It's tough enough to know what to do when someone dies, whether a loved one or family member - and that's even before bureaucratic and financial issues. This checklist features crucial tips to make things easier.
This guide is to help ease the load after someone's died. If you're planning for the future, see the Death Happens guide for tips to help minimise financial trauma for loved ones.
It's tough enough when someone dies - and that's before bureaucratic and financial issues. This checklist features crucial tips to make things easier. If you're planning for the future, see the Death Happens guide.
This is the first incarnation of this guide. Please feed back in the forum discussion.
While every effort's been made to ensure this article's accuracy, it doesn't constitute legal advice tailored to your individual circumstances. If you act on it, you acknowledge that you do so at your own risk. We can't assume responsibility and don't accept liability for any loss which may arise as a result of your reliance upon it. Huge thanks to Withers LLP, Silverman Sherliker LLP, The Natural Death Centre Charity & Age UK.
What to do when someone dies - the timeline
Call a doctor and tell their nearest relative
If someone's in a life-threatening emergency, call 999 immediately. The St John Ambulance website also has info on what to do if you're with someone who is unconscious and not breathing, including how and when to resuscitate.
Try to keep calm
Once you've done all you can and are waiting for medical help or family to arrive, try to keep calm. Some find keeping busy with simple practical tasks can help. Call a friend or relative for support, and take things gently. The death of a loved one is a huge trauma that will take its toll, even if you aren't feeling it now.
The body can be kept in a mortuary, at home or elsewhere
Many hospital mortuaries will allow you to keep the body there until the morning of the funeral. If no post-mortem's needed, it can be kept at home, at an undertaker's mortuary, or elsewhere for visitors to pay their respects until the funeral.
Check their pets are looked after
It's easy to forget about this, but check in case they were the sole owners of any pets at home. If you're unsure, check with close family and friends. Neighbours may be able to help with this too.
Pets can be left to others in a will, but they'll still need to be looked after, even if just until other arrangements can be made. Relatives and friends may be happy to take them in, but if not, contact your local RSPCA branch.
Secure any property and cancel milk or newspapers if they lived alone
If the person lived alone, don't forget to ensure the house is safely locked with all windows closed properly. Sadly, empty houses can be a magnet for burglars, so it's important to check it's secure as soon as you can. Cancel any daily newspaper or milk deliveries - ask a friend or relative to help with this if you don't feel up to it.
Will the deceased's home insurance still cover their property?
After someone dies, if their home insurance was only in their name, sadly the cover becomes void. But if the policy was in joint names, it will still cover the surviving policyholder (though the names on the policy will need to be updated).
If the policyholder has died, you may be able to get an extension or grace period for cover to continue, perhaps for a week or so, while new arrangements are made.
This is at the discretion of the insurer, so if you're concerned about the property being left empty without cover, speak to the home insurance provider as soon as you can. See the Home Insurance guide.
Named driver on the deceased's car insurance? Contact the provider ASAP
If you're a named driver, you may not be covered if the policyholder passes away. Speak to the deceased’s provider as soon as possible, explaining the situation, to gain a bit of time to make new arrangements.
If it has a grace period where cover's continued while you make other arrangements, remember to check how long this is for. See Cheap Car Insurance.
Don't be afraid to ask for help, or seek grief counselling
When you lose someone close to you, it's likely you'll go through a huge range of emotions, often including shock, pain, and anger. These are all a normal part of the grieving process. Look after yourself - you and your family are most important.
The first few days
Share tasks with family and friends
This is a key point to keep in mind throughout the tasks to come. With a funeral to organise, family and friends to tell, and other organisations to notify, make sure you aren't taking on too much at an already stressful time.
Notify other relatives and friends
Before you, or anyone else, start tackling the finances of someone who's passed away, there are key practical and emotional steps to take. As well as telling relatives and friends, several other parties will need to be told.
Register the death within five or eight days
You can't finalise the funeral date until this has been done, so it's an important step. You'll usually need to do this within five days in England, Wales and NI, or eight days in Scotland - though this doesn't apply if the death's reported to the coroner.
Get any extra death certificate copies when you register
When you register the death, you'll also be able to buy copies of a death certificate. This is an official copy of what's on the death register, often needed as proof by companies and financial institutions, such as banks and insurance firms.
Get extra cash to help - could be £1,000s
Sadly, in many cases (especially if you're self-employed) you'll end up out of pocket if you've had to take time off work due to your spouse's death.
By the end of the first week, if you can
Check for a funeral plan
Before you start planning the funeral, check if there's already a financial funeral plan in place. This is where a burial or cremation's already been arranged and paid for. This will be useful as it may cover some of the cost, or they may have even paid the venue ahead of time. Their next of kin's likely to know is there's a funeral plan (if this isn't you).
Organising the funeral
Funerals generally take place within the first week or two. So when you feel strong enough, it's worth starting to think about what's needed. A few points to consider:
Using a funeral director? Get as many quotes as you can
Funeral directors can provide help with the practical aspects of a funeral. This could include moving and preparing the body, taking care of the paperwork or helping you arrange a service. You don't have to use a funeral director, but if you decide to, get a decent range of quotes if you can, and check exactly what's included.
Paying for the funeral
A funeral's a huge financial transaction, yet it's entirely understandable many won't be in a fit state to think about cost at such a difficult time. So ask a friend to help with any quotes and getting prices down if you can - show them these tips to help.
Is cremation cheaper than burial?
