Bereavement information

What happens when someone dies

In the first few hours after their death, you may feel very shocked or numb however well-prepared you were. You may have lots of overwhelming emotions, such as feeling extremely upset and angry. Many people also feel very relieved that their relative or friend can now be at peace.

Most cultures and religions have processes or rituals that they carry out at the time of death. It’s important for you to do what you feel is right. There may be some things that you need to do but don’t feel that you have to do anything straight away or rush to ‘get on with things’. If you want, you can just spend some quiet time with the person who has died. Many people like to sit and talk or hold hands, and see the person at peace, especially if the last few hours or days were difficult.

You may want to have someone there to support you. It may help to ask them to contact other people to let them know, if you don’t feel up to telling them. A spiritual or religious adviser can also support you and carry out any processes or rituals that are important to you and your relative or friend.

What happens after someone dies:

In Hospital

If someone dies in hospital, the hospital staff will contact the designated named person(s) (used to be called the ‘next of kin’) if not already present. If they are there, nursing staff will be nearby to support and guide through what needs to be done over the next few hours.

The nurses will take care of your relative’s or friend’s body and will wash them. This process is different for different religions and cultures but usually involves carefully washing and drying the body, closing the eyelids, and making sure their mouth is supported while closed. The person’s hair is tidied. If you’d like to help the nurses wash and dress your relative or friend, let them know.

It is important that all property is gathered together and given to the designated named person(s).

The hospital will keep the body in the mortuary until the executor or someone acting on their behalf arranges for it to be taken to the funeral directors. Most funeral directors have a chapel of rest where the body will be held until the funeral.

Elsewhere (If the death of the person is expected)

Home

If the death of the person is expected and your relative or friend dies at home, you’ll need to let their GP or district nurse know what’s happened within a few hours. The GP or a district nurse will come as soon as possible to confirm the death. This is also known as verifying the death.

If the GP comes, they will verify the death and give you a medical certificate for the cause of death (this is free of charge and will be in an envelope addressed to the registrar) with a formal notice that says the doctor has signed the medical certificate, which tells you how to register the death. If a district nurse comes, or you have to call an out-of-hours doctor, they can verify the death but you may need to make an appointment at the doctors’ surgery to collect the death certificate from the GP the following day.

Care home (nursing and/or residential)

If the death of the person is expected and you relative or friend dies in a care home then the care home staff will contact the designated named person(s) (used to be called the ‘next of kin’) if not already present.

The care home staff will let their GP or district nurse know what’s happened. The GP or a district nurse will come as soon as possible to confirm the death. This is also known as verifying the death.

If the GP comes, they will verify the death and give you a medical certificate for the cause of death (this is free of charge and will be in an envelope addressed to the registrar) with a formal notice that says the doctor has signed the medical certificate, which tells you how to register the death. If a district nurse comes, or you have to call an out-of-hours doctor, they can verify the death but you may need to make an appointment at the doctors’ surgery to get the death certificate from the GP the following day.  The death certificate is an official statement, signed by a doctor, of the cause, date, and place of a person’s death.

Once the death has been verified by a nurse or doctor, you can contact the funeral director (undertaker).

They provide a 24-hour service and can advise you on what to do. Details of funeral directors are in your local phone book or on the internet. You can also get information from the National Association of Funeral Directors. The funeral director will come as soon as you want them to.

If the death of the person is unexpected

If the person’s death is sudden and unexpected or you discover a body, you should contact the person’s:

  • Family doctor (if you know who it is), or
  • Nearest relative

You must also contact the police. They can help you find the people listed above, if necessary.

If the cause is not clear

If the cause of death is not clear, the doctor or other people who helped to look after the person must report it to the coroner. The coroner may decide that there needs to be a post-mortem and an inquest.

Coroners

The coroner is a lawyer or doctor responsible for investigating a death when:

  • No doctor is able to provide a certificate, which conforms with the regulations, stating the cause of death, or
  • There are grounds for thinking the death may be have been due to an injury or some unnatural cause, e.g. industrial disease (see industrial illness), the effects of drugs, an injury or the cause is not known
  • It has happened in prison or in police custody. This includes those who are subjected to a Deprivation of Liberty (DoL) safeguard.

The Coroner has to carry out an enquiry into cases such as these to establish the cause of death, and this sometimes involves a post mortem examination. Depending on the information they get, the Coroner may decide either:

  • That the death is from natural causes – they will then give details to the Registrar of Births and Deaths so that the death can be registered
  • That an investigation should be commenced – this may lead to an inquest being held. Registration of the death can’t take place until either an investigation has been discontinued or the inquest has been held. The Coroner’s Officer will explain this to you.

In all cases, every effort will be made to avoid the need to change any funeral arrangements which may have been made. Unfortunately in some circumstances this cannot be helped.

