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What to do when someone dies

Undoubtedly, when someone close to you dies, whether it’s expected or not, you are thrown into a state of confusion, emotional upset and distress. But what do you actually have to do, when someone close to you dies?

You're probably feeling anger, pain, shock, guilt or any combination of these emotions. You are in shock and the body will not function normally under these circumstances. Quite often, it’s difficult to take on new information, to understand what might otherwise be quite simple instructions and to make rational decisions. All of this is normal.

And yet, at this time, you are expected to understand what can be quite a complicated process, take on board a lot of new information and make some very important decisions. You can easily feel overwhelmed and anxious.

For this reason, it’s vitally important to get help and support from friends and family. It’s important to look after your own health; to rest, to eat healthily and keep hydrated by drinking plenty of water.

When you attend important meetings, take someone with you who can help explain what is being said and who can speak on your behalf, if required. Ask questions and do not be afraid to ask people to repeat things or to put information in writing. Above all, do not be forced into making any quick decisions you may later regret.

Although it may seem overwhelming, it’s always a good idea to undertake some research of funeral options before deciding on a funeral director. There is plenty of information available online.

We recommend two independently run information sites:

What to do first

The rules regarding death are quite complicated and often misunderstood. If the person has died in hospital or in a care home, then hopefully the staff will be able to advise you.

What you need to do first depends on one main question:

Was the death of the person expected or unexpected?

If the death was expected:

You should phone the person’s GP or the medical practitioner who has been looking after them. They will need to certify death before the body can be moved.

Once the Doctor has certified death, you can either phone a funeral director or you can keep the body at home. If you chose to keep the person at home, then there are some simple, straightforward things that you can do to look after their body:

  • Turn off any heating in the room.

  • Remove any heavy quilts, duvets or blankets but keep the body covered with a light sheet, that covers the entire body, including the face.

  • Open a window to let some air in and keep the room ventilated. Ideally, place a net curtain over this window to keep wildlife out.

  • In warm weather, consider using a portable air conditioning unit or ice packs to keep the body cool.

In some circumstances, the GP may refer the death to the Coroner for a second opinion. In these cases, the Coroner’s Department will arrange for the body to be taken to the local hospital until the case has been examined by the Coroner.

If the death was unexpected:

You should phone 999 and tell the emergency services.

In most cases, both the Police and Paramedics will attend and you should not move the body, unless instructed too.

It’s likely that the Coroner will need to be involved to investigate the cause of death. In these circumstances, the Coroner’s Department will arrange for the body to be taken to the local hospital until the case has been examined by the Coroner.

When the Coroner is involved

There are many reasons why a case maybe referred to the Coroner and this happens more regularly than people realise.

Once the case has been referred to the Coroner it is out of the hands of the hospital, the care home or GP and, although they try to review cases quickly, there are no guarantees to the timescales involved.

The Coroner’s Office will communicate directly with the next of kin and keep them informed of progress.

Basically, there are 3 possible outcomes:

  • The Coroner will decide that there is no case for referral and will request the hospital or GP to issue the death certificate,

  • The Coroner will request a postmortem examination to establish cause of death,

  • The Coroner will request an inquest to examine the reasons behind the death.

In some cases, there will be both an inquest and a postmortem.

Whilst the involvement of the Coroner need not hinder the preparation and planning of the funeral, it’s sensible not to make too many fixed plans until the Coroner has issued a release notice. If you’ve already chosen a Funeral Director, you should tell the Coroner’s Office who this is and also whether the body is to be buried or cremated.

Registering the death

Under normal circumstances, you are expected to register the death within 5 days (8 days in Scotland). You’ll then get the documents you need for the funeral.

You can get more information about this from the UK Gov website, or from your local County Council or Citizen's Advice Bureau.

If the death has been referred to the Coroner, then these timescales do not apply and you will be given instructions by the Coroner's Office.

If you would like more information about this topic, or any other funeral related advice, please feel free to contact us without obligation.

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