Registering a Death
What to do first
You will need to collect the Medical Certificate of Cause of Death (MCCD) from the bereavement team at the hospital. This generally can be collected twenty-four hours after the death has occurred.
On some occasions the death may be referred to the coroner and the certificate may not be available within the time frame. You will be kept up to date by the relevant staff. You will also be able to collect any personal possessions and belongings.
Registering the death
Once the Medical Certificate of Cause of Death has been issued you will need to use the certificate number in order to register the death at the local Registrar (of births deaths and marriages). You should make an appointment usually within 5 working days of the death at the nearest Registrar to where the person has died. If it is more practical for you to use an alternative Registrar, there may be a delay in the paperwork being received as the details need to be passed on to the correct office.
The registration of the death is the formal record of the death. It is done by the Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages and you will find the address of the nearest office in the telephone directory or you can call the Bereavement Information Centre on 0800 0246 121 and they will advise you of your local office. The death must be registered at the register office for the district in which the person died. In England and Wales, if it is convenient, you can go to a different office to register the death and the details will be passed on to the correct office. You should check the opening hours of the office you wish to go to. Some offices have an appointments system. A death should be registered within five days but registration can be delayed for another nine days if the registrar is told that a medical certificate has been issued. If the death has been reported to the coroner you cannot register it until the coroner’s investigations are finished. It is a criminal offence not to register a death. The death should be registered by one of the following (in order of priority):
- A relative who was present at the death
- A relative present during the person’s last illness
- A relative living in the district where the death took place
- Anyone else present at the death
- An owner or occupier of the building where the death took place and who was aware of the death
- The person arranging the funeral (but not the funeral director)
You cannot delegate responsibility for registering the death to anyone else. You must take with you the medical certificate of death, since the death cannot be registered until the Registrar has seen this. If possible, you should also take the person’s NHS medical card and birth and marriage certificates. The Registrar will want from you the following information:-
- date and place of death
- the full name of the person (including maiden name) and their last address
- the person’s date and place of birth
- the person’s occupation and, in the case of a woman who was married or widowed, full name and occupation of her husband
- if the person was still married, the date of birth of their husband or wife
- whether the person was receiving a pension or other social security benefits.
- If the death has been reported to the Coroner, and the Coroner decides to order a post mortem, the Coroner’s Office will contact you regarding registration.
The Registrar will ask you the following questions about the person who has died:
- The date and place of death
- The deceased’s last (usual) address
- The deceased’s first name and surname (and maiden name if applicable)
- The deceased’s date and place of birth
- The deceased’s occupation and the name and occupation of husband / partner (if applicable)
- Whether the deceased was receiving a pension or allowance from public funds
- If the deceased was married, or had a civil partnership the date and birth of the surviving widow, widower or partner.
The Registrar will then provide you with the Death Certificate, for which there is a small charge. You will need the Certificate for a variety of other purposes to administer the deceased’s affairs.
The Registrar will also give you either an Order for Burial or Certificate for Cremation (known as ‘the green form’) depending on whether burial or cremation is to take place.
You will also be given a Certificate of Registration of Death which is for Social Security purposes only. This applies to all deaths of all ages, as it is a legal requirement.
If the Coroner is involved his/her officer will give you a certificate so that the funeral can be held.
What happens if the death occurs at the weekend or on a public Holiday?
Sometimes there are unavoidable delays in the issuing of the Medical Certificate of Death. In these circumstances the person’s body cannot be released immediately, and a delay is to be expected. The main causes of such delays are listed here:
- When the death takes place’ out of hours’ and when there are no legal reasons for a delay the issuing of the Medical Certificate of Cause of Death may be delayed.
- From Friday afternoon to Monday morning
- On a Public Holiday
- Regarding legal considerations surrounding who is eligible to complete the death certificate may cause a delay
- When the funeral is to take place out of England and Wales. An ‘Out of England’ Order will need to be issued to you by the Coroner before proceeding.
- A ‘Free from Infection’ Certificate must be issued prior to transportation. Your funeral director can arrange this.
The body of a deceased person cannot be released from the hospital until the death has been registered, and you have been given the Green or Yellow certificate or the Corner’s white certificate by the Registrar. Please give this certificate to the Funeral Director and/or the person who will then collect the body from the hospital.
Coroner and Inquests
If the death has been reported to the Coroner; there are a number of circumstances when, legally, a death has to be reported by the hospital doctor to the Coroner. The Bereavement Liaison Office will advise you if this has been done. The Coroner’s Officer will then get in touch with you to explain whey and what will happen next. The coroner will then decide who will issue the Medical Certificate of Death and whether a post mortem is to be held. If the body is to be removed from England or Wales, permission must be obtained in advance fro the Coroner, who will explain the necessary procedure.
Hospital Post Mortems
A member of the hospital medical staff may ask you to give permission for a hospital post mortem to be carried out. You will have the opportunity to discuss this with them and whether you are agreeable or not you will be issued with a Medical Certificate of Death and asked to sign a consent form to allow the examination to proceed. You can still go ahead and register the death and a hospital port mortem does not normally delay funeral arrangements.
Arranging to view the Deceased
There are no regulations about who is allowed to view the deceased, but if a criminal offence is suspected most coroners will not allow the body to be touched before the first post-mortem in case evidence is lost. Viewing the deceased may be delayed in some circumstances.
Probate and Legal Advice
You may need to seek legal help to establish whether probate is required on someone’s estate.
Probate is the legal process that takes place when someone dies and their assets exceed a certain amount. A common misconception is that if there is a Will then there is no need for Probate. In fact only if there is a Will, is probate required. Where there is no Will, a similar process applies called Letters of Administration. Collectively, you may hear Grant of Representation.
Probate/Letters of Administration is a document issued by the Probate Registry confirming than an Executor/Personal Representative has the right to wind up the estate of the person who has died. The ‘estate’ is the house, money and savings left by someone who has died (probate may not be necessary if the estate is small). Where probate is required the process may be time consuming. You should always seek legal advice when you are unsure.
Everything owned by a person who has died is known as their estate. The estate may be made up of:
- money, both cash and money in a bank or building society account. This could include money paid out on a life insurance policy
- money owed to the person who has died
- property, for example, their home
- personal possessions, for example, their car or jewelry