Role of the Coroner’s Officer

The Coroner’s Officer helps the Coroner with the investigation into the cause of the death, and is responsible for contacting the nearest relative. They will supply the Coroner with all the information needed usually in the form of a detailed written statement, so that a decision can be made on what, if any, further action is necessary.

While the enquiry is continuing, the relative’s link with the Coroner’s Office throughout the enquiry is through the Coroner’s Officer. Contact information will be supplied so that relatives can liaise with the office as regards such things as funeral arrangements. The Officer provides help and advice to avoid inconvenience or unnecessary distress.

As soon as the Coroner has reached a decision, the relatives will be told and advised about any steps they should take. Arrangements for the funeral cannot be made without confirmation from the Coroner’s Officer that the body can be released for burial or cremation. In certain circumstance, an investigation may need to be commenced or an inquest may need to be opened before authorisation for disposal of the body can be given.

Post-mortem

The doctor who certifies the death has a legal responsibility to inform the coroner if a post-mortem is needed. A post-mortem isn’t usually necessary if the death was expected and the person was seen by their GP in the last 14 days before their death. However, there are some exceptions. For example, a post-mortem may be needed when a person dies of an occupational disease such as mesothelioma.

What is a post-mortem?

A post-mortem examination is a medical examination of a body after death to find out the cause of death. A coroner’s post-mortem examination is independent and is carried out by a suitable medical practitioner such as a pathologist (a doctor who specialises in medical diagnosis by examining body organs, tissues and fluids) of the coroner’s choice.

The coroner decides whether or not a post-mortem examination is needed and what type of examination is most appropriate. By law, the coroner is not required to obtain a relative’s consent to the examination, but he or she will give you the reason for his or her decision. If you are a relative of the person needing the post-mortem, you are entitled to have a doctor represent you at the post-mortem. If this is the case, the coroner will tell you when and where the post-mortem will be. They must also tell you (if you are the designated person) if any organs or tissue need to be kept after the post-mortem has been done. The coroner will ask you what to do about the organs or tissue when the tests are finished.

If the person dies in hospital, you may ask the coroner to arrange for the post-mortem to be carried out by a pathologist other than one employed at or connected to the hospital the person died in.

The coroner will choose a funeral director to take the person’s body from where they died to the hospital mortuary. You can then choose your own funeral director to carry out the funeral once the coroner has finished the post-mortem.

If the post-mortem shows that the person has died due to natural causes, the coroner may issue a notice form known as ‘Pink form B’ (form 100B). This form shows the cause of death so that the death can be registered.

If the body is going to be cremated, the coroner will give you the certificate for cremation which allows you to arrange for the body to be cremated

Industrial illness

Where doctors believe that a person has died from an industrial disease, it is a legal requirement that an inquest is held. A post-mortem may be carried out on the body which allows a pathologist to ascertain the cause or causes of death.

For many families the news that an inquest and post-mortem must take place comes as a complete shock. However, it should not delay the release of the body for a funeral for more than a few days whilst the post-mortem is being carried out.

Once the post-mortem is completed, the inquest is opened and adjourned to allow the body to be released to the family. The inquest is then re-opened at a later date when all the evidence that needs to be heard, such as statements from former work colleagues and family, is ready.

Having considered the evidence, the court may make a finding of “death by industrial disease”. If the family is pursuing or intends to pursue a claim for compensation it can be helpful if the finding of death by industrial disease is made out at the inquest.

If a post-mortem is needed, it usually takes a few days to arrange. You’ll get a medical death certificate afterwards. This can help to give exact information about the cause of death. You’ll need to wait until the doctor has decided whether a post-mortem is needed before you set a date for the funeral or alternative service.

Investigations and inquests

The purpose of an investigation is to find out who the deceased person was and how, when and where they died.

An inquest is the formal part of the process carried out towards the end of an investigation. Here, the evidence about the circumstances of a death is considered.

It is held in public, sometimes with a jury. It is the coroner that decides how to organise the inquest which is best for the public and the relatives of the person who has died.

If a person dies outside England and Wales and there are unanswered questions with regards to cause of death, whether it was natural or violent, caused by a disease or in the workplace, the coroner will hold an inquest if the body is returned here.

If an inquest is held, the coroner must tell the following people (if their name and address is known to the coroner):

  • The husband, wife or civil partner of the person who died
  • The nearest relative (if this is not the person’s husband, wife or civil partner), and
  • The person’s personal representative or executor (if they are not any of the above)

If the investigation will take some time, you may ask the coroner to give you a ‘certificate of the fact of death’ or a letter confirming a person’s death. You can use this certificate or letter for benefits and National Insurance purposes. Banks and other financial institutions should usually accept this certificate as evidence of the death. When the body does not need to be examined any more the coroner may give you an ‘order for burial’ or a ‘certificate for cremation’ so that you can arrange the funeral.

