a Citizens Advice Bureau or a welfare rights unit. You can also talk to our cancer support specialists.
At some point you should return documents belonging to the person who has died, such as their passport, driving licence, season ticket, bus pass and membership cards to the organisations that issued them. There is no need to do this straight away. You can ask someone else to do it for you if you find it too distressing.
You might find our section on bereavement helpful at this time.
You can read advice from other carers about coping after the death of someone you have been caring for in our booklet Hello, and how are you? [PDF, 914 kb] - a guide written by carers, for carers.