Part One of Four in this guide series.
When someone you love dies, your grieving process begins. Alongside the huge emotional impact of a death, there are administrative burdens to deal with too. At Friends Legal, our By Your Side team can offer practical and legal advice to help you through this time. Our guides and FAQs explore what steps you need to take to register the death and organise a funeral. We also explain the process that needs to be followed to distribute your loved one’s belongings following their wishes.
What happens when someone dies?
In the immediate aftermath of a death, there are several things you need to do so that you can arrange the funeral. These will differ slightly depending on whether the death occurred at home, in a hospice or hospital. In general, you need to take the following steps:
- Contact your doctor if the death didn’t occur in a hospital – they will issue a medical certificate of cause of death.
- If the deceased wanted to donate their organs, you should let a member of hospital staff know, or contact the hospital if the death occurred at home.
- Contact the relevant minister of religion – if that is appropriate.
- Contact the funeral director who will arrange for the laying out of the body.
- Ascertain whether there is a Will, where it is kept, and responsible for dealing with it. The Will may contain the deceased’s wishes about funeral arrangements.
Registering the death
You must register the death within eight days with the Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages. You aren’t able to hold a funeral until you have received the certificate of registration of death. Certain people can register the death. These include:
- Any relative;
- Any person present at the death;
- The Executor or other legal representative;
- The occupier of the premises where the death occurred; or if there is no such person
- Any other person possessing the information needed for registration.
To register a death, you should take the following documents with you:
- The medical certificate of death;
- Any documents relating to any allowances the person received from the state – such as pension or benefits.
- NHS medical card (if available)
- The person’s birth, marriage or civil partnership certificate (if available).
Once the death is registered, you’ll receive a Certificate of Registration of Death. This allows the funeral to proceed. You will also receive a separate form that can be used for obtaining or adjusting any benefits. You can obtain an extract of the entry recording the death, which you (or the executors) will need to access information about your loved ones’ assets.
Organising the Funeral
Once you have a Certificate of Registration of Death, you pass that to the funeral director so that the funeral can proceed. You can put plans in place for the funeral before you have this certificate, but you must obtain it before the funeral date. Many practical considerations surrounding the funeral arrangements need to be made. Are you having a burial or cremation? Do you want a funeral service? Should you have flowers or charitable donations?
These details can be included in a will, which can save you the anguish of making these decisions on behalf of your loved one.
Whether you chose a cremation or a burial; you have to apply for authorisation, which requires the death certificate and identification documents.
What happens to the possessions of someone who die?
The estate process in Scotland
The estate process in Scotland is known as executry, or more specifically Confirmation. Confirmation is the equivalent of probate in England and Wales and consists of a legal document from the Court that grants power to the Executor to deal with your assets. In Scotland, the rules surrounding the distribution of an ‘estate’ (property, money, possessions and any other assets) is called the law of succession. What happens with the estate upon death depends on whether there is a Will.
Is there a Will?
If there is a Will drafted, then it should inform the friends and family of the deceased what they want to happen upon their die. It should include things such as funeral arrangements, along with what they want to happen to their estate and how they intend to provide for their dependents. The Will might also appoint guardians or request the establishment of a Trust. It will also name the Executors.
If there isn’t a Will, then Executors will be decided, and the property will be distributed by the laws of intestacy.
If you’re looking for friendly and affordable legal advice for dealing with losing a loved one, contact our team on 0333 3580 583. We provide a wide variety of ways to contact the team and our opening hours span more than the usual 9-5 – so you can get in touch at a time and in a way that suits you.