When the inquest finishes the coroner will send a certificate to the Registrar of Births and Deaths, giving the cause of death. This means Registrar can register the death.

Go to www.gov.uk to see the ‘Guide to coroner services’. This booklet has lots of information about a coroner’s investigation and inquest and the standards of services you can expect.

Once the death has been verified by a nurse or doctor, you can contact the funeral director (undertaker).

They provide a 24-hour service and can advise you on what to do. Details of funeral directors are in your local phone book or on the internet, but often friends and family may suggest a local company with a good reputation. Remember, charges can vary considerably from firm to firm. You can also get information from the National Association of Funeral Directors|. The funeral director will come as soon as you want them to.

You can let the funeral director know if you’d like them to help you look after your relative’s or friend’s body at home until the funeral, or whether you’d like the body to be taken to the funeral director’s chapel of rest. You can visit the chapel of rest to be with the body if you’d like to.

Registering the death

Where and when can I register a death?

A death must be registered in the district in which it occurs within five days, unless the registrar extends that period, or if the coroner is involved.

Death registrations take place by appointment at three locations across the borough. It usually takes about 30 minutes to register a death.

Certain information and documentation are required to register a death. To find out how to register a death see the information below or contact the register office. Our staff will be happy to give you details and make your appointment.

For full information about contacting the Barnsley Registration Service follow this link. An appointment can be made as soon as the medical certificate of cause of death has been issued by a medical practitioner. The informant must bring the medical certificate of cause of death with them when they attend the register office.

Where the death occurs in Barnsley and you are unable to visit one of our offices, you can arrange to register the death by declaration at any other register office in England and Wales. The same information must be provided and the declaration will need to be signed. This declaration will be posted to the correct register office. For more information about this service please contact Barnsley register office.

Appointments outside normal office hours can sometimes be arranged.

Who can register a death?

Normally relatives of the deceased register deaths, but others can also do this when there are no relatives.

These can be:

  • a person present at the death
  • a person arranging the funeral (not the undertaker)
  • in certain circumstances others such as the administrator or the occupier of the place where the death took place.

What information is required to register a death?

The following information is required to enable a death to be registered:

  • The date and place of death
  • The full name and surname of the deceased (and maiden name where appropriate)
  • The date and place of birth of the deceased, occupation and the full names and occupation of her husband if the deceased was a married woman or widow
  • The deceased’s usual address
  • If the deceased was married or in a civil partnership, the date of birth of the spouse or civil partner
  • Whether the deceased received a pension or allowance from public funds for example: civil service or army pension

Although not essential, the following information would also be useful:

  • The National Health Service number or the medical card itself of the deceased
  • Copies of the deceased’s birth and marriage certificates
  • After the death has been registered, what will I receive from the registrar?
  • A green form will be issued by the registrar or, in some circumstances, by the coroner. This form should be taken to the funeral director to enable the funeral to be arranged.
  • A registration or notification of death form will also be issued specifically for social security purposes. This form should be completed and returned to any local Department of Social Security office as soon as possible.

It is sometimes necessary to obtain a death certificate from the registrar; this is a certified copy of the information held in the Register. There will be a charge for a certificate(s). Follow this link for fees and charges to register a death.

Death certificates will be required by banks, building societies and solicitors. A photocopy is not acceptable. The registrar will discuss with the informant the number of certificates that may be required to deal with the deceased affairs.

Arranging the funeral

What the funeral director will do

The funeral director will take care of your relative’s or friend’s body and will wash them. This process is different for different religions and cultures but usually involves carefully washing and drying the body, closing the eyelids, and making sure their mouth is supported while closed. The person’s hair is tidied and sometimes washed. The funeral director will also ask if you’d like them to be dressed in any specific clothes, such as a favourite outfit.

If you’d like to help the funeral directors wash and dress your relative or friend, let them know as soon as possible so they can arrange this.

Embalming

Some people want to be embalmed. This is when the body is disinfected and treated with chemicals to help preserve it. Blood is drained out of the body and replaced with embalming fluid. This is carried out at the funeral directors.

Many people choose to use a professional funeral director to organise a funeral. They do this partly because it is easier, at what is a stressful time. You can however organise a funeral without a funeral director, but you should ask the cemeteries and crematorium department of your local council for advice.

Planning a funeral and burial or a cremation

Do not make final funeral arrangements until you are sure that you do not have to report the death to the coroner, as this may affect the date when the funeral can be held.

If you arrange for a funeral, you are responsible for paying the bill, so first check where the money will come from and if there will be enough to cover all the costs.

Funerals and memorials allow relatives and friends to pay their respects to the person who has died. It’s a way of acknowledging their death and saying goodbye.

