Registering the death
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 can find the address of the nearest register office in the telephone directory or on the Internet.
When someone dies at home, the death should be registered at the register office for the district where they lived. If the death took place in hospital or in a nursing home it must be registered at the register office for the district in which the hospital or home is situated. 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 operating hours of the register offices as some offices have an appointments only 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:-
-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.
When you have registered the death, the registrar will give you a green certificate (for which there is no charge) to give to the funeral director. This allows either burial or cremation to go ahead. Occasionally a registrar may be able to issue a certificate for burial only (but never cremation) where no one has yet been able to register the death.
The registrar will also give you a form to send to the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) (In Northern Ireland the Social Security Agency). This allows them to deal with the person’s pension and other benefits.
The death certificate is a copy of the entry made by the registrar in the death register. This certificate is needed to deal with money or property left by the person who has died, including dealing with the will. You may need several copies of the certificate, for which there will be a charge.
You can get copies of a death certificate from the General Register Office. Its contact details are on the GOV.UK website at www.gov.uk.
In Northern Ireland details of District Registrars can be found on nidirect’s website at www.nidirect.gov.uk.
Arranging the funeral
A funeral can take place any time after death. Most funerals are arranged by the nearest relatives for example, a spouse or civil partner. However, if there are no relatives, anyone close to the person can arrange the funeral instead.
The person may have left instructions (in their will or somewhere else) about the type of funeral they wanted and/or whether they wanted to be buried or cremated. There is no legal obligation for relatives to follow these instructions. In some cases, relatives may want burial or cremation to take place abroad. The rules about this are very complex and the help of a specialist funeral director will be needed. Permission from a coroner is always needed before a body can be sent abroad.
If there are no relatives or friends to arrange a funeral, in England and Wales, the local authority or health authority will arrange a simple funeral. In Northern Ireland, the local Health and Social Services board can do this. The public authority that arranges the funeral will then try to recover the cost from any money left by the person who died.
Most funerals are arranged through a funeral director. It is important to find a funeral director who belongs to one of the professional associations, such as the National Association of Funeral Directors (NAFD) or the Society of Allied and Independent Funeral Directors (SAIF), since these associations have codes of practice and complaints procedures. Some local authorities also run their own funeral services by arrangement with a local firm of funeral directors.
You can arrange a funeral without the help of a funeral director. If you wish to do this, contact the Cemeteries and Crematorium Department of your local authority for advice and guidance. You can also get help and information from The Natural Death Centre.
The person who arranges the funeral is responsible for paying the final bill and it is important to know where the money for the funeral will come from. The person who died may have taken out a pre-paid funeral plan, paying for their funeral in advance. It is important to check their personal papers to see if they had a plan. If they did, this should cover the whole cost of the funeral.
If there is no funeral plan, the cost of the funeral will normally be met out of any money left by the person who had died and, where money has been left, the funeral bill should be paid before any other bills or debts. Even if the person’s bank account has been frozen following the death it may be possible to have funds released from a building society or national savings account on showing the death certificate. The person may also have had an insurance policy which will cover funeral costs. In other cases, relatives may need to borrow money until the person’s money and property are sorted out. Some funeral directors will allow payment to be delayed until this has happened.
Some people do not leave enough money to pay for even a simple funeral. If this happens, the person arranging the funeral will have to pay for it, although other relatives or friends may be willing to contribute. There is no general death grant, but if you are in this situation and you receive a means-tested social security benefit (such as income support) you may be able to get a payment from the social fund (known as a funeral payment) to cover the cost of a simple funeral. Even where a funeral payment is made, it may not cover the full cost of the funeral and you may still have to pay the difference.
For more information on the social fund, see Help for people on a low income – The Social Fund.
Burial or cremation
A burial can take place in a churchyard, a local authority cemetery or a private cemetery. Burials can also take place on private land, or in a woodland site, although in Northern Ireland this will have to be approved by the authority responsible for the site.
Anyone living within the parish has the right to be buried in the parish churchyard, if there is space, or in any adjoining burial ground. Some churches may allow others to be buried there as well (for example, ex-parishioners or those with family graves). There is no right to be buried in any particular part of a churchyard or burial ground.
Burials inside a church are not allowed in urban areas and are very rarely allowed elsewhere.
Most cemeteries are owned by local authorities or private companies and are non-denominational although some have space dedicated to particular religious groups. In the case of a local authority cemetery, anyone living in the authority’s area has the right to burial in the cemetery. Others may also be allowed burial, but for a higher burial fee.
In most cemeteries there are various categories of graves. Some graves do not give exclusive rights to burial while others give the right of exclusive burial for a set period of time. It is important to check the papers of the person who has died to find out if they have already purchased a grave space in a churchyard, cemetery or woodland burial ground. Although there is no law preventing burials on private land (including a garden) anyone wishing to do this should contact their local authority, who may issue a certificate confirming that the burial is lawful.
Most crematoria are run by local authorities. There is only one crematoria in Northern Ireland at Roselawn and it is run by Belfast City Council. A number of forms are needed before cremation can take place, including a certificate from a doctor, counter-signed by another doctor and an application form completed by a relative. These forms are available from the funeral director. The costs of cremation are usually considerably less than the costs of a burial. In Northern Ireland, you can ask for a priest, minister or clergyman to conduct a service at the crematorium. The crematorium can provide you with contact details if necessary.