6 Actions to Take During the Death of a Loved One - Loss & Dying

Six important steps to take when someone dies 


While it may be deemed a taboo or awkward subject, death is an inevitable part of our existence. As with anything that is life-altering, feeling unsure or confused about what steps to take when someone you are close to passes away is natural.

With all of the legalities that family members must handle after someone’s death and the utter heartache that follows the death of someone you love, you deserve to have guidance and advice for dealing with this difficult moment.  

To give you the guidance that you may need, we have created a list of some helpful tips to make this difficult moment of your life easier. 

1. Phone a physician and inform the nearest relative 

As always, when there is a life-threatening occurrence, you must call 999 (or 112 from a mobile phone).

There is also information on the St. John Ambulance site about what to do when someone isn’t breathing or has gone unconscious.

If a person passes away at home, it is important that you inform their GP and call an ambulance. When someone dies at the hospital or in hospice care, it is also important that you inform their GP.

When the death of someone is imminent, a physician will be able to issue a death certificate that can claim the cause of death. This certificate is a document that you will need for proceedings and legal issues in the future.

2. Determine the best place to keep the body

Depending on your family and cultural traditions, where you keep the body may be an important factor for you to consider when dealing with a death. Most hospitals allow you to keep the body in their mortuary until the day the funeral takes place.

When there are no post-mortems needed, bodies can actually be kept at the home, mortician’s morgue, or whatever venue (church, synagogue, mosque, etc.) you select for people to pay their respects before the funeral.

Certain religions handle these procedures differently. For example, in the Jewish faith, the body is never meant to be left alone, so it is important to consider adhering and keeping to the deceased person's religion when handling their body.

For people that want to keep the body outside of a morgue, a local doctor or nurse may be able to help you prepare it for viewing. If you are needing advice for this, get in touch with the Natural Death Centre to get the assistance you need.

3. Register the death in the appropriate amount of time

In order to properly carry out a funeral, you have to register the death. In the UK you have five days (England, Wales, and NI) or 8 days (Scotland) to register the person’s death. This process can be carried out by going to the register office in the area where the death occurred. If you are having trouble finding this, then go to gov.uk to figure out which is best for you to go to. Certain places require an appointment, so phone first before just walking in.

Many also advise getting multiple copies of the death certificate when you register the death. This may be useful when dealing with the deceased’s financial issues later on in the process.

4. Check to see if there is a will and/or funeral plan the deceased wants executed

Some people have pre-established funeral plans in the event of their passing. It is important to determine whether this is the case before you start planning the funeral.

Often these details will be found in the person’s will. Within the first week of their death, it is important to determine whether they have a will or not. These can really shed light on whether they have planned for their funeral ahead of time.

Wills determine who handles the deceased party’s final wishes and the finances. This person is called the executor or administrator and will be in charge of handling the estate’s finances.

Even more, they will be in charge of guaranteeing that this person’s final wishes, like pre-planned funeral arrangements, are handled per the deceased person’s desires.

In certain instances, the executor must obtain a grant to prove they are indeed the executor. This is classified as ‘obtaining probate’ meaning they are legally obliged to execute the will.

For Scotland, this process may be different and is known as ‘confirmation’. Refer to the Scottish Government website for detailed instructions about this, as many of their laws may be different.

5. Organise the Funeral

Most often, the funeral happens within the first week of the death, sometimes in the first two weeks. After determining whether the person has a funeral plan, there are certain aspects of their funeral proceedings which you must consider. These include:

  • Burial or cremation? Depending on many factors, like religion or finances, determining what happens to the body is a big factor. If this isn’t stipulated, then it is up to the executor/administrator or the nearest relative to whether the body is to be buried or cremated.
  • Burial Rites? If you are wanting to conduct a religious ceremony or carry out certain last rites, then it is important to contact the appropriate people for guidance in these matters.
  • Funeral Director? Funeral directors are beneficial in handling the practical aspects of the funeral, including movement/preparation of the body, paperwork, and the service. It is important to find the funeral director that best suits you, the family, and the deceased person’s wishes. If you think hiring a funeral director is what you need to do, know the base fees, your budget, and proper policies for finding the perfect person.

Funeral directors are a great option for helping you get through this difficult time. They can ease the process and transition, all by giving you solid advice and settling nuances. With so much to do and consider if a person dies, having an expert assist you in your time of need is often priceless.

6. Settle the finances of the estate

After the funeral has happened, it is important you determine what debts and claims you need to make on your loved one’s estate. You must consider everything, including debts owed, lost bank accounts, claims on life insurance, inheritance tax, property tax, and any residual assets that are left over.

There is a lot to be considered when handling a person’s estate after their death, and this is especially true for the executor. Regardless your role, it is essential that you are prepared to handle and assist in dealing with the finances of the deceased.

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