You can make all the arrangements for the funeral and burial yourself if you’d like to. However, most people prefer to have the help of the funeral director. The GP will need to know if you’re planning a cremation so they can complete the relevant paperwork.

Before making any funeral arrangements, it’s important to consider several issues:

  • What were the wishes of the dead person?
  • Have they expressed their wishes in a will?
  • What are your wishes?
  • How will the funeral be paid for? Is there a pre-paid funeral plan?

Some people have no strong religious beliefs, while others have a strong religious or spiritual faith or may have lived their lives as humanists, agnostics or atheists. You may have very clear ideas about how you want to pay your respects to the person’s body and how you want the service to be dealt with. Remember, you don’t need to have a religious leader to conduct a funeral or memorial service.

If you’re unsure what to do or didn’t have a chance to discuss this with the person who has died, you can get ideas from books or the internet. An undertaker can also guide you through issuing the death notices and planning the funeral service. You can also get information from the registrar.

People who have a spiritual or religious faith often have a clear idea of who they want to conduct the funeral and where they want the funeral or memorial service to take place. A funeral, religious or spiritual service can be held wherever you like, for example, in the person’s home or their favourite place. Services are often held in the church where the body will be buried or in the chapel next to a crematorium, but they can be held in other places if you prefer.

After the memorial service, the person’s body is cremated or buried.

Cremation

This takes place in a designated crematorium.

No one can be cremated until the cause of death is definitely known. The crematorium (or funeral director) usually requires:

  • An application form signed by the ‘next of kin’ or executor, and
  • 2 cremation certificates (the first signed by the treating doctor and another signed by a doctor not involved with the treatment of the person who has died), or
  • A cremation form signed by the coroner.

You have to pay for the cremation certificates signed by the 2 doctors. If the death is referred to the coroner, you do not need these 2 certificates. Instead, the coroner will give you a certificate for cremation which is free.

If the crematorium is satisfied that the cause of death has been confirmed and that all the forms have been completed correctly, the ‘medical referee’ will authorise cremation by signing a form. The medical referee does have the power to refuse the cremation and make further enquiries, but must give a reason to do so.

The person who has died may have discussed what they wanted done with their ashes. You can carry out these wishes when you’re ready. Options may be scattering the ashes in the garden of remembrance or their favourite place, bury them in a churchyard or cemetery, or keep them.

Burial

Before someone can be buried, you must have a death certificate signed by a doctor and a certificate for burial from the registrar of births and deaths.

Some people have already arranged a grave space a particular churchyard or cemetery so it is worth checking their will and looking through their papers.

There will be a ‘deed of grant’ which shows a grave space has been paid for in a cemetery. Most cemeteries are open to all faiths, so you can have most types of service or ceremony. These cemeteries are owned by local authorities or private companies and therefore have different fees. Some cemeteries and churchyards no longer have any space for new graves.

A burial is usually in a churchyard or other designated burial place. It’s also possible for people to be buried in other places, such as a garden. If you want to bury someone on a property that you own or in a place that they loved, you can get information from

If you and your relative or friend didn’t have the chance to discuss their choice of burial or cremation, and there’s a will, it’s important to consult the executor to see if the will contains this information. If you discussed plans for the funeral before their death, this makes it easier to be sure you’re arranging a service of remembrance that reflects the person’s wishes. Some people also have strong views on the clothes they want to be buried or cremated in.

Paying for the funeral

Funerals can be expensive. So remember to check where the money is coming from before making any arrangements. Otherwise, you may have to pay for the bill yourself.

If no one is able or willing to arrange and pay for the funeral, the local council, or in some cases, the health authority, may pay for the funeral, but only where the funeral has not already been arranged. Both the hospital and the local authority may make a claim on the person’s estate to pay for the funeral.

There may be money available to pay for the funeral from money the person has left behind (assets) or through schemes and pensions that they paid into during their life.

After someone dies, their bank account is ‘frozen’, unless it is a joint account. You may be able to use part of their savings to pay for the funeral. The bank will ask you to provide certain documents, which usually include the death certificate.

You should check the person’s papers for a certificate from the Cremation Society, their life insurance policy or funeral plan which had already been paid for. You should also look for letters from their past employers with details about any occupational pension scheme or personal pension. These might cover the cost of the funeral, and also provide other financial support for their surviving husband, wife or civil partner.

If the person was living in hospital or a residential care home, the hospital or home will hand over the person’s belongings (up to a figure fixed by the relevant local authority) to the nearest relative, or to the person who has written permission form whoever is dealing with the will.

Employer’s pension schemes or personal pension

Many employers provide pension schemes through work (occupational pension schemes) that pay a lump sum to help with funeral costs and sometimes pension benefits for a person’s surviving husband, wife or civil partner or even children. You should check to see if the person who died has ever belonged to this sort of scheme. They may have made their own arrangements if they were self-employed, or if their employer did not have an employer’s pension scheme.

