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The First Few Days

When someone dies

When someone dies, the circumstances of the death will affect what happens next. Here’s a guide to what to expect and what you need to do.

Death at home

The first thing to do is to call your doctor straight away and the nearest relative (or next of kin) of the person who has died. If for any reason you can’t call your doctor or GP surgery, call an ambulance. The GP or out-of-hours doctor will come to the house and formally confirm the death. If the death was expected and the cause is known, the GP or doctor issues a Medical Certificate. You may see this referred to as a Medical Certificate of Cause of Death.

If the person who has died is to be cremated, a Cremation Certificate is also issued. This needs to be signed by a second doctor.

Death in hospital

The hospital will keep the body in a mortuary until arrangements for burial or cremation have been made. Some families make arrangements to bring the body home, some a prefer a chapel of rest. If the death was expected, a Medical Certificate will be issued by the hospital medical team.

Sudden or unexpected death

When someone dies unexpectedly, you still need to call the doctor and the next of kin. In these circumstances, it may not be possible for the doctor to establish the cause of death and issue a Medical Certificate. Instead, the death will be reported to the coroner .

A Coroner is an independent doctor or lawyer appointed by the local authority to investigate unexpected deaths. Their role is to establish the cause of death by carrying out a post-mortem. If this is inconclusive, there may be an inquest. In either case, the burial will be delayed until the results are known, so wait until the Coroner’s investigations are complete before making funeral arrangements.

Death overseas

If someone dies overseas, a local doctor will confirm the death and issue the medical certificate. This document is normally acceptable for UK purposes, though you may need to have it translated. It’s worth registering the death at the nearest British Consulate, where there’s plenty of advice and help on what to do next. They’ll also make sure the death is recorded in the UK.

Organ donation

Many people express a wish to donate their organs. They may have carried a Donor Card, or have entered their details on the NHS Organ Donor Register. Or they may simply have told you that they wanted their organs donated after death.

Make sure the doctor or hospital staff know this when they confirm the death. If the person’s wishes are to be carried out, organs need to be removed quickly. If a coroner is involved, they’ll need to give their consent before any organs can be removed. Your doctor or hospital medical team will be able to advise you.

Medical research

If the person who has died wanted to donate their body to medical science and research, they will have left a written and witnessed consent form, and kept a copy with their will. They will also have informed their GP. Contact your nearest medical school for help and advice about what to do next; you can also visit the Human Tissue Authority website for more information.

Don’t forget: if the home of the person who has died is going to be empty, remember to make sure the property is secure. There are other jobs you could share with relatives and neighbours:
  • Arrange care of pets
  • Cancel milk and newspaper deliveries
  • Redirect post; ask at the Post Office for help with this

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