What to do when a person dies

Our bereavement guide covers what to do when someone dies – where to go, who to contact and what action needs to be taken.

1 Bereavement guide

Our online bereavement guide includes:

  • what to do when someone dies - where to go, who to contact, what action needs to be taken
  • how to get help dealing with your emotions - the many organisations that can assist people to cope with grief
  • the work of the Coroner - including inquests
  • the scattering and interring of ashes
  • roadside memorials and tributes
  • leaving money to charity.

The Coronavirus pandemic is likely to have an impact on people’s experience of bereavement and grief.

Find information and resources on how bereavement and grief may be affected by the pandemic:

Bereavement Guide (external link)

Some of the keys areas are on these pages, but the guide includes much more detailed information and advice.

2 What to do if the death occurs at home

1. Contact the family doctor

In most cases the doctor will issue a Medical Certificate of Cause of Death (MCCD), together with a formal notice stating he or she has signed the certificate. You can then book an appointment to register the death.

There are some cases when the doctor cannot issue the certificate, for example, if:

  • the deceased was not seen by a doctor during their last illness or within the 14 days before they died
  • the cause of death is uncertain
  • the death was sudden, violent or caused by an accident
  • the death was caused by an industrial disease.

Under these circumstances the doctor may report the death to the coroner and a post-mortem may need to be arranged. In certain circumstances an inquest may also need to be held.

In the case of an expected death, it is likely that the body can be collected by your appointed funeral director.

If the matter has to be referred to the coroner it will be the coroner’s body removal contractor who will collect the body. It will then be taken to the coroner’s body storage facility.

2. Contact the police

If the death is violent, accidental or there are suspicious circumstances you must contact the police. In these cases the matter will automatically be referred to the coroner.

3 What to do if the death occurs in hospital

The Medical Certificate of Cause of Death (MCCD) will be issued by the hospital doctor, unless the coroner needs to be informed.

Once you have the certificate, you can book an appointment to register the death.

The hospital will keep the body in the mortuary until arrangements can be made for it to be taken away by the funeral director or the coroner.

4 Arranging a funeral

Funeral arrangements can be made as soon as you feel able to undertake the task. The funeral director will give you all the advice, guidance and support you need.

If the death has been reported to the coroner, this may affect the date when the funeral can be held.

Check whether the deceased's will contains instructions for the funeral. Also check whether the deceased had made funeral arrangements and paid for them in advance.

If you are the next of kin, and there are no specific instructions about who is expected to do so, it is up to you to make the funeral arrangements.

Taking into account the deceased’s wishes, you will need to decide:

  • which funeral director to use
  • whether the deceased is to be buried or cremated
  • where the body will rest until the day of the funeral
  • whether there will be a funeral service
  • whether you want flowers for the funeral or donations to a named charity
  • who will conduct the service
  • where the funeral service will take place.

Guidance for organising a funeral during the Coronavirus pandemic

There is specific government guidance for managing funerals in place for the foreseeable future as part of the measures taken to respond to the Coronavirus pandemic. Those organising a funeral should adhere to the following:

  • restrict the number of mourners who attend so that a safe distance of at least 2m can be maintained between individuals
  • only the following should attend:
    • members of the person’s household
    • close family members
    • if the deceased has neither household or family members in attendance, then it is possible for a modest number of friends to attend
  • mourners should follow the advice on social distancing, hand hygiene and prevention of the spread of infection.

Find advice and guidance below on arranging and attending a funeral during the Coronavirus outbreak and ideas for what you can do if you are not able to attend.

6 Who you need to contact checklist

When someone dies there are many organisations you may need to contact to tell them about the death.

A useful checklist is available on page 10 of the bereavement guide.

Organisations may require a death certificate to administer closing accounts, cancelling policies and so on. Certificates are available after you have registered the death.

Last updated:
14 May 2021
Share this
Share this

Do you have any feedback about this page?

Help us improve this website

Let us know if this page was helpful so we can make improvements. Add a star rating and leave your feedback below to show how useful you found this page.

Rate this page:
Clear star rating...
  • West Sussex County Council will only use this email address to respond to any issues raised.