Of course, it's a hugely personal choice, but which is the most cost effective depends on where you are, and what options you go for. Don't assume cremation's cheaper - in some areas crematoria fees are greater than burial fees, so check with the local council.
Burial vs cremation - the key costs
To give you an idea of burial fees, the Natural Death Centre charity tells us burial plots vary hugely from about £200 to £20,000, depending on area. Grave preparation fees vary from about £150 to £500, plus there are fees to put up a memorial stone, local authority burial fees, and any extras (known as 'disbursements'), as well as the cost of a coffin.
As a rough guide, basic cremation fees if you go direct are generally £250-£800, but it varies depending on the area and options such as the time of day. Unless the coroner's involved, you also need two doctors' signatures for cremation, which costs about £160. You'll also need to factor in coffin and any memorial stone costs too.
Funeral directors will charge their own fees on top, yet you don't have to use these if you'd rather organise it yourself. The Natural Death Centre says many crematoria will help families directly, particularly if council-owned, though they may be less keen if the crematorium's owned by a private company or funeral director.
Direct cremations can be a less costly alternative
If you don't feel up to organising a cremation directly yourself, but don't want the extra expense of a formal ceremony, a 'direct cremation' is another option.
For these, a company will collect the body, cremate it and return the ashes for about £1,000 (some funeral directors also offer this service, though it's likely to cost more).
It doesn't include a memorial ceremony or celebration of the person's life, so it leaves you free to organise this separately in your own time at a later date, when you feel ready.
You can find listings and reviews of funeral directors at the charity-run site Funeral Advisor, or search online for companies that offer direct cremations near you. You can also contact your local council's cemeteries and crematorium department directly to arrange cremation. See Gov.uk to find yours and check costs in your area.
You can transport them yourself if you wish
Though most people tend to use a funeral director to transport the body to the funeral, there's nothing stopping you from doing this yourself if you wish.
Check for a will
It's a good idea to start looking for a will in the first week if you can. It may have useful info on their burial or cremation wishes, as well as any details of a funeral plan.
The next few weeks onwards dealing with the estate
Who sorts out the deceased's finances?
When someone dies, if they had any outstanding debts to settle, or any assets to distribute, someone else will need to take charge.
Tell ALL organisations and close accounts
If you're the executor or administrator, you'll need to sort official affairs, distribute assets, and pay and recover debts. It'll take a bit of organisation, so keep track of who you've told as you go along.
Can I cancel mobile and TV contracts?
If the deceased had contracts for subscriptions such as TV, phone and broadband, whether you can cancel any outstanding payments depends on the contract.
Beware using others' passwords
Even if you've login details for someone who's passed away, it's likely you'd be in breach of the website's terms by using them, which could get you into trouble legally.
Always go through the proper channels to notify the organisation, and get permission to gain access to online accounts where you need it. It'll take a little more time, but it'll help to avoid future complications.
Get extra help with financial decisions if you need it
There are several crucial, difficult financial decisions to make after the death of a loved one. Yet it's an emotional time, so don't make snap judgements - wait until you have a clear head.
Debts are owed from the deceased's estate - not passed onto family
Before money, possessions and property can go to inheritors, any debts and tax need to be paid.
Reach an agreement with creditors to avoid future problems
If all the deceased's assets pass to their surviving partner there may be no money left in the estate to pay any debts, which could mean they're written off.
Reclaim any debts owed
If the deceased has any commercial debts or cash owed to them, or was in credit on their bills, the executor or administrator needs to recover this money.
Find lost bank accounts for free
If you can't find all the deceased's bank, building society or savings accounts, or aren't sure how many they had, website My Lost Account can find out where they held an account, though it can take up to three months to trace.
Handily, there are also other sites that can help you trace lost pensions and investments too. See the Reclaim Forgotten Cash guide for a full how-to.
Claim on any life insurance plans
Life insurance (also known as level term life assurance) usually pays a lump sum to the spouse or family after the insured person dies. So if the deceased had a life assurance or mortgage life assurance plan, call the provider to let it know they've passed away, and to start the claims process.
Sort out inheritance tax
If you're the executor or administrator, you'll need to sort out any inheritance tax (IHT). This is paid on the estate if, after debts are settled, it's worth more than £325,000 (and there aren't any other exemptions that need to be applied - see HMRC for more).
Value the estate
Once debts and taxes are paid, you'll need to work out the total value of the deceased's assets, known as their estate.
Dealing with property inheritance tax: Negotiate with creditors to avoid having to sell
Inheritance tax and property are a slippery pair. This is where problems arise as, unfortunately, in some cases you may be forced to sell the family home.
Share out the remaining assets
Once you've gone through all of these steps, you'll be pleased to hear there's only one big financial task left to tackle - share out what's left of the estate.
Unmarried partners won't automatically get a share
If you weren't married or in a civil partnership, sadly you won't automatically get a share of the estate. If they hadn't provided for you in another way, you've the option to make a claim under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975 in England and Wales.
Other dependants may also be able to claim under this too, see Gov.uk to apply. It's worth seeking legal help if you want to do this, or if any family disputes arise - see the Citizens Advice Bureau for help.
Share your experiences on the forum
The Deaths, Funerals and Probate forum board is a useful resource for sharing your thoughts and getting support from others who've been through this before.
Whether you want help with funeral flowers, probate or the sale of property, the forums are well worth a visit. Plus if you've any tips to pass on, share them in the What to do when someone dies forum discussion.
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