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The Legal Steps

1. Obtain the Medical Cause of Death Certificate.

The Death Certificate is required to enable you to register the death.

The death must be certified by a doctor who will give the family a Medical Certificate of Cause of Death to take to the local council’s Registrar’s Office to register the death.

If a death happens in hospital, nursing staff will organise the death certificate and give it to the next of kin. If a death happens at home, next of kin should phone the family GP (or 999 if you don’t know who the GP is) so a doctor can visit to certify the death. It can wait till morning if the death happens at night.

If the death is sudden, suspicious or unusual, a post-mortem (or autopsy) may be needed to determine the cause of death. No family permission is needed for this and the medical certificate will be issued by the coroner after the post-mortem. There’s no cost to the family.

If the cause of death isn’t clear but not suspicious, the doctor or the family can ask for a post-mortem. In this case, relatives will be asked to sign a permission form.

If the person has died at home, it will be the deceased’s GP who provides the certificate; if the death has occurred in a hospital or care home, it will be the doctor who had been treating the person.

In a hospital you may meet with a Hospital Bereavement Officer or staff from the Patient Advisory Liaison Service – these may return any belongings to you; staff at a care home will do the same.

If the death has been referred to the Coroner, however, they will not be able to give you the certificate, but they will explain what will happen next.

2. Register the death

Deaths must be registered with the Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages. In England, Wales and Northern Ireland, this must be within five days of the death; in Scotland within eight days.

You will need to make an appointment to register the death, and it is quicker to go to the office in the district where the person has died so call this office first. You can search for details of Registrar Offices

Take the Medical Certificate of Cause of Death that the doctor gave you and the Registrar will record this and give you a Death Certificate. That copy is free. It’s worth asking for a couple of certified copies (£10 each) of the Death Certificate at the time of registration because organisations like banks and building societies (anyone who deals with assets/money) will need these.

The Registrar will want to know: name(s), address, date and place of birth, place of death and age at death, last occupation, marital status, name of partner (and maiden name if applicable), name of any funeral director being used and whether you are having a burial or cremation.

There is also a requirement to notify several different agencies that may have been involved with the deceased. A useful link is provided by Direct Gov which covers an extensive list of what to do when someone dies.