First Things First When Someone Dies

When someone dies the list of seemingly never-ending tasks can appear unsurprisingly intimidating, where one may simply not even know where to start and who is likely struggling to balance these tasks with the full force of grief. With this situation in mind we present a concise, step by step guide to handling the practicalities of losing a loved one.

An Overview of Essential Tasks

1. Deal with each task one step at a time

We have put this guide together as a step by step process to avoid one thing: information overload. There’s undoubtedly a lot to do, but taking it a step at a time can help you in avoiding becoming flustered during an already emotional time.


2. Don’t be afraid to ask for support and know where to find it

Before you get started you should be aware that you may well need to seek support, so don’t be afraid to approach friends, family and acquaintances, as well as from professional organisations, such as the Samaritans Support Line and Cruse Bereavement Care. We also have a guide dedicated to coping with bereavement and the availability of bereavement counselling.

3. The first steps with someone by your side

Depending upon the circumstances of the death in the immediate hours following someone’s passing you can expect support and contact with the deceased’s GP or the staff at the hospital, care home or nursing home, each of whom can advise upon what to do next.

4. Contacting the Funeral Director

The deceased may already have chosen a funeral director, otherwise this will be your immediate task. Once you've chosen and/or contacted the Funeral Director they too will also guide you through the necessary preliminary arrangements, thus allowing you the space and time to grieve in your own way.  

5. Facilitate organ, body or tissue donation if the deceased was registered for donation

This may be an incredibly difficult step to take and an almost impossible task to consider, however time is of the element with organ donation and you will likely be approached by a medical professional at an early stage to confirm the deceased’s organ donation.

6. Obtain medical certificate of the cause of death

This will be signed by a doctor who attended the person before death, (2 doctors’ signatures will be required where cremation is intended).

7. Source funeral plan paperwork

Check for important paperwork including the existence of a pre-paid funeral plan and/or any written instructions about the deceased’s final wishes regarding the funeral.

8. Notify the deceased’s relatives, friends, colleagues and acquaintances

This should ideally be done via phone, as well as through a notice within the local paper or on-line publications to account for those whom you may not know about.

9. Locate the official copy of the will

If the person has died intestate (without a will) then you will need to seek legal advice on the distribution of the deceased’s estate.

10. Collect the documentation that you will need to register the death

This includes: the medical certificate or notification of referral to coroner, and (if available) the deceased’s birth certificate, marriage or civil partnership certificate, N.I. number and NHS medical card.

11. Make a note of the deceased’s information for the registration of death

This includes: the deceased’s full name at the time of death (as well as any previous names), last address, previous occupation, details of a surviving spouse or civil partner and whether the deceased was receiving a state pension or other benefits.

12. Make an appointment to register the death

This should be completed within 5 days in England, Wales and Northern Ireland and 8 days in Scotland. You can read a full guide to this in our article on registering a death.