Life Events: What To Do After A Death

What to do first

If the death occurs in hospital

If the death occurs in hospital, the hospital staff will contact the person name by the deceased as next of kin. This may be, but need not be, a relative. You may, if you wish, request to see the hospital chaplain. The hospital will keep the body in the hospital mortuary until the executor arranges for it to be taken away. Most funeral directors have a Chapel of Rest in which the deceased will be held pending the funeral. Hospital staff will arrange for the nearest relative to collect the deceased's possessions.

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If the death occurs elsewhere

Expected Death

If the death was expected, contact the doctor who attended the deceased during their final illness. If the doctor can certify the cause of death he or she will give you the following:

  • a Medical Certificate that shows the cause of death (this is free of charge and will be in a sealed envelope addressed to the registrar).
  • a Formal Notice that states that the doctor has signed the Medical Certificate and tells you how to get the death registered.

You may wish to contact the deceased's minister of religion if you have not already done so. Arrangements for the funeral may be made by a funeral director.

If death followed illness from HIV or AIDS there may be special rules about handling the body. The following organisations can advice on funeral arrangements:

  • London Lighthouse
  • FACTS Health Centre
  • Terrence Higgins Trust

Unexpected Death

If you discover a body or the death is sudden or unexpected, you should contact the following people:

  • the family doctor (if known)
  • the deceased's nearest relative
  • the deceased's minister of religion
  • the Police, who will help find the people list above if necessary

If there is any reason to suspect that the death was not due to natural causes, do not touch or remove anything in the room. The death may be referred to the coroner.

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Cause of Death

If the cause of death is quite clear the doctor will give you a Medical Certificate and a Formal Notice that the Medical Certificate has been signed.

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Post-mortem

If the death was known to be caused by a natural illness but the doctors wish to know more about the cause of death, they may ask the relatives for permission to carry out a post-mortem examination. This is a medical examination of the body which can find out more about the cause of death and should not delay the funeral.

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Reporting the death to the Coroner

In any of the following circumstances the doctor may report the death to the Coroner:

  • an accident or injury
  • an industrial disease
  • during a surgical operation
  • before recovery from an anaesthetic
  • if the cause of death is unknown
  • the death was sudden and unexplained

The Coroner may be the only person who can certify the cause of death. The doctor will write on the Formal Notice that the death has been referred to the Coroner.

If the doctor treating the deceased had not seen him or her, either after death or within 14 days before death, the death must be reported to the Coroner.

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If the organs or body are to be donated

You will have to act quickly if it was the wish of the deceased or the nearest relative to donate the organs for transplant, or the whole body for medical teaching purposes. The usual procedure is to approach the next of kin to make sure they do not object to organ donation. If the death was in a hospital or similar institution, the head of that institution is lawfully in possession of the body. He/She may honour the deceased's request, in writing or orally before two witnesses, for the body to be given for medical research, if there is no reason to think the request withdrawn.

If the death has to be reported to the Coroner, the Coroner's consent may be necessary before the organs or body can be donated. A medical certificate must be issued before any organs can be removed or the body used.

It is usual for kidneys, and essential for heart, lungs, liver and pancreas, to be removed from donors:

  • who have been certified to be brain stem dead and whose breathing and hence heartbeat, are maintained by a ventilator in a hospital intensive care unit.

Kidneys can, very rarely, be removed up to an hour after heart death. Other organs can be removed up to the following times after heart death:

  • the corneas (from the eyes) - up to 24 hours
  • skin - up to 24 hours
  • bone - up to 36 hours
  • heart valves - up to 72 hours

The doctor attending will advise on procedure. After organ donation, the body is released to the relatives. If the whole body is to be donated phone HM Inspector of Anatomy (020 7972 4551). If you have any difficulty or other queries, please phone HM Inspector of Anatomy on the number above. Consideration will be given to the place and cause of death, the condition of the body at the time of death and demand in the medical schools. The body may be accepted. Bodies may be refused if there has been a post-mortem or if any major organs except the cornea have been removed.

Donating A Body to Medical Science

You can find information on how to donate your body from the Human Tissue Authority (HTA) (external link).

The HTA was set up to regulate the removal, storage, use and disposal of human bodies, organs and tissue for a number of Scheduled Purposes – such as research, transplantation, and education and training – set out in the Human Tissue Act 2004 (HT Act).

The education and training of medical professionals, as well as biomedical research, benefit from the generosity of those who donate bodies for use after their death. People who donate their body contribute in a vital way to training by medical schools and such donations are highly valued by staff and students alike.

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The Coroner

The Coroner is a doctor or lawyer responsible for investigating deaths in the following situations:

  • the deceased was not attended by a doctor during the last illness or the doctor treating the deceased had not seen him or her either after death or within the 14 days before death
  • the death was violent or unnatural or occurred under suspicious circumstances
  • the cause of death is not known or uncertain
  • the death occurred while the patient was undergoing an operation or did not recover from the anaesthetic
  • the death was caused by an industrial disease
  • the death occurred in prison or in police custody

If you want advice or information about a death which has been reported to the Coroner, contact the Coroner's office. Her Majesty's Coroner for North Wales (East and Central) (covering Conwy, Denbighshire, Flintshire and Wrexham) is Mr John Gittins. Contact details:

HM Coroner's Office, Denbighshire County Council, County Hall, Wynnstay Road, Ruthin, LL15 1YN
DX 21839, Ruthin. Telephone number: 01824 708047, Fax: 01824 708048, Email: coroner@denbighshire.gov.uk

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Coroner's post-mortem

The Coroner may arrange for a post-mortem examination of the body. The consent of the relatives is not needed, but they are entitled to be represented at the examination by a doctor. When relatives have told the Coroner they wish to be represented, the Coroner will, if at all practicable, tell them when and where the examination will be.

