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Practical Steps To Take When Someone Dies

When someone dies, many decisions and arrangements need to be made. Dealing with the practicalities can feel overwhelming. It is important to take some time to gather your thoughts, to cry or to talk. You might find it helpful to seek support from another family member or someone outside the family whom you trust.

Your funeral director or faith representative can help you plan the funeral.

If healthcare staff or your funeral director needs to be aware of any specific religious or cultural requirements in caring for your loved one after death, do let them know as soon as possible.

On this page you will find the following steps, please click on one to scroll directly to it;

 

First Steps

When Someone Dies

When someone dies a doctor, or in some cases a nurse, will confirm that the person has died. If the death has been sudden or not due to natural causes, the doctor will notify the coroner.

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Medical Certificate of Cause of Death

The Medical Certificate of Cause of Death (MCCD) will be completed by a doctor when the deceased died of natural causes and the doctor can state the cause of death. The Independent Medical Examiner will then contact the doctor and, on occasion, the next of kin to discuss the cause of death recorded on the MCCD.

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Burial or Cremation

The deceased’s next of kin will usually contact a funeral director for further assistance with regard to arrangements for burial.

If cremation has been chosen the doctor should be informed as soon as possible as an additional form will be required. The funeral director will also offer further assistance with arrangements.

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Release of Body

If your loved one died in hospital, their body will be released once the Medical Certificate of Cause of Death has been completed. This may take some time, as legally it can only be completed by the appropriate doctor. You should only make provisional funeral arrangements until this becomes available.

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Registering the Death

The death should be registered at a General Registrar’s office to allow arrangements to be made for the funeral except when the matter has been referred to the coroner. For more information on a Coroner’s Post-mortem Examination click here.

 

Your Loved One’s Belongings

When people die in a place other than their own home they will usually have personal items with them. Nursing staff can assist you to gather your loved one’s belongings. If there are things which you do not wish to take home and keep, nursing staff can arrange for their disposal. Coming back to collect personal belongings can be a difficult experience therefore it is best to take them as you are leaving. Money sent to the cash office is returned as a cheque, usually through a solicitor. The return of valuables may be delayed because of legal requirements. The cash office staff can advise you.

 

Registering a Death

Normally, when someone dies, a Medical Certificate of Cause of Death (MCCD) is completed by the doctor treating them. Previously, this would have been given to the family to be taken to the local registrar’s office to enable a death certificate to be issued. This process is required before a funeral can take place.

Currently when someone dies a doctor completes a MCCD and emails it to the General Registrar’s Office who forward it to your local registrar’s office. The registrar’s office then contacts a named person in your family to get information needed to complete the registration process. The funeral director may register the death on your behalf. Once the death has been registered, the registrar will issue a Certificate for Burial or Cremation to the funeral director so they can proceed with the burial or cremation. There is no cost for registering a death but it can be useful to buy a number of certified copies of the death certificate. This is because organisations that you need to contact often ask for a certified copy; photocopies are unacceptable. Copies can be ordered online at Order a death certificate online | nidirect.

 

Burial Arrangements

If the death occurred at the weekend or over a bank holiday, or  if the coroner is involved, this may delay the funeral. You can only make provisional funeral arrangements once the Medical Certificate of Cause of Death (MCCD) is issued or the coroner permits. A funeral director can provide further assistance with the arrangements.

 

Cremation

If you are planning to have your loved one cremated, you should inform the doctor or the nurse providing their care and inform your funeral director, so the relevant documentation can be prepared. A second doctor will need to confirm the cause of death and complete part of the cremation form. There is an additional cost for completing cremation forms. Your funeral director can deal with these arrangements for you. There are two crematoriums in Northern Ireland,  Roselawn Crematorium in Belfast and Antrim and Newtownabbey Crematorium.

 

Spiritual Support

After the death of a loved one, many people get support and comfort from their faith/belief representative. If you would like a faith/belief representative to help you plan and prepare for the funeral service, contact them as soon as possible to discuss the arrangements. If you are unsure who to contact, your funeral director can advise.

