Death and bereavement

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A list of resources and support to help in times of bereavement.

If the death occurs in hospital

If the death occurs in hospital, the hospital staff will contact the person named by the deceased as next of kin. This may be, but need not be a relative. The hospital will keep the body in the hospital mortuary until the executor arranges for it to be taken away.

Most funeral directors have a chapel of rest in which the deceased will be held pending the funeral. The hospital will arrange for the nearest relative to collect the deceased's possessions.

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If the death occurs elsewhere

Expected Death

If the death was expected, contact the doctor who attended the deceased during their final illness. If the doctor can certify the cause of death he or she will give you the following:

  • A Medical Certificate that shows the cause of death (this is free of charge and will be in a sealed envelope addressed to the registrar)

  • A Formal Notice that states that the doctor has signed the Medical Certificate and tells you how to get the death registered 

  • You may wish to contact the deceased's minister of religion if you have not already done so. 

It is normal for arrangements for the funeral to be made via a funeral director, however, if you choose to, you can arrange it yourself.


If you discover a body or the death is sudden or unexpected, you should contact the following people:

  • The family doctor (if known). Visit the NHS website for a list of GP's

  • The deceased's nearest relative

  • The deceased's minister of religion

  • The police, who will help find the people listed above if necessary

If there is any reason to suspect that the death was not due to natural causes, do not touch or remove anything from the room. The death may be referred to the coroner. The doctor may ask the relatives for permission to carry out a post-mortem examination. This is a medical examination of the body which can find out more about the cause of the death and should not delay the funeral.

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How do I contact the Coroners Office in Hertfordshire?

The Coroners Office

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Registering a death

The death must be registered in the District Register Office where it occurred. The contact details and opening times for the Registrar are as follows:

Claire Cook
St Albans Register Office
The Gatehouse
1 Victoria Square
Victoria Street
St Albans
Herts
AL1 3TF

Tel: 0300 123 4045

Opening times:
Monday to Thursday - 9.00am to 12.30pm and 1.30pm to 5.00pm
Friday - 9.00am to 12.30pm and 1.00pm to 4.00pm
Strictly by appointment only.

If you want to know more about registering a death then go the the Hertfordshire County Council website.

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Funeral arrangements

When the death certificate has been issued by the Registrar, you will also be given a certificate authorising the funeral.The choice of a firm of funeral directors is important as you should feel comfortable and confident with them. They may be known to you personally, may be recommended by a friend, your GP or religious adviser or may just have a good reputation in your area.

Your funeral director can make all the arrangements for the funeral, burial or cremation, religious or secular service. The funeral director can also advise on all the procedures and documents needed to register the death.


If you are considering a headstone most cemeteries will advise to wait for a period of approximately 12 months before placing it. However, we suggest you contact your preferred choice of monumental mason as soon as possible to avoid any unnecessary delay after this waiting period.

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Non-Christian and minority group funerals

A brief word on the practices of other faiths is included below.

Muslims

Most Muslim communities appoint 1 person who is responsible for making funeral arrangements. It will be their job to advise of the rules and to select a suitable funeral director.

Hindus

Hindus are always cremated, and never buried. There are many possible variations of rites which depend on their form of Hinduism.
The Asian Funeral Service can give advice on and arrange Hindu Funerals. They can be contacted on 020 8909 3737 or by email asianfuneralservice@btinternet.com

Jews

Jewish funerals are usually arranged by a dedicated Jewish Funeral Agency, or the local community may have a contract with a Gentile funeral service, which will be carried out under strict rabbinical control.

The Jewish Bereavement Counselling Service offers support and can be contacted on 0208 951 3881 or by email enquiries@jbcs.org.uk

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Non-religious services

There is no requirement to have a religious ceremony, or any kind of ceremony at all at a funeral. People who have made a decision to live their lives without religion may prefer a Humanist Ceremony.

This type of ceremony is not intended to oppose a religious funeral, but to provide a dignified and respectful celebration of the death that has occurred.

At this type of funeral the services of an officiant, on the lines of a minister or celebrant are commonly employed. They will conduct the proceedings which can involve readings of appropriate prose, tributes by attendees or the officiant and the playing of appropriate music.

If you don't want a ceremony at all, members of the family or close friends can attend the committal, which can be in silence or with some music being played.

