When a loved one dies at home, there need be no rush to do anything in particular. If the death occurs in a hospice or hospital, you will be supported by staff as long as your loved one is in the hospice or hospital.

People react in different ways to the loss of a loved one or person close to them. You might want to spend some time with them to say goodbye or you may want to leave the room straight away.

A doctor or other appropriate healthcare professional will need to see the body and verify the death. Any equipment that was being used (such as a syringe driver) should be left in place until it has been properly recorded that death has taken place.

In normal working hours, you will need to contact the patient’s GP surgery so that a doctor or appropriately trained nurse can come and verify the death.

If the death takes place during the night, you do not need to contact the doctor until the following morning unless you want to.

If you want a healthcare professional to visit during the night, call 111.

It is important to say if the death was expected and if the person had written an advance decision to refuse treatment (ADRT). The surgery will send either a doctor, appropriately trained nurse or a paramedic to verify the death.

Caring for your loved one

When someone dies, you may notice that their face suddenly relaxes. They will also have stopped breathing.

If their eyes remain open, close them by gently holding the eyelids closed with your fingertips for 30 seconds. If this does not work, the funeral director can help with this. They will also be able to help close the mouth if it is open.

Religious customs or preferences

If there are any religious customs or preferences that need to be observed, please tell any doctor or nurse who is present so that they can respect your wishes and those of the person who has died.

If, for religious or cultural reasons, the burial needs to happen quickly, you can get advice from the local Register Office or a funeral director.

When to contact the funeral director

If the person who is dying wishes to, they could speak to their chosen funeral director ahead of death to discuss any specific wishes or particular questions they may have.

Otherwise, after the death has been verified, contact a funeral director to arrange for the body to be collected. There is no rush to do this. The funeral director will often come within an hour of being contacted.

If you want a little more time or need to wait for family or friends to arrive, you can ask the funeral director if they could come a bit later. Funeral directors usually provide a 24-hour service to move the body to a funeral home.

Arranging for equipment to be collected

Unfortunately, equipment cannot always be collected immediately. Speak to the healthcare professional who arranged its delivery (the occupational therapist or district nurse) so that they can arrange collection. Alternatively, visit the NRS Healthcare page for returning equipment  or if you live in Oxfordshire call 01869 225420.

All unused medicines will need to be returned to a pharmacist for safe disposal.

Getting a medical certificate

After the death has been verified, a doctor will need to certify the death. They will then send the medical certificate to your local register office.

Sometimes a GP will verify and certify the death at the same time, but if a district nurse or an out-of-hours doctor verifies the death, you will need to contact the person’s GP to arrange to collect the medical certificate of cause of death.

Reporting a death to a coroner

If the person’s regular GP is unavailable, or if the GP has questions about the death, it may need to be reported to the coroner.

The death will also need to be reported to the coroner if the person has died from an industrial disease (such as an illness caused by asbestos), or if there are any questions about their death.

This might result in an investigation to find out why the death occurred. In these circumstances, the coroner will provide the medical certificate of cause of death.

Registering a death

The GP will send the medical certificate through to the appropriate register office. Once you know it has been sent, arrange an appointment with the register office to register the death and receive the death certificate. This usually has to be done within five days.

If the death has been referred to the coroner, you will need to wait for the coroner to give permission before you can register the death.

To book an appointment with the register office, go to GOV.UK’s Find a register office  and enter your postcode. You will then be able to make an appointment online at the appropriate place.

The appointment can be made by a relative, someone present at the death or the person making the funeral arrangements.

Tell Us Once service

The registrar will also tell you about the Tell Us Once service. This service helps reduce the number of telephone calls you need to make to tell people and organisations about the person’s death.

It also allows you to inform central and local government departments of the death very quickly; this can be helpful to avoid over-payment of benefits and pensions.

The registrar will either fill in the Tell Us Once form with you or give you a unique reference number so that you can use the service online or by phone.

Read more about Tell Us Once on GOV.UK .

Arranging the funeral

If there is a pre-paid funeral plan it will usually include details of what the person wanted, as well as which funeral director to use.

If they have left instructions for their funeral but there is not enough money available to carry out their wishes, you can make changes, as the instructions are not legally binding.

You (or the person arranging the funeral) can either make all the arrangements for organising the funeral yourself or can ask the funeral director to do this for you or could share the arrangements with them.

The funeral itself can be a faith-based ceremony, have no religious element or be something in between.

Related pages

  • Arranging a funeral: there are many decisions to make when arranging a funeral and this article considers the key questions to ask yourself.
  • Choosing a funeral director: find out the best way to choose a funeral director and the key questions to ask to ensure you get the funeral you wish for.
  • Looking after yourself: advice for looking after both yourself and others following the death of a loved one.

The EPiC Resource Centre is kindly sponsored by Cleenol: working for a cleaner, safer, kinder world.