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14 July 2017 | Comment | Article by Gareth Wisdom

The first steps to take when someone dies

Registering the death

When someone dies, their death must be recorded formally on the register for births, deaths and marriages. This must be done within five working days after the date of death. The death must be registered at the local register office to where the death occurred (The rules are different for deaths resulting in coroner’s inquests).

It is normal for a relative to attend the register office by advanced appointment, although a wider category of persons can register a death occurring in hospital or private home (such as a nursing or residential home), these include:

  • a person present at the death but not the relative;
  • an official from the hospital in which the death occurred;
  • someone representing the occupier of the building where the death occurred;
  • any person who has taken responsibility for arranging the funeral.

Whoever attends, they will need to take with them the medical certificate. This is issued by the medical professional recording the death and will confirm the name, date and time of death. The medical certificate is not to be mistaken with the death certificate, which is provider at the register office. If the death occurred in the hospital, it can be retrieved from a member of staff on the ward. If the death occurred in a private home, then it might be that the medical certificate is held at the surgery which the deceased was a patient.

Information you will need to provide

In addition to the paperwork, the person registering the death will need such information as:

  • date and place of death;
  • full name of the person who died, as well as former names. The same information is desirable for the any spouse or predeceased spouse;
  • occupation and information about any state benefits;
  • last known address.

The information provided will create the death certificate so it is important that the information provided is accurate. You will need to take time to consider the spelling of names and places, and dates given, as the death certificate will act as confirmation of death that all institutions will require sight of. Mistakes established later might delay the administration of the estate and prevent assets being collected.

If you are not the relative of the deceased, or you are unable to ascertain all of the information needed, you should be able to locate their birth certificate, marriage or civil partnership certificate and information about their income.

Once the death has been registered formally, you will be handed a certificate for burial or cremation. This is authorisation to do one or the other and the document should be handed to your funeral director as part of the funeral arrangements. You will no doubt be asked about burial or cremation whilst registering the death, something which the deceased might have made provision for in his or her will, if not already communicated during their lifetime.

Author bio

Gareth Wisdom


Gareth Wisdom is a partner and head of our will writing services. He is responsible for the business development of the will writing team and our wider private wealth management proposition.

Disclaimer: The information on the Hugh James website is for general information only and reflects the position at the date of publication. It does not constitute legal advice and should not be treated as such. If you would like to ensure the commentary reflects current legislation, case law or best practice, please contact the blog author.


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