If the person was getting a pension for a previous job, you should find out who is paying it. It might be the employer’s pension scheme or an insurance company. You should tell the representative from the pension scheme about the person’s death, and if the person has a surviving husband, wife or civil partner, dependent child or other dependent, because they may be able to get a pension. If they already receive a pension, they may be able to get more money.

You should find out if there was pension due to be paid when the person retired from a previous employer. If there is a pension, you should check who is responsible for paying it, for example the employer or an insurance company.

The Pension Tracing Service can help if you have any difficulty.

Phone: 0345 600 2537

Textphone: 0345 300 0169 (for people who find it hard to speak or hear clearly)

These lines are open Monday-Friday from 9am to 5pm

Website: www.direct.gov.uk/pensions

Other pensions and payments

There may be pensions or lump sums payable from a trade union, professional body or other association, or from a provident club which pays benefit when a member dies.

If the person was getting a benefit before they died, there may be some of that benefit still due. When you tell the Department of Work and Pensions (telephone: 0345 606 0265) about the person’s death, ask them to send you a form which you can use to claim any money owed.

If you are the executor, you will be paid this money. If there is no executor but you are paying the costs of the funeral, you can claim up to the cost of the funeral costs.

Life insurance policies

The person who died may have taken out a life insurance policy which pays a lump sum if someone dies before a certain age. The lump sum is usually paid after probate but the insurance company may pay out some money if they have proof that the person has died.

Funeral payments from the Social Fund

If you or your partner are on a low income and have to arrange a funeral, you may get some help with the costs.

This is a one-off, tax-free payment to help cover the necessary costs of a funeral.

A Funeral Payment can help to pay for a simple, respectful, low-cost funeral. This includes:

  • The necessary costs of burial or cremation fees
  • The cost of reopening a grace and burial costs, or
  • The cost of opening a news grace and burial costs, including any ‘exclusive rights of burial fee’ (this includes a reclaimed grave), and
  • Certain other expenses such as the cost of the death certificate and certain transport costs, and
  • Up to £700 for any other funeral expenses like funeral director’s fees, a coffin and flowers.

You must claim within 3 months of the date of the funeral.

You and your partner must get one of the following benefits.

  • Income support
  • Income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance
  • Income-related Employment and Support Allowance
  • Pension Credit
  • Working Tax Credit which includes a disability or severe disability element
  • Child Tax Credit at a rate higher than the family rate
  • Housing Benefit
  • Universal Credit

It must also be reasonable for you or your partner to pay for the funeral. The circumstances of other relatives of the person who has died may also be taken into account.

For financial help to be given, the person needs to have been living in the UK when they died and the funeral usually needs to be held in the UK.

If you get a Funeral Payment, you will have to pay this back from any estate of the person who has died. Their estate includes money, property and other thing that they have owned. (Any home that is still lived in by a surviving partner or personal things left to relatives do not form part of the estate.)

How do you claim?

You will need to fill in a claim form.

Go to www.gov.uk/browse/benefits and download the claim form SF200. Then print it out, fill it in by hand and post it to the address given. For more information contact Jobcentre Plus.

You could also contact the DWP Bereavement Service. 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.

Dealing with someone’s estate and belongings

The Will

Before you start dealing with someone’s property, you need to find out whether or not they left a will. If you can’t find a will, or can find only a copy, someone else may have it. This may be a bank, a solicitor, or the executor, and you should talk to them about it.

A will does not necessarily look like a legal document. Do not destroy any written instructions left by the person who has died, because these may be their will.

A will says what should happen to someone’s estate when they die. A will has to be drawn up in line with strict rules. You may need to get legal advice to check whether the document you have is ‘valid’ – that is, it meets the requirements of those rules. If the person died leaving a valid will, their estate must be dealt with as set out in the will.

If there is no will (or no valid will), the person is said to have died ‘intestate’. As a result, the estate much be dealt with in line with rules on ‘intestacy’, which set out who will inherit the estate, and how the estate will be shared if more than one person inherits.

Once someone has died, their money and belongings, or ‘estate’ will be legally passed on to someone else. If the person you were looking after made a will, the executor named in the will has the legal responsibility to carry out the wishes expressed in it.

You may have been appointed an executor, or it could be a relative, a friend or a professional person, such as a solicitor or accountant. There may be more than one executor.

There is a particular set of procedures to follow if no will has been made (called intestacy – see below).

An executor of the will has a series of responsibilities:

Applying for a grant of probate

This is the legal document that gives an executor the authority to deal with the finances and property of the deceased person. It’s issued by the Probate Registry.

A grant of probate may not be needed if the person’s assets are less than £5,000. It would also not be necessary if all their assets passed automatically to a joint owner of the assets.

