Wherever someone dies, their cause of death must be confirmed by a medical practitioner.
Dependant on the circumstances, you should first contact either their GP or phone for an ambulance. Obviously, they may be dead, or alternatively seriously ill (hence who you need to phone). What follows depends on a number of factors, most notably if the death was ‘expected’ or not. And, in and around that, a medical practitioner must confirm the ‘cause of death’.
Was the death at home expected?
If the death was expected (for example as part of an ongoing illness), and in particular if the GP has seen the person very recently, then a GP may be able to certify the cause of death. So, if they (the GP) can attend the property, and issue the cause of death certificate, the body can then simply be taken into the care of a funeral director.
NB – a cause of death certificate (Medical Certificate) is NOT the same as the Death Certificate. The latter is issued by the Registrar (see below).
The death can then be registered, and funeral arrangements put in place.
How do I register a death?
Once you have the cause of death certificate, you must contact your local Registrars Office to formally register the death.
You will be required to attend in person, and will need to have to hand certain information about the deceased. Read our guide on How do I register a death?
What happens at the Registration of the death?
The appointment usually takes no more than 30 minutes. Once completed, the Registrar will give you:
- Death Certificate – needed by executors to deal with probate
- ‘Green Form’ – to be given to the funeral director to allow cremation/burial of the body
- ‘Tell us Once form’ – allowing Govt agencies to be notified in one go (eg pensions, tax, and so on)
What if the death at home is not expected?
If the death occurs without obvious reason, and/or the deceased’s GP is unable to issue a Medical Certificate, then the Coroner’s Office will be informed to establish cause of death. The ambulance crew or GP will contact the police who act as representatives of the Coroners Office. The police will explain exactly what will happen. And, you can read more in the Guide to Coroner Services on the Govt website.
The body is typically taken to the mortuary of a local hospital.
The fact that the police are involved can appear alarming. It is NOT a measure that there is necessarily any suspicion of misdoing – simply standard protocol.
Coroner – what is a Post-Mortem
If the Coroner’s office can not easily establish a cause of death (eg natural causes), it may be necessary to undertake a post-mortem. This will usually involve an examination, and may require the body to be opened.
If the post mortem examination is conclusive, the cause of death can be certified. That is the end of the involvement of the Coroner, the death can be registered with the Registrar, and the funeral can be arranged. The body will be released to the funeral director.
Coroner – what if the Post-Mortem is inconclusive?
The Coroner’s Office may however need further tests to be done (eg toxicology). If these prove inconclusive, then a full inquest may be required.
Coroner – what is an Inquest?
The purpose of an inquest is to establish:
- WHO died
- WHEN they died; and
- HOW they died
An inquest is a full court hearing. It may or may not have a jury – depending on the circumstances surrounding the death.
Does a Post-Mortem and/or inquest delay the funeral taking place?
Typically, post mortems will happen relatively soon after death (weeks rather than months). If the initial examination is conclusive then that is that, and every can press on as normal. Further tests may be needed, but the body will often be released at that stage unless there are issues of particular concern.
Does a Post-Mortem and/or inquest delay Probate?
Yes and no. By definition, a final death certificate can not be issued by the Registrar until the cause of death has been established. And, whilst the Coroner’s Office may issue something called an ‘Interim Death Certificate’, this will often not be enough for the executors of an estate to start to ‘establish the estate’.
The main issue is around the date, rather than cause of death. If it can not be established to a particular date when someone died, then the interim death certificate will not (obviously) have that information, and so probate values can not be provided. This might be for example when someone has died at home, and not been found for some time.
A lesser point is simply that using interim death certificates is unusual and so some institutions (banks etc) may not be familiar with them, and may be reluctant to provide information until the ‘final’ death certificate is issued.
Expert Probate Solicitors
We hope you’ve found this guide helpful. If it hasn’t quite answered your query, do take a look around our website – we have loads of related information and facts. Do remember that this is not intended to be legal advice, nor should the article (or any comments left) be taken as such. But, our expert probate solicitors are here to help you with anything at all you need advice on that’s wills, trusts, and probate related. So do reach out by either leaving a comment, by calling us, or emailing.