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Dealing with a death

Coping with family life after the death of someone close to you or your children can be incredibly difficult. 

You’ll no doubt have practical arrangements to make – and also be dealing with your family’s grief at the same time. This page gives advice and guidance that you might find useful in dealing with a death.

Getting emotional support

What to do and when – quick guide

Talking to family and friends

Taking time off work

Registering the death

Letting the government know

Telling other organisations

Arranging the funeral

Dealing with the estate

Getting financial help

If you need to speak to someone, either for emotional or practical support, you can talk to us.

Getting emotional support

It’s important to get support for yourself, as well as supporting your children. Take time to talk with your children about your own feelings, as well as theirs. You’ll probably all be dealing with lots of changes to your daily lives, and this can be extremely unsettling.

The advice here is for you as a parent. We have another page especially for children who have lost a parent

As well as the emotional support options we’ve suggested here for you and your family, you might want to find in-person support where you live. Your doctor should be able to help you do this, or you can check the Good Grief Trust.

Looking after your family

Every child reacts differently to loss, but spending time together as a family will help you understand what your children need. Here are a few organisations that specialise in helping families find their feet again after a death:

Looking after yourself

You might feel that you don’t need support outside of your family and friends. But some people find it helpful to talk to someone removed from the situation. If you think grief counselling might be useful, speak to your GP about a referral. You can also get low-cost or free counselling through organisations such as the National Bereavement Partnership, Sue Ryder or Cruse.

You might also want to look at:

What to do and when – quick guide

A checklist of important tasks when a partner dies. There’s a very helpful step-by-step guide on what to do when someone dies on gov.uk, and Citizens Advice also has useful information on what to do after a death.

Right away
  • Tell friends and family 
  • Tell their employer 
  • Arrange time off work 
Within a few days
  • Register the death within 5 days
  • Buy extra death certificates when you register  
  • Make funeral arrangements (unless there’s an inquest, which can delay things) 
  • Tell the government about the death using Tell Us Once – this will notify any government organisation that needs to know
Within a couple of weeks
  • Contact other organisations, like: 
    • Banks
    • Pension scheme providers 
    • Insurance companies 
    • Mortgage provider, housing association or council housing office 
    • Utility companies 
    • GP, dentist, optician and anyone else providing medical care 
    • Mobile phone company 
    • Anyone they made regular payments to (like subscription services, charities) 
    • The Bereavement Register to take their name off mailing lists
  • Claim financial support 
    • Benefits, including bereavement support 
    • Life insurance 
Later on
  • Deal with their estate 

Talking to friends and family

You’ll obviously be talking to your children about what happened, which will be hard. Do your best to use plain language, be honest, and encourage questions. Try to answer their questions as honestly as you can. Avoid euphemisms (like passed away or no longer with us) – this kind of language can be confusing, especially for young children. 

When it comes to telling people in general, you don’t have to do this yourself. You can ask a relative or close friend to do this for you, so that you can focus on yourself and your children. Some people want to call close friends and relatives individually, and sometimes people send out a group text message or email to more distant friends and family. Marie Curie has helpful guidance around breaking the news that someone has died

Taking time off work

You’ll no doubt want to be with your children after the death of their other parent. Talk to your employer to see if they offer extra time off as part of your contract. This is called compassionate leave and might be paid. There’s no legal right to compassionate leave, but many employers offer it. If yours doesn’t, you could ask for paid annual leave or think about taking sick leave if you’re not ready to go back to work. 

You might also need to think about changing your work patterns to adapt to your new circumstances. See our page on your right to time off work for advice on negotiating with your employer. 

Registering the death

Deaths usually have to be registered within 5 days (including bank holidays and weekends) at the nearest register office. This usually has to be done by a relative of the person who died. Gov.uk’s page on registering a death talks you through how to do this. 

