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What to do when someone dies

Wills & Powers of Attorney

This guide is designed to give you some pointers and practical advice should you find yourself lost in the event of a bereavement. You can, of course, contact us direct if you would like further assistance or legal advice. There are three main tasks that need to be undertaken and which this guide will take you through step by step. Please get in touch if anything is unclear.

Register the death

Who can do this?

• Any relative of the deceased.
• Any person present at the death.
• The deceased’s executor or other legal representative.
• The occupier of the property where the deceased died.
• If there is no-one else, anyone with the information needed for registration.

When and where?

In Scotland a death must be registered within eight days of the date of death with the Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages. You can use the Registrar in any area. Some Registrars have an appointments system so you should phone ahead.

What should you take?

You must take the medical certificate produced by the doctor or hospital showing the cause of death. It would be useful to take the deceased’s birth certificate and marriage/civil partnership certificate but these items are not vital. The Registrar will want to know:

  • The deceased’s full name, last address, occupation, date and place of birth.
  • Their status i.e. single, married/in a civil partnership, divorced/civil partnership dissolved or widowed.
  • The full name and occupation of any current and/or former wife, husband or civil partner.
  • The full names (including any maiden name) and occupations of the deceased’s parents.
  • The name and address of the deceased’s GP.
  • Whether the deceased received a state pension or other benefit.

Don’t worry if you don’t have all of this information, the Registrar can still register the death.

What will you be given?

  • An abbreviated death certificate (i.e. short form excluding cause of death, occupation and details of parents) free of charge. You can request the full death certificate for a fee (currently £10). It is useful to have at least one full version of the death certificate.
  • A certificate of registration of death (Form 14) which you must give to the funeral director before the funeral can take place.
  • A social security death notification form (Form 334/SI) which you should complete to find out whether there are any benefits due to or from the deceased’s estate.

Organise the funeral

Organising a funeral can be stressful at an already stressful time, having some idea of what is involved can help and make the process a little less daunting.


Nobody wants to organise a funeral although usually the task falls to family or close friends. If there is an executor or executors named in a will or appointed by the court then they have the authority to organise the funeral but generally would only intervene if a dispute arose about who should make the arrangements. That said, the executor is often a close relative in any event. If there is nobody, then the solicitor dealing with the estate or the local authority may step in.

What to do?

For most people the first port of call with be with a funeral director or undertaker. You must take the certificate of registration of death (Form 14) provided by the Registrar when the death was registered. You should check among the deceased’s papers or with their solicitor to see if they had a pre-paid funeral plan or bond. If they did, you may have to contact a particular funeral director.

If using a funeral director, it is best to check that they belong to a professional association such as the National Association of Funeral Directors (NAFD) or Society of Allied and Independent Funeral Directors (SAIF) as they will have codes of practice and complaints procedures. Check their websites for a list of members or look out for their logos. You don’t have to use a funeral director at all. If you want to arrange a funeral yourself, the Natural Death Centre (www.naturaldeath.org.uk) or Cemeteries and Crematorium Department of your local authority will be able to assist.

What to expect?

Funerals can be very simple or extremely elaborate. The basics provided by a funeral director are likely to include:

  • A plain and simple coffin.
  • Transport of the deceased to the funeral director’s premises.
  • Washing and dressing (but not embalming) the deceased and taking care of them until the funeral.
  • Provision of a hearse to take the deceased to the crematorium or cemetery.
  • Arranging people to carry the coffin.
  • Dealing with necessary paperwork and forms.

Additional services which can either be arranged by the funeral director or yourself include:

  • • Flowers and tributes.
  • More elaborate coffin and fittings.
  • Newspaper notices.
  • The medical certificate required for cremation (a doctor’s fee of around £150 is required for this).
  • An organist and/or music system.
  • Fees for the service.
  • Burial or cremation fees.
  • Additional cars.
  • Embalming (a process that preserves the body for a short while).
  • Funeral catering.
  • Order of service.


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