When someone dies, especially if you are next of kin and/or an executor or have power of attorney, you are usually in shock. Nevertheless, there are plenty of practical tasks to be done. Here’s a list of things you may need to do, which will hopefully help you through this difficult time.
The day of the death
- Try to give yourself some space & remember to eat & drink; you’ll need the energy even if you don’t feel like eating and drinking.
- If someone dies at home, contact the doctor to certify death. The hospital, hospice or nursing home will arrange this where appropriate.
- If it’s a home death, contact a funeral director to collect the body of your loved one. You will need to confirm to them once the doctor has visited as they can’t collect the body until that has happened. The hospital, hospice or nursing home may arrange this where appropriate, but do check. You may also like to give the funeral director some clothes for the body for the coffin. Be aware that once the funeral director collects the body you are incurring costs, so you may want to ask for an initial estimate when you make the first call (though this may not feel important at the time).
- Start to let other people know face to face, by phone, email, text or by letter: family relatives, close friends, employer, neighbours, wider circle of friends (you can usually do this once funeral arrangements have been made).
- Collect the medical death certificate, usually from the GP or hospital.
- Arrange to register the death with the Registrars’ Office (you need the medical death certificate to do this). You may need to make an appointment and they may not have a slot for 2 or 3 days. The registrar will give you copies of the certificate (you are likely to need at least 5 and you may need 10, it’s cheaper to get them initially) and a green form which you will need to give to the funeral director so that burial or cremation can proceed.
- Arrange to see the funeral director to make funeral arrangements.
- Contact the solicitor who holds the will (if a will has been made).
Before the funeral
Meet with your funeral director and/or the person who will lead the funeral. It helps if you are prepared for some of the things they may ask you. These could include:
- Date and location preferred for funeral/cremation/burial/thanksgiving service.
- Where the ashes will be placed (at the crematorium or you may want to collect the ashes for scattering/placing elsewhere).
- Person to take the service(s).
- Type of coffin and lining.
- Casket if required for ashes.
- Cars, if required for relatives.
- Other requirements e.g. horse drawn carriage for coffin, release of doves, entry in a book of remembrance at the crematorium.
- Music, hymns, songs, readings, tributes, speaker for service.
- Details of organist or other musicians for service(s).
- Whether you want to display/project any photographs or other media at the services.
- Whether you want a book at the service to record attendance and/or people to write comments in.
- Whether you want the funeral director to place a death announcement in any local or national newspapers.
- Who will check/arrange PA system, stewards and car park attendant for any church service(s).
- Details of any in-memory gifts to a favourite charity.
Consider the detailed format and content of the service(s)
- Ask people you’d like to do any readings, prayers & tributes at the service(s).
- Arrange catering and venue for any reception/meal/drinks/tea after the service(s).
- Arrange printing of any orders of service. You may like to include some photos of the person. And details of any gifts in memory.
Notify funeral/cremation/thanksgiving service arrangements to:
- Family relatives
- Close friends
- Wider circle of friends
A Christmas card list or address book is a good source of contacts.
Collect belongings from the hospital/hospice/nursing home where relevant. Be aware that care home or nursing home final fees are usually dependant on when you clear the room.
Arrange flowers for the funeral: coffin, church etc. with florist. Agree what happens to the flowers after the service(s).
You will need to pay some or all of the below:
- Funeral director (if a solicitor is handling probate you may be able to get them to settle the invoice from the proceeds of the estate).
- Whoever led the funeral (the funeral director may offer to handle this).
- Organist/musicians (the funeral director may offer to handle this).
After the funeral; to notify:
- Solicitor, if not already done.
- Banks and building societies.
- Department of Work and Pensions.
- Use “Tell us once form” which will be provided by registrar. You can do this by phone or online.
- Collect any larger belongings & furniture from nursing or care home.
- Thank yous:
- Minister/funeral leader
- Musicians if personally known and booked direct
- People who do readings, tributes in service(s)
- People who have particularly helped and supported you
Meeting with the solicitor
This meeting may cover the contents of the will and whether you want the solicitor to arrange probate (cost typically £750 to £2,000 dependant on where in the country they are) or do all the work in winding up the estate on behalf of the executors (cost typically 2% of gross estate including probate). If you want the solicitor to do probate or the whole winding up of the estate, it helps to have a list of the person’s assets i.e. bank and building society accounts, investments, property, valuable jewellery etc . You will be asked to provide latest bank statements and share certificates though you can do this later.
This article is principally about the practical tasks when someone dies. However, grief has a profound effect on our emotions. You are likely to feel some or all of the following, not necessarily in this order: numbness, shock, guilt, anger, regret. It’s likely that you will need to work through your memories before you are able to move on to a new phase of life. I have found “Living Through Grief” by Harold Bauman published by Lion very helpful and have passed copies on to many others. The book takes a Christian perspective, but people of all faiths and none have found it useful.
Other people are often keen to help but don’t always know what might be helpful. Here are some suggestions of things you may like to suggest they could do:
- Accompany you on visits to collect death certificate, registrar, funeral director, minister.
- Make meals for you to eat at home.
- Invite you to their home for meals.
- Have a coffee with you or go for a walk with you.
- Do some food and household shopping or accompany you to the supermarket.
- Come with you to buy an outfit for the funeral.
- Do some ironing.
You may find you are keen to talk about the person who has died whilst others avoid the subject for fear of upsetting you. So you may need to take the initiative in mentioning them.
If you read this ahead of handling the death of someone, you will realise there are some tasks it can be helpful to do in advance:
- Check if there is a funeral plan already in place with a local funeral director or national firm.
- Find out if the person has any wishes regarding the contents of the funeral/service of thanksgiving etc and who they would like to take part.
- Check whether there is a will and if so where it is held and contact details for the person’s solicitor.
- Check where any list of contacts and addresses is.
- If possible obtain a list of assets: property, bank accounts, investments, jewellery etc.
You may also want to consider preparing some of this information in advance for yourself.
Sensitive matters at the end of life – Helen Calder
“Living through grief” – Harold Bauman
“Time to Live” The beginners guide to saying goodbye” – Ann Clifford
“With the end in mind” – Kathryn Mannix
Helen Calder has developed and runs the Retiring Well course. This is one of the many resources available through helensheadlines.net, which draws on 40 years experience to equip individuals, churches and charities. Helen mentors women in leadership roles, trains charity trustees and writes practical resources from her extensive experience of ministry leadership, including Director roles at All Souls Langham Place and at the Evangelical Alliance.