When you go to the register office, you’ll need to take the medical certificate showing the cause of death, signed by a doctor. If possible, also take the person’s: 

  • Birth certificate 
  • NHS medical card or number 
  • Marriage or civil partnership certificate 
  • Driving licence 
  • Council Tax bill
  • Passport
  • Proof of address

You’ll have to tell the registrar: 

  • The person’s full name (and any other names they had, such as a maiden name) 
  • Their date and place of birth 
  • Their date and place of death 
  • Their usual address 
  • Their most recent occupation 
  • Whether or not they were getting any benefits, including State Pension
  • The name, occupation, and date of birth of their spouse or civil partner 

When you register a death you’ll get: 

  • A Certificate for Burial or Cremation (the ‘green form’) – you’ll need this for the funeral director or crematorium 
  • A Certificate of Registration of Death (form BD8) – you may need to fill this in and return it if the person was getting benefits or a State Pension (the form will come with a pre-paid envelope so you know where to send it)

Sometimes a death is reported to the coroner – when it was sudden with no obvious cause or due to something like an accident, overdose or suicide. This may mean you need different documents to register the death. You can find out more about this on gov.uk’s page on when a death is reported to a coroner and on the Coroners’ Courts Support Service.

It’s a good idea to buy extra death certificates. You’ll need these for dealing with the will and claiming things like pensions and savings. It’s best to pay for several copies when you register, as it might be more expensive to buy them later.

Letting the government know

You’ll need to tell government organisations and the local council as soon as possible after you get the death certificate. You only have to do this once, using the Tell Us Once service. The details you share there will be passed to any government department that needs to know.   

This may seem like a formality, but it’s important to let the government know so they can deal with the taxes and benefits of the person who died. It can also help to make sure you’re getting the financial support you should be. 

When you register the death, the registrar will either complete the Tell Us Once service with you, or give you a reference number so you can use the service online or over the phone.  

You’ll need to have this information to hand: 

  • The name, date of birth, address and date of death of the person who’s died 
  • The name and address of the hospital, care home, or hospice if they died there 
  • Your details as next of kin, including your date of birth, address, and if possible National Insurance number
  • The details of the person or company dealing with the estate (property, belongings and money) 

Other useful information to have:

  • Their National Insurance number
  • Their passport information
  • Their driving license number
  • Their vehicle registration

If the person who died was claiming benefits, you may be asked about the name of their council and what benefits they were claiming. 

Telling other organisations

The person who died will have other life admin that will need dealing with. While you don’t need to do this right away, it’s better to take care of things like this sooner rather than later, especially when finances are involved.  

You might have to contact their:

  • Banks
  • Pension scheme providers 
  • Insurance provider 
  • Mortgage provider, housing association or council housing office 
  • Utility companies 
  • GP, dentist, optician and anyone else providing medical care 
  • Mobile phone company 
  • Subscription services (like newspapers, Netflix or Sky)

It might be good to make a list of these and work through them a few at a time. 

Arranging the funeral

The person who died might have left funeral instructions in their will or a ‘letter of wishes’. If you don’t know what they wanted to happen, the decision will be down to you or the executor of their will (the person responsible for dealing with their affairs). 

The body will need to be cremated or buried and you’ll need to decide what type of funeral or ceremony to have, if any. You can get either a funeral director to help you plan things or arrange things yourself.

Using a funeral director

Always check that the people you talk to are registered with at least one of the following organisations. 

It’s a good idea to get more than one quote. Ask for an itemised quote which includes: 

  • The funeral director’s services 
  • A coffin 
  • Moving the person who died from the place of death, and caring for them until the funeral 
  • Travel to the nearest crematorium or cemetery 
  • All necessary arrangements and paperwork 

There may be extra charges for things like the crematorium, clergy or celebrant. The funeral director may ask for these fees to be paid up front. 

Arranging the funeral yourself

You don’t have to use a funeral director – you can do it yourself. DIY funerals can be less expensive and more environmentally friendly, as well as more personal and intimate.

Contact your local council if you want to arrange a funeral in your local cemetery or crematorium. 

