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What do do after a death (INFORMATION)

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What do do after a death (INFORMATION)

Post by Tony Bennett on 13.11.11 23:12

What to Do Privately After a Death in England or Wales

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Teresa Evans, campaigner for the Rights of the Bereaved at believes that information about home care funerals should be delivered to the bereaved by default. As it is not, she has created this page, and continues to campaign to convince the relevant government officials to consider that information as valuable is as other information pertaining to citizenship.


What to do after a death

When a death occurs

If the death occurs at home, contact the general practitioner who attended the person who has died during their last illness. The GP will confirm the death and issue a certificate stating the cause of death if there is no questionable circumstance. The GP may give you the certificate straight away or advise you to collect it from the surgery later.

If the death occurs in hospital, normally the doctor attending will issue the certificate to the next of kin or via the hospitals administration office.

When a death occurs in, or outside of a hospital, and the doctor attending is unable to state the cause of death, or where a medical practitioner had not recently attended to the person who has died, a Coroner will be informed. Should a post mortem be ordered by a Coroner, it would be wise to familiarise yourself with the post mortem guide produced by the Department of Health. [1] The next of kin must be notified if organs or human tissue is taken from the person who has died and is to be retained.

Note that it is a next of kins legal right to attend a post-mortem if he/she notifies a Coroner of a desire to do so. This is made obvious in R.7(2)(a) of the Coroner's Rules 1984.[2]

When the body of a person who has died is released, you may return the person directly home. There is no lawful requirement to hire an undertaker.

What the law says

The only legal requirement in the UK regarding death is that the body is not abandoned and the death is certified and registered. The law states that a body may be buried, cremated or "disposed" of by "any other means".

The next of kin or person arranging a funeral must take the certificate issued by the doctor to the Registrar of Births and Deaths within five days of the death. Most Registrars' operate an appointment system, so it is worthwhile telephoning your local district office first. The Bereavement Services Officer at a Local Authority dealing with cemetery and crematorium can discuss exactly what is required.

When you register the death, make sure that all the details are given fully and correctly, as it can be very difficult getting any changes made later. It is also advisable to obtain extra copies of the death certificate at this time in order to be able to claim assets of the person who has died at a later date.

If a Coroner has been involved, and an inquest is to be held, then the Coroner will issue a form to the Registrar who will issue a Coroners Order for burial. When a post-mortem has been made a Coroner must give permission for a cremation. When an inquest is not held, the nearest surviving relative can register the death only when the Coroner has confirmed the cause of death to the Registrar.

Collecting a body

When a Coroner is not involved, the NHS cannot lawfully impose preconditions upon persons entitled to collect the body of the person who has died from a hospital ward or a mortuary. Therefore a member of staff cannot insist on sighting death registration documents or evidence that funeral arrangements have been made in order to release a body. To insist otherwise is likely to amount to an unlawful precondition and could result in court action. It is a common law offence to prevent “lawful possession” until any funeral arrangements have been made. (Williams v Williams 1882 51 LJ Ch 388; R v Fox 1841 114 ER 96; R v Scott 1842 114 ER 97) The same principal applies when a Coroner is involved, and has released the body.

Staff may do anything that any court would regard as reasonable. This might or might not include ‘requesting’ that (a) a form be signed or (b) some form of evidence of a relevant connection to the person who has died. For example: original utility bills.

The law does not require that a coffin be used for collecting a body for burial or cremation but many people do so. The person’s body can be dressed in their own clothes or a shroud. When a person is alive, indecent exposure is illegal. The law is the same with a dead body. You must not use a body to deliberately shock anyone. Ideally you will need a form of transport where a coffin can be slid straight from a trolley into a car or other suitable vehicle. No special vehicle licence is needed.

The wishes of the person who has died

Remember to check the persons will or anything else they may have written about their funeral preferences. However in law their preferences are not instructions so do not have to be followed. More often than not preferences are agreed to out of love and respect. If there are no clear wishes it's up to (a) the person responsible for the will e.g. an executor or administrator (someone who has applied to the Probate Office for a letter of administration), (b) the nearest relative or (c) whoever is paying for the funeral.

Care of the person who has died until the funeral

If the death occurs in hospital, the mortician may agree to keep the person who has died in the hospital mortuary until the day of the funeral, possibly at no charge. If the death occurs at home, a local undertaker may agree to provide the mortuary facility. Alternatively the person could be kept in a well ventilated, cool room.

A coffin can be purchased from an undertaker or directly from a coffin manufacturer. Many manufacturers can be found online. Alternatively it is possible to make a coffin providing it conforms to the crematorium's regulations. Templates for making a coffin are available online.

For detailed guidance on how to handle, bathe and transport a body of a person who has died, a free download entitled ‘Undertaken with Love’ is available at Undertaken with love. This is a guide created by an American home funeral movement, but the principles are the same.[3] Alternatively the Alice Barker Trust offer accurate, impartial guidance and can be reached on 01423-530900 and 01423-868121.

The funeral

You can organise a funeral with or without the help of an undertaker and personalise it as much as you wish. In some cases the person who has died may have planned their own funeral in advance. If an undertaker is to be employed, remember that you have consumer protection and you are the 'director' of these events at all times. Consumer Direct provide good consumer advice on the funeral pages of its website.[4] Further consumer information can be obtained at your nearest Citizen Advice Bureau.

The service

For a cremation service you will either need to arrange for a minimum of four people to carry the coffin into the Chapel. The best undertakers are more than happy to be employed just for this part of the arrangements.

For a burial, should a family wish to lower the coffin into a grave, you will need to arrange for a minimum of four people to carry the coffin. Again some undertakers will provide staff to do so.

All people intending to carry or lower the coffin might be asked to complete a disclaimer provided by the bereavement service.

Funerals outside of England and Wales You'll need to contact the local Coroner before a body can be moved out of England and Wales, including Scotland and Ireland. There are specialist undertakers who should be able to help in these circumstances. The coroner will need at least four working days before the body is to be moved and will issue a removal notice (form 104), part of which is sent to the Registrar of Births Deaths & Marriages. There are no fees to pay for taking bodies over parish or county boundaries.


None. Not for Profit


Email: goodevans06(at)



A simple guide to post mortem, the Department of Health website, accessed 1st February 2010.

Coroners Rules 1984, the King's College London website, accessed 13th November 2011.

Download or Buy Undertaken with Love, Undertaken with Love website, accessed 1st February 2010,

Consumer Direct Funerals, Consumer Direct website, accessed 30 April 2010
Tony Bennett

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