Please see the Hertfordshire County Council Civil Funerals web page and a listing of Humanist Funeral Celebrants.

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Legal advice

If you have any difficulty in dealing with the deceased's property, possessions or guardianship of their children, get advice from a solicitor or Citizens Advice Bureau as soon as possible.

From the Citizens Advice Bureau (or their website) you can get the leaflets Legal Aid Guide and Getting Legal Help from a Citizens Advice Bureau, public library, police station or a court, to find out if you can get legal aid.

These places also hold a list of local solicitors which shows whether they take legal aid cases and if they specialise in probate work. Again you can search for local solicitors using the Online Yellow Pages.

The Legal Services Commission website also contains leaflets and other useful information.

Many solicitors are prepared to offer up to ½ hour of legal advice for a small fee, some even offer a free initial consultation to discuss your situation.

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What is probate and do I need it?

The word 'probate' is often misunderstood. It conjures up images of months of difficulty and delay. This is not always the case and many simple probates are finished quite easily in a month or so.

What is it?

Putting it simply, a probate is a piece of paper, nothing more. It is a document issued by the Probate Registry confirming that an executor has the right to wind up an estate of the person who has died.

The 'estate' is the house, money and savings left by someone when they pass away. The 'executor' is the person chosen in the Will to sort out the estate and make sure it goes to the people named in the Will.

Do I have to have it?

This depends upon the size of the estate. Quiet often, when the estate is very small no probate is needed.
How do I get it?

By filling in some forms. If the estate is small the forms do not have to give full details of it. The important form is the 'Executors Oath'. This is not usually available from stationery shops but can be found in books about probate. It has to be sworn as being true.

For more information on Probate, including application forms, fees etc, visit the Court Service website.

Do I have to use a solicitor?

No, but it helps. You can also apply direct to the Probate Registry yourself. Most solicitors offer probate services and their fees depend upon the amount of work necessary and the size of the estate. Always ask them first.

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Wills

In order for a will to be valid, it must be:

  • Made by a person who is 18 years old or over

  • Made voluntarily and without pressure from any other person

  • Made by a person who is of sound mind. This means that she/he is fully aware of the nature of the document s/he is writing or signing and aware of her/his property and the identify of the people who may inherit; and in writing

  • Signed by the person making the will in the presence of 2 witnesses; and

  • Signed by the 2 witnesses, in the presence of the person making the will, after s/he has signed. A witness or the married partner of a witness cannot benefit from a will. If a witness is a beneficiary (or the married partner of a beneficiary), the will is still valid but the beneficiary will not be able to inherit under the will

Although it will be legally valid even if it is not dated, it is advisable to ensure that the will also includes the date on which it is signed.

As soon as the will is signed and witnessed, it is complete. Please see the section on wills on the Herts County website for more information. 
 
What if there is no Will?

Speak to a solicitor - it is safer in the long run because various laws affect who is entitled to wind up the estate and receive the money.

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Tax

If the person who died was paying tax on income from investments or as a self employed person or as an employee, tell the tax office about the death as soon as possible. This will enable the deceased's tax affairs to be settled. Depending on circumstances, this may involve some more tax or claiming a repayment.

The particular tax office to contact will depend upon the deceased's circumstances.

For instance:

  • If the deceased was an employee or had a pension from a former employer, the pay section of the employer or pension organisation will know the deceased's tax office

  • If the deceased was self-employed, contact the tax office nearest to the place of business

  • If the deceased was unemployed, or retired without pension from a former employer, contact the tax office nearest to the home address

Inland Revenue leaflet IR45:What to do about tax when someone dies gives more information. Alternatively, further information, and copies of IR45 leaflet are available at the Inland Revenues Website


Further advice is available at www.gov.uk


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Independent financial advice

Professional advice on financial matters can be obtained from a variety of sources:

  • a Bank or Building Society may be able to offer you assistance regarding investments etc., however, they will generally only be able to recommend their own policies and investment opportunities 

  • An Independent Financial Adviser will be able to search around for the best investments, savings, life assurance, mortgages etc, to suit your individual needs. It makes sense to contact an Independent Financial Adviser so that you can make comparisons on all the different options that are available

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Date of last review: 06 February 2013