What Do I Do in the Wake of My Loved One’s Passing?

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Someone you love has passed and there are decisions to make and things to do. These ten steps will guide you through the process.

After losing a loved one, you’ll be consumed by unavoidable intense feelings of grief. According to Swiss-American psychiatrist Elizabeth Kübler-Ross in her book ‘On Death and Dying’, grief can be divided into five stages: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.

There are not many things that can compare to the pain felt when faced with losing a loved one, and grief is a very individual and personal experience. Some people may remain in one of the stages of grief for a long time, whereas other people may skip a stage altogether.

One thing is certain, though, when you’re faced with this overwhelming and all-consuming pain, it can be difficult to think about anything else. There is, however, a process that needs to be followed when somebody dies. To relieve a little pressure after a loved one’s passing, this practical ten-step checklist below details exactly what needs to be done.

1. Ensure a legal pronouncement of death is received

Depending where and how your loved one died will determine how straightforward this will be. If their death was expected and they passed away at home, in most cases, a medical certificate highlighting the cause of death will be issued by the doctor. Their death can then be registered at the General Register Office, and a death certificate will be produced.

If they died in the hospital, the staff will support you and produce a formal notice and medical certificate. Usually, the hospital will keep your loved one’s body in the hospital mortuary until you, or the funeral director on your behalf, either arrange for the body to be taken home or to be placed in a chapel of rest.

If your loved one died unexpectedly from home, then the best thing to do is to call 111 for advice straight away. Unexpected deaths often need to be investigated by a coroner, and a post-mortem may need to be carried out to find out the cause of death. Only after this has been declared can you plan the funeral, which means it’s likely to be delayed.

2. Let family and friends know

This may seem obvious, but nonetheless, this needs to be done, and this can actually be one of the hardest steps for grieving loved ones. Some people can be told over the phone; however, you may feel you should deliver the news to others face-to-face. If you’re struggling to process the upsetting news yourself, this may be a step you could delegate responsibility.

3. Register their death

Within five days of your loved one’s passing, you will need to register their death at your local register office. Gov.uk highlights exactly what you need to do and all of the documents that are required. Ask for numerous copies of the death certificate as you’ll need them to close bank accounts, file insurance claims and notify government departments.

4. Make funeral arrangements

In an ideal world, you will have had a discussion with your loved one about their wishes when it comes to their funeral and know exactly how to proceed with this next step. However, if this isn’t a conversation that was had, then there may be paperwork detailing a pre-paid funeral plan. However, if this doesn’t exist, then sit down and discuss arrangements with family members. Things to consider are whether your loved one would want a burial or cremation, but it’s also good to be realistic with what you can afford.

5. Let government departments know

The Tell Us Once service allows you to report a death to many government departments at one time. The government departments include HMRC, the UK Passport Agency, the tax office, the DVLA, as well as local electoral services, libraries and council tax services. You can access the Tell Us Once services online here. You will need a Tell Us Once reference number from the registrar. Please note, not all local authorities provide the service, in which case you will need to contact these government departments yourself individually.

6. Inform other organisations

There are also many organisations that you’ll need to get in contact with to inform them of your loved one’s death. These include their pension scheme provider, mortgage provider, council housing office or housing association, GP, dentist, optician, life insurance company and any other insurance companies, employer, bank or building society, credit card companies, utility companies and any charities or organisations that your loved one may have made a contribution or frequent payment to.

7. Redirect post

Get in touch with Royal Mail to have your loved one’s post redirected to you (if you don’t live in the same place). Also, you can contact the Bereavement Register to stop unwanted mail from being sent to them.

8. Decide what to do with social media accounts

If your loved one had social media accounts, you could firstly use the platform(s) as a way of informing additional friends of their passing, and then you can either decide to delete the accounts or use them as a form of memorial. Some survivors can find heartfelt messages left on their timeline comforting, whereas others may find it all too much. It’s a personal decision that you can make when you’re ready.

9. Close email accounts

It’s important to close down any email accounts your loved one had to prevent identity fraud. You may need a copy of the death certificate to be able to do this.  

10. Locate the will and work out whether you need probate

If a will was left, it should explain what would happen to their estate. Probate is only required in certain circumstances. Simply, it’s decided by the value of individual sole assets within somebody’s estate. Additionally, if the majority of the assets were jointly owned, then probate may not be required altogether. More information about whether probate is needed can be found here.

If it is required, the executors – who should be named in the will – will need to apply at the local Probate Registry to give them the legal right to handle probate. If an executor hasn’t been named, then one of the beneficiaries will need to step forward. Probate ensures that any debts are paid, and beneficiaries receive any remaining assets.

In summary

As every situation is different, not all of these steps will necessarily apply. This checklist, however, highlights the steps to take following a loved one’s death, giving a little peace of mind to those surviving. As many of these steps can be delegated to other family members or friends, it’s worthwhile sitting down and working out exactly what you need to do and how others can help you.