Whenever anyone dies it is always a traumatic and upsetting time for those left behind. The feelings of grief can be overwhelming but there are some issues such as registering the death and arranging the funeral which have to be done promptly. Locating the will, protecting property and checking the availability of funds for a remaining spouse or partner are equally important.
Death in a hospital or hospice
The next of kin will need to formally identify the body. If the cause of death is not clear you may be asked to consent to a post-mortem examination, otherwise the attending doctor will certify the death and provide a medical certificate. You will need this in order to register the death. The body will be stored in the mortuary and you will be asked to arrange to collect it – typically this is done by a funeral director. You will also be asked to collect any personal effects.
Expected death in a residential care home
The staff will call the next of kin to inform them. If it is known that the deceased is to be cremated you should let them know at this point (see below). The staff in the home will contact the doctor who will certify the death and issue a medical certificate unless the cause of death is unclear. The staff will contact a funeral director and arrange for the body to be removed and stored awaiting your instructions.
Expected death at home
You should call the deceased’s GP straight away. The doctor will confirm the death. If the doctor has seen the deceased in the past 14 days and is sure that death was from known natural causes he or she will be able to certify the death and issue a certificate, otherwise they will have to refer the death to the coroner. If you know that the deceased is to be cremated, tell the doctor at this point. The doctor may produce the certificate immediately or call you so that you can collect it.
The family doctor or ambulance service should be called and the police should be informed. They may arrange for the body to be transferred to the hospital mortuary and for the coroner to be informed. See the section on Coroners below. See also the information on Deaths Abroad.
If the body is to be cremated a certificate signed by the doctor who certified the death and also by a second doctor is required. There is a charge for this (currently £147 + mileage costs if required if using a NADF or SAIF funeral director). Pacemakers and artificial prosthesis have to be removed. There is no fixed fee for this but £50 – £75 seems common. If you are using a funeral director they will arrange all of this.
The general principle if someone dies in another country is that the death should be registered in that country and local regulations adhered to. The costs associated with a death occurring abroad can be very high and will vary from country to country. If possible you should immediately check whether a valid travel insurance policy is in place and, if so, make immediate contact with the provider. It is likely that they will provide substantial help with the arrangements. Although there are no requirements to inform the British Authorities, it is highly recommended that you do so because they will also offer you considerable assistance. If you are at home when the death occurs you should contact the Foreign and Commonwealth Office – 020 7008 1500, lines open 24 hours. They will inform the British Consulate abroad and liaise with you until the funeral has taken place or until the body has been returned to the UK. If you are abroad when the death occurs then you should contact the British Embassy, the High Commission or the British Consulate. They, the local police or your tour operator will give you advice on how to register the death. You will need the following details: The full name of the deceased Their date of birth Their passport number Details of their next of kin Details of any infectious diseases the deceased was suffering from Once you have a foreign death certificate you can, if you wish, register the death with the Consulate. You will receive a UK-style registration document. The death will be recorded at the General Register Office in the UK and you can obtain further copies there if you wish. You should note that this document has no legal standing and is relatively expensive to obtain. You cannot register a death in countries where the certificates are in English (Ascension Islands, Australia, Bermuda, Canada, Cayman Islands, Christmas Islands, Falkland Islands, Gibraltar, Irish Republic, Nevis, New Zealand, St. Helena, South Africa, Turks & Caicos Islands, Virgin Islands (UK)).
Repatriating a body
You will need to obtain authorisation from the country where the death occurred and you will need a certified English translation copy of the death certificate, if it is not from one of the countries mentioned above. The body will need to be embalmed and you will need a certificate showing this. The Consulate can help you find a funeral director and to obtain the relevant documents. The cost of transport and a zinc-lined coffin can be high. It is possible that the costs will be covered by travel insurance. In this case you may find that the insurance company will also help with the arrangements. You must inform the coroner of your intention to return the body. If the body is to be cremated the coroner will issue a Certificate for Cremation. You will also need to visit the Register Office with the certified translation of the death certificate and obtain a Certificate of No Liability to Register. You can give this or the Certificate for Cremation to a funeral director and then start planning the funeral.
