By Helen Calder
When someone dies, especially if you are the next of kin and/or an executor or have power of attorney, you are usually in shock. Nevertheless, there are unfortunately plenty of practical tasks required. Here’s a list of what to do when someone dies which hopefully will help get you through this difficult time.
1. The day of the death
- Try to give yourself some space and remember to eat and drink; you’ll need the energy even if you don’t feel like it.
- If someone dies at home, contact the doctor to certify death. The hospital, hospice or nursing home will arrange this where appropriate.
- If it’s a home death, contact a funeral director to collect the body. You will need to confirm to them once the doctor has visited as they can’t collect until that has happened. The hospital, hospice or nursing home may arrange this where appropriate, but do check. You may also like to give the funeral director some clothes for the body for the coffin. Be aware that once the funeral director collects the body you are incurring costs, so you may want to ask for an initial estimate when you make the first call (though this may not feel important at the time).
- Start to let other people know face to face, by phone, email, text or by letter (Family relatives, close friends, employer, neighbours, wider circle of friends (you can usually do this once funeral arrangements have been made))
2. Next day
- Collect the death certificate, usually from the GP or hospital.
- Arrange to register the death with the Registrars’ Office (you need the death certificate to do this). You may need to make an appointment and they may not have a slot for 2 or 3 days. The registrar will give you copies of the certificate (you are likely to need at least 5 and you may need 10, it’s cheaper to get them initially) and a green form which you will need to give to the funeral director.
- Arrange to see the funeral director to make funeral arrangements.
- Contact the solicitor who holds the will.
3. Before the funeral
- Meet with your funeral director and/or the person who will lead the funeral. Some of the things they may ask you include:
- Date and location preferred for funeral/cremation/burial/thanksgiving service
- Where the ashes will be placed (at the crematorium or you may want to collect the ashes for scattering/placing elsewhere)
- Person to take the service(s)
- Type of coffin and lining
- Casket if required for ashes
- Cars, if required for relatives
- Other requirements e.g. horse drawn carriage coffin, release of doves
- Music, hymns, songs, readings, tribute, speaker for service
- Details of organist or other musicians for service(s)
- Whether you want to display/project any photographs or other media at the services
- Whether you want a book at the service to record attendance and/or people to write comments in
- Whether you want the funeral director to place a death announcement in any local or national newspapers
- Check/arrange PA system, stewards and car park attendant for any church service(s)
- Details of any in-memory gifts to a favourite charity
- Consider detailed format and content of the service(s).
- Ask people you’d like to do any readings, prayers & tributes at the service(s).
- Arrange catering and venue for any reception/meal/drinks/tea after the service(s).
- Arrange printing of any orders of service. You may like to include some photos of the person. And details of any gifts in memory.
- Notify funeral/cremation/thanksgiving service arrangements to family/ relatives, close friends, employer, neighbours, and wider circle of friends)
A Christmas card list or address book is a good source of contacts.
- Collect belongings from the hospital/hospice/nursing home where relevant. Be aware that care home or nursing home final fees are usually dependant on when you clear the room.
- Arrange flowers for the funeral: coffin, church etc. with florist. Agree what happens to the flowers after the service(s).
Funeral director (if a solicitor is handling probate/will you may be able to get them to settle the invoice from the proceeds of the estate)
Whoever led the funeral (the funeral director may offer to handle this)
Organist (the funeral director may offer to handle this)
4. After the funeral
- Solicitor if not already done
- Government agencies, banks, building societies
In the UK use the “Tell us once form” which will be provided by the registrar. You can do this by phone or online. This will include notification to the Department of Work and Pensions, HMRC, the Passport Office, the DVLA and the local council.
- Collect any larger belongings & furniture from nursing or care home.
- Thank yous:
- Minister/funeral leader
- Musicians if personally known and booked direct
- People who do readings, tributes in service(s)
- People who have particularly helped and supported you
- Meet solicitor. This meeting may cover the contents of the will and whether you want the solicitor to arrange probate (cost typically £750 to £1500 dependant on where in the country they are) or do all the work in winding up the estate on behalf of the executors (cost typically 2% of gross estate including probate). If you want the solicitor to do probate or the whole winding up of the estate, it helps to have a list of the person’s assets i.e. bank and building society accounts, investments, property, valuable jewellery etc . You will be asked to provide latest bank statements and share certificates though you can do this later.
This article is principally about the practical tasks when someone dies. However, grief has a profound effect on our emotions. You are likely to feel some or all of the following, not necessarily in this order: numbness, shock, guilt, anger, regret. It’s likely that you will need to work through your memories before you are in a state to move on to a new phase of life. I have found ‘Living Through Grief‘ by Harold Bauman published by Lion very helpful and have passed copies on to many others. The book takes a Christian perspective, but people of all faiths and none have found it useful.
Other people are often keen to help but don’t always know what might be helpful. Here are some suggestions of things you may like to suggest they could do:
- Accompany you on visits to collect death certificate, registrar, funeral director, minister
- Make meals for you to eat at home
- Invite you to their home for meals
- Have a coffee with you or go for a walk with you
- Do some shopping
- Come with you to buy an outfit for the funeral
- Do some ironing
You may find you are keen to talk about the person who has died but others avoid the subject for fear of upsetting you. So you may need to take the initiative in mentioning them.
If you read this ahead of handling the death of someone, you will realise there are some tasks it can be helpful to do in advance:
- Check if there is a funeral plan already in place with a local funeral director or national firm
- Find out if the person has any wishes regarding the contents of the funeral/service of thanksgiving etc and who they would like to take part
- Check where the will is held and who the person’s solicitor is
- Check where any list of contacts and addresses is
- If possible obtain a list of assets: property, bank accounts, investments, jewellery etc.
You may also want to consider preparing this information for yourself.
You may also find this useful: On Becoming A Humanist Celebrant For A Different Kind Of Funeral, “I Want Balloons” Planning Mom’s Funeral – With Mom and How To Avoid Funeral Disputes!
Helen Calder felt called to work in the Christian sector after a management career in the glass and brewing industries, and spent a year studying theology at St John’s College Nottingham where she particularly focused on pastoral care of the dying and bereaved, In 1991 she was appointed as director of administration for All Souls Church, Langham Place. From 1999 to 2016 Helen worked at the Evangelical Alliance, since 2007 as executive director: finance and services. She has been a trustee of several Christian charities. She now has a portfolio career which includes mentoring and consultancy in the charity sector. Helen has personally chosen care and nursing homes for elderly relatives on three occasions.