If the deceased person had large assets or any property, it may be best for an executor to get help from a solicitor who can apply for the grant on their behalf. The Law Society website has a search facility to find a solicitor specialising in probate work.

If the executor applies for the grant of probate without the help of a solicitor, they will need to obtain forms from the Probate Registry. The forms are different, depending on whether it’s likely that Inheritance Tax will need to be paid or not (see below).

Establishing the total assets of the person who died

The executor will have to find details of all the deceased person’s assets, such as bank accounts, insurance policies or premium bonds. They will also need to establish details of all their liabilities, such as fuel and phone debts or credit card accounts. This will involve liaising with banks, utility companies and government departments, such as the Department for Work and Pensions.

In some cases, the executors will have to obtain valuations of assets, such as property and personal possessions. This involves valuing the assets owned by the person when they died, along with certain assets that may have been given away during the seven years before they died. Professional help with valuation could be required. For example, a surveyor may be needed to obtain the valuation of a property.

Paying the deceased’s debts

The executor is responsible for paying all the deceased’s debts out of the estate. This will include paying for funeral expenses.

At the same time, the executor is required to make sure that any money owing to the deceased is paid. For example, arrears of social security benefits may be owed.

Paying any tax owed, such as Inheritance Tax

Inheritance Tax is paid when the value of the estate, after any exemptions, is more than £325,000. In 2010, the government announced that this threshold will stay at £325,000 until 2014.

Distributing assets to beneficiaries, in accordance with the will

The beneficiaries are the people named in the will as those who the deceased person wished to give their money, property or personal possessions to.

The executor has the legal responsibility of ensuring that the assets are distributed according to the deceased person’s wishes.

If you need to talk to someone about any of these issues, you may find it helpful to contact the Probate and Inheritance Tax helpline on 0300 123 1072 or look at the website: www.gov.uk/inheritance-tax

Intestacy

If the person you were looking after has died and didn’t make a valid will, they are described as dying ‘intestate’. If you want to talk to someone about any of these issues, you can contact the Probate and Inheritance Tax helpline on 0300 123 1072.

If you think the deceased person may have made a will but you can’t find it, there are several steps you can take:

  • search for any evidence that they made a will, such as a letter from a solicitor, or contact their solicitor or bank
  • apply to the Safe Custody wills register to see if they have the deceased person’s will
  • place advertisements in newspapers and legal journals

To apply to the Safe Custody wills register, you need to write to:

Safe Custody Clerk
Record Keeper’s Department
First Avenue House
42-49 High Holborn
London
WC1V 6NP

Your letter should explain that you’re asking for a search to be made of the Safe Custody wills register. You must include an official copy of the deceased person’s death certificate (or a photocopy that’s been certified by a solicitor).

Getting permission to deal with the estate

If no will can be found, a close relative will have the legal right to apply to the Probate Service for a ‘grant of representation (or probate for short). This is the legal document that gives someone authority to deal with the finances and property of the deceased person. It’s issued by the Probate Registry.

There are rules that state the priority of different relatives. In some cases, the Probate Registry would need to decide who can apply for the grant.

A grant may not be necessary if the assets of the person who has died are less than £5,000. It would also not be necessary if all their assets passed automatically to a surviving partner. It would also not be necessary if all their assets passed automatically to a joint owner of the assets.

How to apply for a grant of probate

If the deceased person had large assets or any property, it may be best to get some help from a solicitor who can apply for the grant on their behalf.

If a person applies for the grant of probate without the help of a solicitor, they will need to obtain forms from the Probate Service. The forms are different depending on whether or not it’s likely that inheritance tax will need to be paid (see above).

The person who receives the grant is called the administrator of the estate.

Establishing the total assets of the person who died

The administrator will need to find details of all the deceased’s assets, such as bank accounts, insurance policies and premium bonds. They will also need to establish details of all their liabilities, such as fuel and phone bills and credit card accounts. This will involve liaising with banks, utility companies and government departments such as the Department for Work and Pensions.

In some cases, the administrator will have to obtain valuations of assets, such as property and personal possessions. This involves valuing not only assets that the deceased owned at their death, but also certain assets that may have been given away during the seven years before they died. Professional help with valuation could be required. For example, a surveyor may be needed to obtain a valuation of a property.

Paying the deceased’s debts

The administrator is responsible for paying all the deceased’s debts out of the estate. This will include paying for funeral expenses.

At the same time, the executor is required to make sure that any money owing to the deceased is paid. For example, there may be arrears of social security benefits owing.

Distributing the estate

If there’s no will, the estate has to be distributed according to certain legal rules. Under the rules, the people who can inherit will either be:

  • a spouse or civil partner of the person who died
  • relatives of the person who died

If the estate is £250,000 or less, a spouse or civil partner inherits the whole amount.

