What happens when someone dies

Even if the person or family have had little contact with a religious organisation a representative of your faith group may be willing to visit while the person is dying.

What follows is a short account of the legal procedure.

Death at home

If the person dies at home the family doctor and nearest relative should be informed. The family doctor who has attended the person must complete a certificate giving the cause of death. This is issued free. If the body is to be cremated, two doctors must sign a certificate – but the first doctor will instruct the second doctor who can see the body in the chapel of rest or at the mortuary.

The doctor’s certificate must be taken to the Registrar of Births and Deaths in the registration sub-district where the death occurred normally within five days. The doctor may provide a leaflet explaining how to register the death and should be able to advise where to do so. Otherwise funeral directors keep detailed lists, or offices are listed in the phone book, or the Citizens Advice Bureau can advise. A check should be made that it is the correct registration office and for opening times. Sometimes a doctor will send the certificate direct to the Registrar, but it is always necessary for whoever is arranging the funeral to attend at the Registrar’s office.

This is usually a close family member but does not have to be.

Death in hospital

If someone dies in hospital the health trust may give the certificate to the Registrar who attends the hospital but, again, someone must attend the registration office. This will be the district office which covers the hospital which may not be the same office as for the place of residence. Sometimes the hospital will want to carry out a post mortem, for which it will need consent from the nearest relative.

Sudden death

If there is doubt about the cause of death – if, for example, the death was sudden and the doctor had not seen the person within fourteen days of death, or if they had no general practitioner – the coroner must be informed, and will decide whether it is necessary to hold a post mortem. If the death is then considered to be from natural causes, the coroner will issue a notification that he does not consider it necessary to hold an inquest, and this may be given to the relative to take to the Registrar or sent to the Registrar direct. It will always be necessary for someone to attend the Registrar’s office in person.

The coroner may also order an inquest to establish the circumstances of the death. An informant is not required to register a death which is the subject of a coroner’s inquest but the coroner’s officer may inform the relatives when the coroner has issued her/his inquest certificate to the Registrar so that the relatives can obtain any death certificates from the Registrar. The coroner will also issue an order for burial, or a certificate for cremation, free of charge.