What to do when someone dies

Losing someone close to you can be overwhelming, especially if the death is unexpected. As well as the emotional impact of someone passing away, the seemingly never-ending list of tasks you must complete in organising your loved one’s assets and preparing for the funeral can make the grieving process even harder. Keep in mind that not everything needs to be done at once, go at your own pace, some things don’t need to be done immediately and can wait until you’re ready.

With all of these factors to consider, it’s important to take care of yourself and allow time to process your emotions. During this turbulent time, remember that there is expert help available to you 24 hours a day, that is there to offer you support and advice to help ease the weight on your shoulders. 

What is the first thing to do when someone dies?

What happens immediately after your loved one passes depends on where the death happened, however, the first step is to get a legal pronouncement of death. If they died at home, the first thing you should do is call the doctor of the deceased who will then be able to issue a Medical Certificate of Death. If your loved one passed in a hospital or nursing home it is down to the nursing staff to liaise with the doctor and organise the relevant documentation. From this point, you may choose to contact any relatives or loved ones to inform them of the passing.

Once you have been issued the Medical Certificate of Cause of Death (MCCD), if there is no post mortem required then you will then need to make arrangements with your preferred funeral home.

Our team here at Heart of England Co-op Funerals are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to assist you with the immediate proceedings following loss. You can call us for free on 0800 652 7226 and we will start to make arrangements to bring the deceased into our care, or you can contact your closest funeral home directly.

For more support on what to do immediately after someone dies, and for further resources to help guide you through the processes of pronouncing and registering the death, visit our What to Do Next page.

Who to notify when someone dies?

After the initial shock of losing a loved one, you should allow yourself time to grieve and process the death before making any further arrangements. However, we recommend that within the first week following the death, you should start to go through the processes of gathering relevant documentation and begin making calls to notify the necessary people, this includes:

  • Formally registering the death by making an appointment with your local Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages. This will need to be done in person.
  • You will then receive a Notification of Registration of Death form which will allow you to use the Government’s ‘Tell Us Once’ service to make all of the relevant organisations aware of the death, including the local council, benefits, passport and driving licence.
  • Now is the time to get in touch with your chosen funeral director to start making arrangements for the funeral. Remember that they are here to support and guide you through the process and will answer any questions you have with care. 
  • Once you have a funeral date, time and location arranged you can then notify wider friends and family of the deceased, as well as get in touch with any co-workers to make them aware of the funeral details. You may also choose to make those on social media aware of the death at this time, to inform those you may not have contact details for.
  • At this time, we suggest contacting any utility companies, banks, building societies and credit providers.

After all of these steps have been taken, it’s time to start the process of handling the estate and distribution of belongings of the deceased. If they made a will, the named executor will be the person responsible for this.

How do you distribute personal items after death?

Once you’ve handled all of the necessary steps immediately after the death, it’s time to consider what to do with any personal items or assets left behind. The named executor on the deceased person’s will is responsible for ensuring that every asset or personal item listed on the will is handed to the rightful named person. This can often be a highly emotional time for everyone involved which is why it is important to take your time and remember that this task doesn’t need to be done right away.

Clearing out the personal possessions of a loved one once they have passed is a difficult task and you may wish to involve family members or any close loved ones to help support you in this time. We suggest starting by ensuring the possessions laid out in the will are handed to the named person, then from here, the rest of the belongings can be distributed amongst the family. This can be a particularly turbulent time for all involved and arguments may arise as emotions run high. In this instance there is always the option to put the belongings into storage and deal with them at a later date, there is no time limit, just do what you feel able.

Deciding on what to keep and what to give away of the belongings depends on circumstance and available space. If there is no family member or close friend who would like certain items then you can consider donating them to charity, selling them or in some cases throwing them away. It can be difficult to part with items of personal value, especially when it comes to throwing things away, but it is nice to see it as a chance to give once-loved possessions a new home to be loved by another person. If parting with things such as clothing is too hard, it is also a nice idea to use these items to create memorial pieces such as blankets, cushions or teddies to carry on the memory of a loved one.

What documents need to be saved when someone dies? 

If you are the next of kin or the chosen person responsible for the deceased’s estate and assets, you will need to sort through their belongings and distribute their property to the people named in the will or a separate personal property memorandum. 

Certain personal items such as jewellery, paintings, furnishings, etc. may be more straightforward to distribute to family members as they will hold sentimental value. However, when it comes to handling official documents, you need to be aware of which are most important to save, these include:

  • Original birth and death certificates (both for the deceased and any pre-deceased spouse)
  • Marriage certificate, prenuptial agreement or decree of divorce
  • A copy of the will
  • Medical information
  • Utility bills for the year of death
  • Bank account statements, retirement account statements and credit card statements
  • Retirement plan documents (pension paperwork, annuity contracts, etc.)
  • Insurance documents (life insurance policy, homeowners’ insurance policy etc.)
  • Original stock, bond and other asset certificates
  • Income tax returns from the past three years and any gift tax returns
  • Estate tax returns for a predeceased spouse.

Is council tax payable when someone dies? 

When it comes to making arrangements for the handling of the finances of the deceased, there is a lot to think about. For council tax purposes in particular, you may be able to claim a discount or exemption, depending on if there are people still living at the property of the deceased. The general rule is as follows:

  • If there is only one adult left at the property then they are entitled to a 25% discount 
  • If the property that was owned by the deceased is now unoccupied then it will be exempt from any council tax charges until probate is granted. This will be in place for up to 6 months if it remains unoccupied, after this time, the deceased’s estate will pay the full council tax charge.

What can wait to be done after losing a loved one?

After organising the relevant documentation, informing the family and arranging a funeral, the weight of losing a loved one can start to take its toll emotionally. Therefore, there are some things that may be emotionally difficult that can wait till a later date once you’ve had time to grieve properly, which include:

  • Cancelling their mobile phone number 
  • Cancelling memberships such as gym memberships, online streaming services, etc.
  • Closing down email and social media accounts – Facebook and Instagram allow the option to memorialise the deceased, rather than delete them, if this is something you would like to do. This allows their connections to leave messages and still access the page, but Facebook will recognise that they have died and it will no longer be an active account.
  • Arranging a memorial if the person is cremated. If the deceased has chosen to be cremated, you may wish to hold onto the ashes for some time before deciding what to do with them. You can choose to hold a memorial for close family and loved ones and do something special with the ashes when you feel the time is right, but take your time, it can take months or years for you to feel ready for this.

Get support from our team at Heart of England Co-op Funerals

We sympathise that this can be a difficult time for all involved, therefore we remind you to ask for support from friends and family. We have created a bereavement checklist which you can download for an easy-to-follow guide on what the next steps are after death. If you’d like more information, advice or support on what to do now, contact us today or head on over to our ‘What to do next’ page to find out how our Heart of England team can help.