If the estate is more than £250,000, and the deceased person had children, their spouse or civil partner will inherit £250,000, and the remainder will be divided between the spouse or civil partner and the children.
If the estate is more than £250,000 and the deceased person had no children, their spouse or civil partner can inherit assets of up to £450,000, with the remainder being divided between them and other relatives.

If the deceased person had children but no surviving spouse or civil partner, the children will inherit the whole estate. If there are two or more children, the estate will be divided equally between them.
There are some people who don’t have a right to inherit from someone who died without making a will. These include:

  • a partner who wasn’t married to, or in a civil partnership with, the person who died
  • relations by marriage
  • any other friends or carers who aren’t related to the person who died

This can be a very complex area and it can be sensible to get specialist legal advice.

Things to return

You should return the following items, with a note to explain what has happened and the date the person died.

  • Any forms or cheques issued as part of a benefit claim. You should send these to the Jobcentre which issued them. This also applies to Child Benefit payments which include payment for a child who has died. Jobcentre Plus should not make payments after someone has died. It may be useful to keep a record of any benefits before you send anything back.
  • The person’s passport. You should send this to the Identity and Passport Service for to cancel. Before posting it, please cut off the top right-hand corner of the passport. The Passport Office will give you advice on where to send the passport.

Phone: 0300 222 0000
Website: www.ips.gov.uk

The person’s driving licence. You should send this to:

The Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency
Longview Road
Swanea
SA6 7JL

  • The registration documents for the person’s car, to record who now owns the car.
  • Membership cards of any clubs, associations or trade union.
  • Library books and tickets
  • National Insurance papers. You should send these to the relevant HM Revenue & Customs office.
  • Any NHS equipment such as wheelchairs, hearing aids or artificial limbs.
  • Disabled parking permit. You should return the disk to the local authority.

You will also need to contact the Bereavement Register to remove their name from mailing lists. Go to their website at www.the-bereavement-register.org.uk

You should also cancel things like the person’s home-help services, meals on wheels, gas, water or electricity.

People to tell

You should tell:

  • Any hospital the person was going to for their medical appointments
  • Their doctor
  • HM Revenue and Customs
  • Jobcentre Plus or The Pension Service (if the person was getting a benefit or State Pension)
  • The person’s employer and trade union (if they were working)
  • The person’s school or college (if they were in education)
  • The person’s car insurance company (if you are insured to drive the care under the person’s name, you may not still be legally insured to drive the car)
  • Gas, electricity and telephone suppliers
  • Their local council (you may need to tell more than one department in the council, such as the housing, social services or council tax departments)
  • The person’s bank, building society or insurance company, and
  • The Post Office so that they can redirect the person’s post if necessary.

What benefits are there to help me after someone dies?

If someone in your family dies, it can cause money problems. This may only be for a short time, while you wait for their estate to be distributed, or you may need long-term help.

If you are widowed or become a surviving civil partner, there are different kinds of benefits you can get. In Barnsley there is a Welfare Rights Service. The Welfare Rights Service offers help to Barnsley residents with all aspects of claiming benefits. The service offers free, confidential and impartial advice and aims to ensure that everyone receives their full entitlement from the Social Security system.

The Welfare Rights Service in Barnsley has many years’ experience in all aspects of Social Security law. The team has different back grounds and work experience and shares the commitment of ensuring the people of Barnsley receive the best possible service when they need it most.

If you require any help or assistance from the Welfare Rights service please contact us:

E-mail: welfarerightsteam@barnsley.gov.uk
Telephone the advice line: 01226 772360

Opening times

Monday
9:00 – 4:45

Tuesday
9:00 – 4:45

Wednesday
9:00 – 4:45

Thursday
9:00 – 4:45

Friday
9:00 – 4:15

By writing or sending documents to:

Welfare Rights,
Adults and Communities Directorate,
PO Box 634,
Barnsley,
S70 9GG

Or by making an appointment at one of the offices.

Emotions – how grief might affect you

Grief is a normal response to loss. When someone close to you dies you may experience difficult feelings which will be unique to you. You may feel confused or overwhelmed by your thoughts and feelings. There are no specific guidelines or instructions for grieving, no right or wrong way to grieve.

Everyone experiences grief in a different way, but there are stages that can be anticipated and these are listed below. People often move backwards and forwards between these stages with the level of intensity, timing and time limits as well as the order of how these stages happen, being unpredictable.

  • numbness
  • denial, anger and guilt
  • pining or yearning
  • depression
  • gradual recovery and acceptance

Grief is an extremely painful experience and at times you may feel frightened, alone or in despair. This can happen even if you have a supportive family or friends or professional support.

