What to Do After a Death in England or Wales

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Teresa Evans, campaigner for the Rights of the Bereaved at http://www.evansaboveonline.co.uk believes that information about caring for dead relatives and friends at home, and arranging funerals in England & Wales without commercial help, should be delivered from government to the public by default.

As it is not, she has created this page and continues to campaign to persuade relevant government agencies to do so. She considers that information about what can legally be done privately after a death in England & Wales, is as valuable as other information pertaining to citizenship.

When a death occurs

If the death occurs at home, contact the general practitioner who attended the person who has died during their last illness. The GP will confirm the death and issue a certificate stating the cause of death if there is no questionable circumstance. The GP may give you the certificate straight away or advise you to collect it from the surgery later.

If the death occurs in hospital, normally the doctor attending will issue the certificate to you or via the hospitals administration office. If a doctor attending is unable to state the cause of death, or where a medical practitioner had not recently attended to the person who has died, the local Coroner will be informed.

Should a post-mortem be ordered by a Coroner, please familiarise yourself with the post mortem guide produced by the Human Tissue Authority [1] When the body is released by the Coroner, you may return the person who has died directly home. There is no lawful requirement that one must employ, make a contract, with an undertaker (more commonly known as a funeral director). Whether hiring an undertaker or not, it will always be the person who has lawful possession of the body who “directs” what happens.

What must and can be done

The only legal requirement in the UK is that the death is certified and registered and the body "disposed" of (an insensitive legal term) by either burial, cremation or "any other means". The latter means for example donating a body to medical research.

The law does not impose a duty on anyone to send the body away to a funeral home/parlour, have a funeral, or use a coffin or specially designed vehicle to transport it and the body.

In some cases the person who has died may have planned their own funeral or means of “disposal” in advance. Check if there is a Will, or another form of advanced directive.

You can organise a funeral with or without the help of an undertaker and personalise it as much as you wish. If a decision is made to employ and make a contract with an undertaker, Citizens Advice provides basic, but sound advice about your rights as a consumer. [2]

Caring for the body

It is your right as a Citizen, to provide personal care of the body of the person who has died in the privacy of your own home or theirs. The same right applies, even when a body has undergone a post-mortem examination.

It is often assumed that care of the body and a funeral must be delegated to an undertaker but some people find great comfort from being involved, partly or totally in the arrangements for a relative or friend.

If the death occurs in hospital, the mortician may agree to keep the body of the person who has died in the hospital mortuary until preferred arrangements have been made, and possibly at no charge.

Whether the death occurs at home or elsewhere, the body could be kept in a well ventilated, cool room. Alternatively, an undertaker may agree to provide the mortuary facility, though be mindful that he/she would be providing a service and that you have consumer protection. For detailed guidance on how to handle, bathe and transport the body, a free download entitled ‘Undertaken with Love’ is available at Undertaken with love. This is a guide created by an American home funeral movement, but the principles are the same.[3]

Alternatively, a nurse may be willing to assist.

Registering a death

Unless a Coroner has taken an interest in a death, all deaths need to be registered with the registrar for births, deaths and marriages. This must be done within five days in England &Wales.

The next of kin or person arranging the “disposal” must take the certificate issued by the doctor to the Registrar of Births and Deaths within five days of the death. Most Registrars' operate an appointment system, so it is worthwhile telephoning your local district office first. When you register the death, make sure that all the details are given fully and correctly, as it is very difficult getting any changes made later. It is also advisable to obtain extra copies of the death certificate at this time in order to be able to claim the assets of the person who has died at a later date.

If the Coroner has been involved, and an inquest is to be held, then they will issue a form to the Registrar who will issue a Coroners Order for burial.

When an inquest is not held, the nearest surviving relative can register the death only when the Coroner has confirmed the cause of death to the Registrar.

Statutory forms

Before any burial or cremation can take place, certain forms are required by law to be submitted to the burial or cremation authority. The Bereavement Services Officer in your own Local Authority can discuss exactly what is required.

Please be mindful, that you do not have to send the body away to a commercial premises / funeral home, and that you may keep the body at home until the day of the arranged burial or cremation or other means of “disposal”.

Transportation

It is your right to transport the body of the person who has died in a suitable vehicle.

Where the body has to be removed from a hospital, remember to contact the mortician first. It is reasonable for a mortician to ask that a form be signed, but cannot insist on sight of evidence that a funeral has been arranged and that a death has been registered.

If you intend to use an estate car, van or people carrier ensure the coffin or container if used, will fit in it.

There is a duty to inform the Coroner before moving a body out of England & Wales (treated as one area).

Carrying a body over private land does not create a public footpath. Undertakers once stuck pins in gates as token “toll” payments for walking over private land, meaning that they realised no public footpath or right of way was being created.

It is a myth to believe there can be no trespass when carrying a body over private land.

It is illegal for priests to charge extra for a funeral for someone brought into their parish.

You will need help to handle a coffin.

For a cremation service you will either need to arrange for a minimum of four people to carry the coffin into the Chapel or arrange for an undertaker to provide staff to do so. An undertaker may agree to provide staff, though be mindful that he/she would be providing a service and that you have consumer protection.

The recommendation is the same is for a burial and to lower the coffin into a grave.

All people intending to carry and/or lower the coffin into a grave in a public or privately owned burial ground or crematorium may be asked to complete a disclaimer to release responsibility.

Funding

None. Social Venture

Contact

Address:
Phone:
Email: goodevans06(at)aol.com
Website: http://www.evansaboveonline.co.uk

Resources

Notes

  1. [1] the Human Tissue Authority website, accessed 26 August 2017,
  2. [[2]], Citizens Advice website, accessed 05th October 2016,
  3. [3], Home Funeral Directory website, accessed 05th October 2016,