It goes without saying that your relative’s death is an emotional and stressful time. It is unfortunate therefore that such an event brings with it certain responsibilities for those left behind. Next of kin have several legal and practical obligations in the immediate aftermath. This blog seeks to outline some of the most pressing. We hope that it will provide a useful aide memoire and grant relatives peace of mind, at least knowing that they have fulfilled those immediate obligations.
The first few days
The first thing to know is that the death must be registered. You will need a certificate from the deceased’s GP or hospital, which you must take to the registry office within 5 days of the death.
Depending on the deceased’s circumstances, there are some immediate practical steps to take. If they lived alone, make sure the property is secure, arrange for post to be collected, plants to be watered, and any pets to be cared for. You can notify the police, if you wish, and ask them to keep an eye on the property.
It is now common to note many personal wishes within a Lasting Will & Testament. These can include the way in which the deceased would like their funeral to take place, such as whether they wanted to be buried or cremated? It is important to establish whether a Will is in existence as this can help give instruction and make a difficult period for the next of kin slightly easier.
If they were employed, then the employer or employers need to be notified.
The next crucial activity surrounds the funeral. If the deceased left funeral plan, it is vital that this is found to understand their wishes. Did they want to be buried or cremated?
Through a funeral director, you need to book the venue, after asking any officiating clergy when they are available. You also need to book the location for the wake, as well as any additional catering that is required. You should also make contact with a florist.
Having got a date, a time and the venues for the funeral service and the wake, you should then notify relatives and friends without delay. Obviously, the more notice that you give them, the more likely they are to be able to attend.
Deciding whom to notify can be tricky: most of your relative’s closest friends and relations will be known to you, but their addresses may not be in your address book or phone. If you can find the deceased’s address book or digital records, these can be invaluable. And nowadays, it is quite acceptable to tell people of a death by email, although black-edged cards are also available, should you want to send these more formal messages to some or all of the appropriate people.
Someone close to the deceased will need to write a eulogy, or talk to the person who will deliver the eulogy at the funeral service.
After the funeral
Those are the time critical activities. You will find that you are quite busy enough co-ordinating with the funeral invitees in the time between the death and the service, not to need any more to do.
Probate should be started once the funeral is over, but there is no hurry for this. It is obviously very helpful if the deceased’s will was up to date, and also if they kept their affairs in good order, so all paperwork is easy to find. This would include bank accounts, other savings, shares, property and so on.
Many areas have a ‘Tell us once’ service, where you are able, for example, to give the Department for Work and Pensions notification of the death, and they will pass the information on to organisations such as HMRC, DVLA, Passport Office and the local council.
It can take months, even years, to sort out all of the affairs – to sell property, for example – so there is no need to worry about this before the funeral. Once the dust has settled after that day, and the immediate shock of the death is perhaps receding, a solicitor can advise on the necessary course of action with regard to the estate.
Taking the necessary steps in the first few days is crucial. Once the death is registered and the funeral arranged and communicated to family and friends, you are free of those practical responsibilities to focus back on the emotions that the death will naturally have inspired.