If the death occurs in hospital, the coroner will arrange for the examination to be carried out by a pathologist other than one employed at or connected with that hospital, if a relative asks the Coroner to do so and if it does not cause an undue delay.

The removal of a body from the place of death to the mortuary for post-mortem examination will be paid for by the Coroner. The relatives may choose the funeral director.

If the post-mortem shows that death was due to natural causes, the coroner may issue a notification known as Pink Form B (form 100) which gives the cause of death so that the death can be registered. The coroner usually sends the form direct to the registrar but may give it to you to deliver.

If the body is to be cremated the coroner will give you the Certificate for Cremation (form E) which allows cremation to take place.

Inquest

An inquest is an enquiry into the medical cause and circumstances of a death. It is held in public, sometimes with a jury. It is up to the Coroner how to organise the enquiry in a way to best serve the public interest and the interests of the relatives.

The Coroner will hold an inquest if the death was:

  • violent or unnatural or
  • caused by a reportable industrial disease or
  • the death occurred in prison or
  • if the cause of death remains uncertain after post-mortem examination

Coroners hold inquests in these circumstances even if the death occurred abroad (and the body is returned to Britain).

If a body is lost (usually at sea) a Coroner can hold an inquest by order of the Secretary of State if death is likely to have occurred in or near a Coroner's jurisdiction.

If an inquest is held, the Coroner must inform the following people:

  • the married partner of the deceased
  • the nearest relative (if different)
  • and the personal representative (if different from above)

Relatives can attend an inquest and ask questions of witnesses but they may only ask questions about the medical cause and circumstances of death.

It may be important to have a lawyer to represent you if the death was caused by a road accident, or an accident at work, or other circumstances which could lead to a claim for compensation. You cannot get legal aid for this.

If the enquiries take some time, ask the Coroner to give you a letter confirming the death. You can use this letter for Social Security and National Insurance purposes.

The Coroner may give you an Order for Burial (form 101) or a Certificate for Cremation (form E) so that the funeral can take place. This may be done before the inquest is completed, provided the body is not required for further examination.

The Coroner will also send a Certificate After Inquest (form 99(rev)), stating the cause of death, to the registrar. This allows the death to be registered.

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Moving a body out of England or Wales

Only the Coroner can give permission for a body to be moved out of England or Wales. This permission has to be obtained at least four days before the body is to be moved (although the Coroner may be able to give permission sooner) so that any necessary enquiries may be carried out. Afterwards you will be given a Removal Notice (form 104), part of which is sent to the registrar after the funeral. Permission must be obtained whenever the funeral is to take place outside England or Wales.

This procedure applies in all cases where the body is to be moved out of England or Wales, not just where a death was reported to the Coroner.

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Registering a death

When someone dies, the doctor who was treating the deceased will issue a medical certificate of cause of death to the relatives. The person who will be registering the death must take this certificate to the registrar's office. Occasionally, if the death was sudden or the doctor treating the deceased is unavailable, it may not be possible for a medical certificate of cause of death to be issued. If this happens, the death will have to be reported to the Coroner which may lead to a delay in registering the death.

Every death in England and Wales must be registered in the district in which it takes place within 5 days of the date of death. Information for the registration is given to the registrar by the person registering the death. The information, which is usually recorded on computer, is also recorded in the death register and the person registering the death signs the record.

If it is inconvenient for the person registering the death to go to the district where it took place, the information for the registration may be given to a registrar in another district. The registrar will record the registration particulars on a form of declaration and send it to the registrar for the district where the death occurred. The registrar who receives the declaration will enter the information in the death register.

Certificates of death, which may be ordered and paid for at the time of making the declaration, as well as the document allowing the funeral to proceed, will be posted to the person registering the death by the registrar for the district where it took place. If the declaration procedure is used, it may take a day or two longer for the document allowing the funeral to proceed to be issued. Relatives should discuss the arrangements with their funeral director and the registrar so as to avoid any delay to the funeral.

The registration of a death in Wales may be made bilingually in English and Welsh if the person who registers the death gives the information in Welsh and the registrar is able to understand and write Welsh. If the registrar cannot understand and write Welsh, the registration may be carried out in a different district where there are Welsh-speaking registrars, using the declaration procedure as described above. A death that takes place in England may be registered in English only.

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Summary of Forms and Certificates

Listed below are some of the forms and certificates you will be given by doctors and Coroners. The list explains when and where you get each form.

When registering a death You will usually get a From
If the death is not referred to a Coroner Medical Certificate Doctor
In all cases Formal Notice Doctor
If a baby is still born Medical Certificate of Stillbirth Doctor or Midwife
If the death is referred to a Coroner but there is no inquest Notification by the Coroner (Pink Form B/form 100) Coroner (this is usually sent to the Registrar, but you may be asked to deliver it)
If there is an inquest and the body is to be buried Order for burial (form 101) Coroner
If there is a post-mortem or an inquest and the body is to be cremated Certificate for Cremation (form E) Coroner
If the body is to be moved out of England or Wales Removal Notice (form 104) Coroner

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