What to do after someone dies – a checklist

Elderly couple holding hands

It can be difficult to know what to do following the death of a loved one, and in what order. Find out what you need to do first and what you can leave for later.

By Sarah Lewis

The essentials

Register the death

You must register a death within five days (eight in Scotland). 

Take the medical certificate from the hospital or GP to the registry office along with some information about the person who has died, including their:

  • Full name, including any previous names
  • Date and place of birth
  • Last address
  • Occupation
  • Name, date of birth and occupation of their spouse, if they had one

If available, also take the person’s:

  • Birth certificate
  • Marriage or civil partner certificate
  • National Insurance number
  • Proof of address
  • Driving licence 
  • Passport

It’s free to register a death, but you’ll need to pay a small charge for a death certificate. It’s recommended you get more than one copy of the death certificate to help tell companies and government departments.

The registrar can help you with the Tell Us Once service. It’s a quick way of telling a number of government departments, such as HMRC, DVLA, Department for Work and Pensions and the local council tax office about the death all at once.

Find out who to tell.

Arrange the funeral

You can arrange the funeral after registering the death.

Most people use a funeral director who can guide them through the process, but it’s also possible to arrange one yourself.

The person who has died may have a prepaid funeral plan or have recorded their wishes, so it’s worth looking through any paperwork to check.

If you are the beneficiary of the person’s life insurance, some will make an early payment to cover funeral costs.

Next steps

Dealing with the will

Sorting out the assets and interests of the deceased (also called their ‘estate’) can be complicated. Some people have a will with a named executor to administer the estate. This means collecting in the assets belonging to the person who has died, paying any debts and distributing the estate to the people entitled to inherit.

If you are unsure if a will exists, you can carry out a search with will registration companies.

If there isn’t a will and you’re the next of kin, you may be best placed to manage the estate, but you’ll need to apply for probate first.

If administering the estate seems overwhelming, MyDigiExecutor is a tool that can help guide you through the process step-by-step, including valuing and distributing the estate, finalising tax and paying debts. It can also provide pre-populated forms and letters. The initial steps are free of charge, with advanced features, such as legal advice, from £250. 

Probate

Probate (known as Confirmation in Scotland) is the legal process for dealing with an estate.

A grant of representation (also known as a grant of probate or grant of letters of administration) is a legal document that allows an individual to manage an estate. If the amounts are less than £5,000 and don’t include land, property or shares – or if the estate was jointly held with the surviving spouse – you might not need it. You can check by calling the HMRC probate line on 0300 123 1072.

Dealing with money

Pension

If the deceased had a pension, benefits can sometimes transfer to their spouse or other beneficiaries. You will need to contact the government pension service and private pension companies to check. 

It’s a legal requirement for pension companies to issue annual pension statements, but bear in mind that these may be digital. If you can’t find one, try calling the person’s employer, previous employers and the government’s ‘find a pension’ service.

Tax

When someone dies, their tax should be reviewed – often a refund is due.

HMRC should write to the executor/representative within a month of death registration with any action required. You may want to carry out your own check as there might be allowances that can be claimed or transferred to a surviving partner. 

Bank accounts

You’ll need to notify the deceased person’s banks after a death.

If the person who died had a joint bank account, the other account holder can usually continue to use it – although they should tell the bank about the death.

If the account was in the name of the deceased person only, the bank will usually freeze the account upon notification. It will usually release funds for urgent expenses, such as funeral expenses, inheritance tax and probate fees. 

Death in service

If the person was still in employment when they died, they may have ‘death in service’ cover. This is a work benefit which could pay out a tax-free lump sum to the family or other beneficiaries. Check with their employer.

Debts

When someone dies, any money owed will come out of their estate first. Debts include rent, credit card balances and car loans. The estate has to pay off outstanding debts in a set order so it’s important to find out about any debts early on. 

Tell any creditors about the debt and that you’re dealing with the estate as reminder letters will add to any stress.

Individual debts, like credit card balances, which are in the deceased person’s name only can be paid out of the value of the estate. If they don’t have enough assets to pay it, then the debt will be written off. 

Mortgage and/or rent

If there’s a mortgage on a property owned by the deceased, it doesn’t automatically transfer to the surviving spouse or partner. The lender will want to know that the beneficiary can afford the repayments in their own name. Find out who the lender is and contact them early on. 

There may be a life insurance policy that was taken out to pay off all or part of the mortgage, but you should still contact the lender while the claim is being processed.

You’ll also need to let the home insurance provider know if no one is living in the property. The policy can usually continue but you’ll need to discuss this with the provider. 

If they were privately renting, let the landlord know as soon as possible. They may be able to transfer the lease to a spouse’s name.

You’ll also need to transfer bills, including gas, electricity, water and council tax.

Government benefits

If the person was under state pension age when they died, their partner may be entitled to some money from the government to help them cope financially. The Bereavement Support Payment provides a lump sum followed by up to 18 monthly payments. Check gov.uk for information on this and Widowed Parents Allowance.

Who to tell?

Here’s a list of organisations you might need to tell after a person has died.

  • Government departments – the government’s Tell Us Once service lets you tell multiple departments at once, including HMRC, the DVLA and your local council
  • Credit card companies – check bank statements and the deceased person’s purse or wallet to see what cards they owned
  • Landlord or mortgage provider – especially if the property will be unoccupied
  • Utility companies – if you’re not sure who to contact, look for bills or check bank statements and contact the companies to close accounts
  • Insurance companies – they may have had insurance for their building and contents, car, life, medical and travel. Check bank statements to see where any payments were going
  • Phone, TV and internet – if no one is using these services, contact the companies to cancel services
  • Mail preference services – you can stop unsolicited post to the deceased person by registering with the Mailing Preference Centre and The Bereavement Register
  • Social media accounts – family members can request the removal of a loved one’s account from social channels, although you may want to keep it up for sentimental value