Paying for the funeral

Funerals can be expensive. Start by checking whether the person who died had a funeral plan to pay for their funeral. If you don’t know whether they did, check their will or use the Funeral Planning Authority’s search

If there’s no funeral plan, the cost will usually be paid out of the person’s estate (the money, property or assets they left). Funeral costs take precedence over other debts. Even if the person’s bank or building society account has been frozen, it may be possible to have funds released by showing the death certificate. Or the person may have had a life insurance policy or pension scheme that will pay out money towards funeral costs.

If there’s a delay in releasing any money, you (or other family and friends) may need to cover the funeral costs until the person’s estate has been sorted out.

If the person who died didn’t leave enough money for a funeral and you need to pay for it, think carefully about what you can afford. MoneyHelper has information on how much a funeral may cost and how to keep costs down.

Help with funeral costs

If you’re going to struggle to cover funeral expenses because of your income, you might be able to get a Funeral Payment to help with the cost. To qualify you have to be getting a benefit, like Universal Credit, and meet certain rules about how you’re related to the person who died. 

If you don’t qualify for a Funeral Payment – or it doesn’t cover the costs of the funeral – you might be able to get a Budgeting Advance or Budgeting Loan. These are interest-free loans of between £100 and £1500 that you repay from your benefits within 1 year (for a Budgeting Advance) or 2 years (for a Budgeting Loan). 

Dealing with the estate

The money, property, possessions, and debts left behind when someone dies is called their estate. This will need to be taken care of.

If there’s a will

If the person who died had a will, this explains what should happen to their estate. The will should also say who the executors are – the people who should sort out the estate.

These people will often (but not always) have to apply for the right to deal with the estate – this is known as ‘probate’. You can find out more about applying for probate on gov.uk. 

If there isn’t a will

If there’s no will, the person is said to have died ‘intestate’. There are different rules for how to handle their estate (called the rules of intestacy). The closest living relative can apply for the right to deal with the estate – called probate. More about applying for probate.

In general, the spouse or civil partner automatically inherits all their personal possessions and the first £270,000 of their estate. The spouse or civil partner is also entitled to half of the rest of the estate, with the other half divided equally between their children. 

The rules for handing estates with no wills are complicated. If you’re dealing with things yourself, it’s a good idea to get a legal expert to help you. See our page on getting legal help for how to go about this. 

Getting financial help

Coping financially can be a huge worry after the death of a partner. It can be daunting to think about how you’ll manage on your own. There is support available, so try to make sure you get all the financial help you can for you and your family. 

Bereavement Benefits

If you were living with, married to or in a civil partnership with your partner when they passed away, you should be able to get a Bereavement Support Payment.

If you were getting Child Benefit or pregnant when your partner died, you’ll get the higher rate of Bereavement Support Payment. This includes a first payment of £3,500 followed by up to 18 monthly payments of £350. Otherwise, you should be entitled to a first payment of £2,500 and up to 18 monthly payments of £100.

You can apply for this support online or by calling the Bereavement Service helpline on 0800 151 2012. You can also download a form to apply by post

Try to apply within the first 3 months of your partner dying. You’ll lose 1 monthly payment for every month you apply after this. You have to apply within 12 months of your partner’s death to get the initial payment of £3,500. However, special rules apply if you were living with your partner and weren’t married or in a civil partnership and they died before the 9th February 2023. 

You can only claim Bereavement Support Payment if your partner died on or after 6 April 2017. If they died before this, you may be able to claim Widowed Parent’s Allowance instead. 

If you were living with your partner at the time of their death and couldn’t clair Bereavement Support Payment or Widowed Parent’s Allowance because you weren’t married or in a civil partnership, you may now be able to make a claim. This is due to a change in the law on 9 February 2023.  

You have until 8 November 2024 to put in a claim, and the amount you can get reduces as that date approaches. You can find information about this, and about whether a backdated payment may affect other benefits, tax credits or tax on the Childhood Bereavement Network’s Website.  


Other benefits

You may be able to claim other benefits due to the change in your circumstances. 

Our benefits calculator will help you check what you’re entitled to. And if you’d like to talk about your situation with an expert adviser, you can call our helpline.

Date last updated: 24 April 2024

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