Death whilst living abroad with assets in the UK
Care needs to be taken when a person who is living abroad dies and leaves assets in the UK. In such circumstances the deceased’s estate will usually be dealt with in the country they were living in under the local laws and regulations. However it could still be necessary for a Grant of Probate or Letters of Administration to be applied for in the UK as well. The circumstances when this will be necessary will depend on the assets that are held in the UK and their value. For example, if the deceased simply held a bank account with a balance of less than £5,000 then the UK bank will probably accept a death certificate and a copy of the will as sufficient evidence to release the funds. Similarly, an application may not be needed for a jointly held asset as this will pass to the surviving holder.
With UK shares however a Grant of Probate or Letters of Administration will always be required regardless of the size of the holding. It is recommended that the assistance of a solicitor is used under such circumstances. The solicitor is likely to need information on the following:
- The domicile of the deceased
- Details of the will of the deceased
- If there is no will then details of potential beneficiaries
- Details of the deceased’s assets and liabilities at the date of death
- Details of any overseas Grant of Probate or similar
There may be Inheritance Tax to pay in the UK depending on the estate value and other circumstances of the deceased. However, depending on the tax laws of the country in which the deceased lived there may be a double taxation treaty which prevents tax being paid twice. The solicitor will be able to make the application for probate, which once granted will allow UK based assets to be transferred or sold.
Referral to a Coroner
A coroner’s job is to ensure that as far as possible the cause of death is known and to investigate violent or unnatural deaths. If a doctor certifies a death then the coroner does not need to be involved, but this can only happen if the doctor is certain of the cause and has also attended the deceased within the fourteen days prior to death and there were no unusual circumstances. Deaths must otherwise be reported to the coroner and where death occurred in the following circumstances:
- As a result of deliberate or accidental self harm e.g… suicide, drug abuse, neglect
- As a result of neglect when a duty of care exists, for instance social services, care homes, parents of children under 18, children looking after elderly parents
- An unanticipated death of a child
- If violent crime was involved
- As a result of an accident
- During or shortly after detention by the authorities e.g.. police, customs or under the Mental Health Act
- As a result of something the Police either did or failed to do
- As a result of treatment or lack of treatment by doctors or medical staff
- As a result of present or past employment e.g. accidents or industrial diseases
- If the GP cannot identify a cause
- As a result of childbirth or abortion
- As a result of a specified disease e.g. MRSA
- When death occurred overseas and the body is repatriated. See above for more information on Deaths Abroad
Although this is a long list, about 70% of deaths in the UK do not need to be reported to the coroner.
What the Coroner will do
Often the coroner will consult with the GP and if the GP is confident of the cause of death they may be allowed to issue the death certificate as normal. The coroner may, however, decide that a post-mortem investigation is needed to determine the cause of death. Unlike a post-mortem requested by a hospital doctor, relatives cannot object to one ordered by a coroner. If the post-mortem satisfies the coroner that death was due to natural causes then he will normally send a Form 100 directly to the registrar so that the death can be registered. If the body is to be buried the registrar will give you the form authorising this. If it is to be cremated then the coroner will give you the appropriate form.
If the post-mortem was inconclusive or if death was not by natural causes or needs investigating then the coroner will hold an inquest to determine the facts. An inquest is a public hearing and the spouse or civil partner of the deceased, their Personal Representatives and their next of kin will be informed. If a claim for negligence or compensation against a third party is a possibility then you should also have legal representation at the hearing. The coroner will not release the body for burial or cremation until the inquest in concluded.
The surviving spouse or civil partner may be entitled to one of two payments following the death of the deceased.
Bereavement support payment – deaths on or after 6 April 2017
In order to qualify the surviving spouse or civil partner must be under the State pension age when the deceased died and the deceased must not have been entitled to Category A State pension when they died. The amount that you will receive depends upon whether you have children under 20 in full-time education or not. The payment comprises a larger upfront sum followed by 18 monthly payments.
A claim can be made by telephone on 0845 6088601 or by downloading a claim form BSP1 here. Claims can only be backdated 12 months.
Bereavement allowance – deaths on or before 5 April 2017
The surviving spouse or civil partner may be eligible to claim bereavement allowance provided they are aged over 45 until State pension age. Bereavement allowance is paid for up to 52 weeks from the date of death of the deceased. The actual amount paid is dependent upon the level of National insurance contributions that the deceased paid. There are a number of other criteria which also have to be met. If the surviving spouse or civil partner is over the State pension age they may be entitled to additional State Pension. For further details see the following link