Emotional effects

Immediately after the death, and for some time afterwards, you may feel numb. You may find it hard to believe that the person is dead. It’s common to feel angry that the person has died. The anger may be directed at the person themselves for leaving you, or at other people, such as family members or health professionals, for not being able to stop them from dying.

The feeling of missing the person can be overwhelming. Some people continue to have a strong sense of their presence.

Some people have vivid dreams. These are normal experiences, which can sometimes be difficult and unpleasant or you may have times of anxiety and distress, where you miss the person and sob or cry aloud for them. Memories or thoughts can trigger the distress even months or years afterwards.

Talking through your feelings at this time may be helpful.

If you have young children and teenagers, they will also experience a range of emotions. This can depend on the age of the child and their relationship with the person who has died.

A young child can find it hard to grasp the difference between being dead and being alive, you might have to revisit this.

Try to use real words such as “died” and “death”. For all it may seem kinder to use phrases like “grandpa has gone to sleep for a very long time…” it can confuse a child.

After you’ve told the child the news they may show signs of being distressed, have nervous giggles or they may look blank as though nothing has happened. All of these reactions are normal.

Where there are parts you are unsure of yourself, be honest with the child and tell them that. Let them know that as soon as you find out you will tell them.

Some children may keep asking questions, or repeat the same one. Keep in mind that this is how young children make sense of things and try not to get frustrated if you find you are explaining the same things time and again. This can be hard when you’re coping with your own grief. Young children can find coping with the death of a parent particularly difficult at a time when they’re also coping with other changes in their lives.

If you have an older child or teenager, they may find it helpful to join an online forum for bereaved young people. Organisations such as RD4U and Winston’s Wish have forums where children and teenagers can chat to others or just share their feelings.

Physical effects

When someone close to you has died, it’s also common to have physical symptoms for some time afterwards. These can be distressing and sometimes overwhelming. Physical reactions are normal and can include headaches, dizziness, and a dry mouth, feeling weak, tightness in the chest and throat, breathlessness and feeling sick. It would be impossible to include a complete list and you may describe other symptoms or not experience any of them at all. Again we are all unique and although these are common aspects of grief, it will feel different for everyone. However, if you do feel physically unwell or more concerned about your physical or emotional symptoms, please seek advice from your GP.

It may be helpful at this time to be patient and kind to yourself, allowing space and time to grieve. Sometimes it may be helpful to look at the expectations that you have for yourself and think about delaying making important decisions. Grieving can be exhausting, and allowing time for rest can be helpful.

Practical help

On the first day or so after the death, while you’re probably feeling numb, you may need plenty of practical help to do important tasks such as registering the death, arranging the funeral and coping with visitors. You may also need to spend some time on your own, coming to terms with what has happened.

After the funeral

The period of time after the funeral, when everyone has gone home and you’re expected to get on with your own life, can be the hardest. It’s a good idea to try not to do too much too soon. You may need time to get used to your loss and the changes this has brought about. It’s important to take time to look after yourself.

Don’t be afraid to show your emotions during the grieving process. It’s perfectly natural to cry when you’re thinking and talking about your loved one, and this can help you feel better. Some cultures have specific practices to follow, which can help to mark each phase of the bereavement process after a person’s death.

The grieving process is different for everyone and very personal. Sometimes, it can be hard to tell if your feelings and emotions are normal. You may find that you get stuck at one stage of the grieving process.

Soon after a person’s death you may feel that you’ll never be able to live your life normally again. These feelings may reduce over time.

You will never forget the person and will always have memories of them. But people are usually able to get on with life again after a while and are able to enjoy activities and make plans for the future.

A very small number of people develop suicidal thoughts as part of the grieving process. If you have suicidal thoughts, don’t be afraid to discuss them with your GP or a trusted friend or relative. You may need expert counselling and possibly medicines to help you feel better.

It’s common for feelings of grief to be brought up again at particular times. This may happen on the anniversary of the person’s death or on birthdays and anniversaries. At these times you may feel many conflicting emotions and may like to do something to remember the person that has a meaning. If you have children or teenagers, remember to include them in the plans, they may have their own ideas of how they can celebrate a parent, grandparent or a loved one’s life.

You’ll know the best way to remember them.

What Bereavement services are there in Barnsley?

There are many organisations, such as online support from Cruse Bereavement Care.

Barnsley Hospice provides bereavement support for the families of people who have used their services. Barnsley Hospice can be contacted on 01226 244244.

Barnsley Bereavement Support Service offers free confidential help from trained volunteers to those who cannot come to terms with their bereavement. It is available to all those who live in the Barnsley district. Their contact number is (01226) 200565 and they invite you to self-refer.

Your GP can put you in touch with a local bereavement counselling services if you’d like more formal one-to-one counselling. This service is available 12 months into your bereavement.

What to do after a death in England or Wales
www.gov.uk

Deaths, funerals and cremations
www.barnsley.gov.uk