How to Register a Death in the UK: Step-by-Step

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Contributing writer

Paperwork probably isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when a loved one dies. Managing grief and being there for family members is more likely to be your first priority. But registering a death in the U.K. is important because it must happen within five days of a loved one’s death. 

Jump ahead to these sections:

A registrar issues a death certificate to prove a death. You need to have one in the U.K. before you can make funeral arrangements. The death certificate will help as you deal with the deceased’s legal and financial affairs in the weeks and months ahead.

These four simple steps should make the registration process easier for you. Here’s what you need to do.

Step 1: Get a Death Notification or Medical Certificate from a Doctor

A doctor or GP will write a medical certificate or notification of death when your loved one dies. This certificate states the cause of death and other details needed for the registration process. Keep this safe — it’s an important document. 

The doctor can give the medical certificate to a relative, a civil partner or the organizer of the funeral and must be brought with you to the registrar’s office. A registrar will not issue a death certificate without this document. 

ยป MORE: Grief is never linear. This post-loss checklist is here for you.

 

Step 2: Make an Appointment to Register the Death

You must make an appointment at the registrar’s office within eight days in Scotland and five in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. You will find the location of this office online or you can ask the funeral director. A funeral director cannot register a death in the U.K., which is unlike the U.S. death registration process

It’s a good idea to take the deceased’s proof of address, birth certificate, passport, medical card, and other relevant documents with you in addition to the medical certificate/notification of death. You will also need to give the registrar the deceased’s full name, occupation and personal details of the person who died. 

If these aren’t available, don’t panic! The medical certificate/notification of death is the most important. You won’t be able to complete the registration process without it.

Registering a death should only take about 30 minutes or so if everything is in order.

Step 3: Get a Death Certificate and Certificate for Burial

Next, the registrar will issue a death certificate and a certificate for burial/cremation. While you are at the registrar’s office, you can pay for extra copies of the death certificate. 

A death certificate is free of charge but extra copies will cost more. Each certified certificate costs £11 in England and Wales, £8 in Northern Ireland, and £10 in Scotland.

It’s also possible to tell other government agencies all at once about your loved one’s death. The Tell Us Once organization can notify many of a person’s death for you. The registrar will let you know if the service is available in your area. 

At this time, you could also consider how to make a death announcement. Think about your own end-of-life planning checklist

Step 4: Give the Documentation to the Funeral Director 

Finally, give the certificate for burial to the funeral director to arrange the burial or cremation. A funeral director must get the certificate for burial in order for the funeral director to be able to start his or her work.

A crematorium may also need you to complete an application for cremation. Your work in registering a death is finished at this point but remember to keep all the documents in a safe place. 

Registering a Death: Frequently Asked Questions

Don’t be afraid to ask a funeral director or registrar for advice and guidance. These people are professionals and can answer questions and put your mind at ease. 

Write everything down and keep lists to help with plans and preparations. Record questions/lists on a notepad or phone and take them with you to appointments. You may need these later to answer queries from family and friends.

Taking notes can give control and structure to the situation. No question is a silly one. Registering a death may not be an everyday occurrence for you, but it’s one of the daily tasks for the registrar. 

You must have the details correct at the time of registration because making changes to an already-established death certificate is difficult later on.  

You also might want someone to go with you to the registrar’s office. This companion could:

  • Walk through the step by step process with you.
  • Read your list of questions and record the answers.
  • Keep the important documents safe.
  • Drive you to the registrar’s office and home again.

Here are some common questions you may have:

Who’s usually responsible for registering a death?

A loved one or next of kin usually registers a death in the U.K. — a funeral director will not. If the person has no family or nominated person, it can be anyone present when the person died or the person who makes the funeral arrangements. 

How much does registering a death cost?

Registering a death is free of charge. Other certified copies cost £11 in England and Wales, £8 in Northern Ireland, and £10 in Scotland. It’s a good idea to get extra certified copies. This will speed up other processes later. Photocopies of a death certificate are not always accepted as proof of death. Having certified copies on hand will make life a whole lot easier in the months to come.

What happens if a death is referred to the coroner? 

If the cause of death is unknown, a doctor may report the death to a coroner. This process will delay the death registration, and unfortunately, that’s beyond your control. You must wait for the coroner to make a decision for the registering process to move forward.

A coroner may order a post-mortem. The coroner may decide that the cause of death is known. In that case, he or she will issue a certificate saying that a post-mortem is not needed. The coroner is then responsible for sending relevant documents to the registrar and the death is registered. You may need to ask for a copy/certified copies of the final death certificate. 

Post-mortems

The coroner may decide to do a post-mortem to find out how the person died. After the post-mortem, the coroner releases the body for a funeral or calls for an inquest. 

An inquest

An inquest happens if the cause of death is still unknown. You cannot register a death until after an inquest but the coroner can offer what’s called an interim death certificate. This allows funeral arrangements to be made and can be used as proof of death. A final death certificate is not issued until all of these procedures are finished. The coroner will send all documentation to the registrar to complete the registration process. 

What happens if you wait to register a death?

A funeral director needs a certificate of burial before a funeral can take place. You cannot bury or cremate someone without registering a death in the U.K.


Sources

  1. “What to do when someone dies. Step by step. After a Death”, Gov.UK. www.gov.uk/after-a-death 
  2. “Registering a death”, Northern Ireland Direct Gov.UK.   www.nidirect.gov.uk/articles/registering-death
  3. “When Someone Dies”, Citizens’ Information, Ireland, Edited 7 June 2018. www.citizensinformation.ie/en/death/when_someone_dies_in_ireland.html

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