What happens immediately after a death?

Even though you know the person is dying, and you can try to prepare yourself, it is hard to know how you might feel when they actually die. Some people feel shocked or numb, whilst other people might feel overwhelmed with sadness, or even anger. It is also normal, particularly if it has been a long illness to feel a huge relief. You may find it helps if you have already thought of someone you can call who can be with you and support you at this time.

Image of a Sue Ryder hospice bed

Confirming that the person has died

Although this is likely to be a very emotional time, there are still some formal things that need to happen. The first is confirming that the person has died. This is called verifying the death. If your friend or relative dies at home, you need to call the GP or out-of-hours service within two or three hours of the person dying, and a doctor will come as soon as possible to confirm that the person has died. If your friend or relative dies in a hospital or hospice, the staff will organise for the death to be verified.

There are some things that need to be done to confirm the death, and some people prefer to leave the room when this is happening. This includes checking the person’s pupils for any reaction, checking for breathing and listening for their heart sounds with a stethoscope. Although nurses can verify someone has died, when their death was expected, only a doctor can give you a medical certificate of death (MCCD).

You should take this to the funeral director so that the funeral can be held. You'll also get a Certificate of Registration of Death (form BD8). You should read the information on the certificate about the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) Bereavement Service, and call them to tell them about your friend or relative’s death. They can do a benefits check of what you may be able to get, take your claim for certain benefits over the phone and tell you who to contact to claim other benefits. This differs in parts of the UK - visit the Bereavement Advice website to find out more.

If you call the DWP Bereavement Service to report the death you do not have to send in the BD8 form. You may need a few copies of the death certificate for when you let banks and other organisations know that they have died. It’s a good idea to ask for extra copies when you register their death (at a cost of £4 for each copy), as if you need more at a later date there’s a higher charge of £10 (prices correct as of May 2015).

 

The cost of certified copies of the death certificate at the time of registering the death vary from one country to another. The cost per copy is: £4.00 in England and Wales, £8.00 in Northern Ireland and £10.00 in Scotland.

You will need to take this to the registrar in order to register the person’s death. You will also be given information about ‘Duties of the Informant’ which explains all the things that the registrar will ask you.

Caring for their body

If you are in a hospice or hospital you can normally still spend some time with the person after they have died and you can call your family, or anyone who needs to, to come in. Sometimes people want to be left alone to spend some time with and say their final words to the person. Sometimes they find it comforting to have a member of staff with them.

Once the death has been verified, if there is a mortuary at the hospice or hospital, the person’s body may be moved to the mortuary, or if there is no mortuary on site, the funeral director will collect their body.

If the person has died at home, you can keep their body at home until the funeral if you choose, or the funeral director can take it to their funeral home. The funeral director can help you to look after the body at home, or if you choose to have their body cared for at the funeral home, you can still visit them there.

If you haven’t already arranged a funeral director, the hospice or hospital will have a list of funeral directors you can contact.