 

The Funeral Director

Before your loved one died, they may have discussed with you the type of funeral they would like and their wishes for burial or cremation. If they didn’t have this conversation, your family, friends, faith/belief representative or funeral director can help you plan how to say goodbye. Most people use the services of a funeral director when arranging a funeral. Funeral directors are available seven days a week and provide a 24-hour on-call service throughout the year. You or your loved one may have already chosen a funeral director. If not, you will find details at:

If your loved one died in hospital, the funeral director will contact the mortuary staff and will inform you when their body can be released.

The funeral director will help with many things that need to be done including:

  • Arranging collection of your loved one from the hospital mortuary or place of death.
  • The preparation, care and dressing of your loved one.
  • Contacting your faith/belief representative, place of worship, cemetery or crematorium to arrange the funeral.
  • Arranging completion of the cremation form for the crematorium (if required).
  • Assisting with the selection of a coffin.
  • Arranging the purchase and/or opening of a grave.
  • Inserting newspaper notices.
  • Ordering flowers.
  • Providing a hearse and additional cars for the funeral.

The funeral director will discuss all costs to help you decide what is right for you.

 

Organ and Tissue Donation

Your loved one may have expressed a wish to donate their organs. There can be reasons why this is not possible and why it hasn’t been discussed with you, such as a medical condition, the cause  of death or the place in which the death occurred. However, tissue donation may be suggested. It may be possible to donate tissue such as corneas (parts of the eye) and heart valves to help others with certain medical conditions. If you wish to speak to someone about tissue donation please tell a member of nursing staff before leaving the hospital.

 

The Coroner

Under certain circumstances a death is referred to the coroner.

We understand that this may add to your distress and can cause additional anxiety. It may also delay funeral arrangements. We hope that the information here will explain why this is necessary and some of the processes that are followed.

It is the coroner’s role to establish the cause of death – the ‘how, when and where’ – of any sudden, unexpected or unnatural death.

If a doctor cannot certify the death then the coroner will either certify it or investigate to establish the cause of death. This may include ordering a post-mortem examination, obtaining witness statements and medical records or holding an inquest. The death cannot be registered until the coroner gives permission.

 

Coroner’s Post-Mortem Examination

If a coroner’s post-mortem (PM) examination is required, the  coroner will ask the police to assist with gathering information about the death. This will usually include speaking to you, as the family of the deceased, to anyone who was caring for the deceased and to anyone who was there when the death happened. A member of the family will be asked to formally identify the body. The police may ask you to do this at the place where the death happened or at the hospital mortuary; you will need to do this before the post-mortem examination is carried out. The coroner does not need permission from the next of kin for a coroner’s post-mortem examination.

The coroner’s liaison officers are people who work for the coroner to help bereaved families when a post-mortem examination has been ordered. They will contact you and explain the processes and stages in the Coroner’s investigation. They will also provide a ‘Certificate of Evidence of Death’ to assist with financial matters.

Consented Hospital Post-Mortem Examination

On occasions, a hospital doctor may ask you for permission to carry out a hospital post-mortem (PM) examination. This can help identify the nature and extent of the disease that your loved one died from and increase medical knowledge about it.

It is the next of kin’s decision whether or not to give consent (permission) for this. If you wish to consider it, the doctor will explain what is involved and answer any questions you have. However, a hospital post-mortem is not compulsory and you can refuse.

 

Repatriation

Repatriation is the process of returning a deceased person to  their home country. If you wish to have your loved one’s body returned to another country the funeral director can assist with the administration and practicalities involved.

The Kevin Bell Repatriation Trust aims to alleviate the financial hardship of bereaved families repatriating the body (bodies) of loved one(s) who have died abroad in sudden or tragic circumstances back to Ireland.

 

The Social Security Bereavement Service

You must call the Bereavement Service if your loved one was receiving a state pension or Social Security benefits. The Bereavement Service will record the date of their death and inform each office from which your loved one was receiving benefits. They will also offer you an eligibility check, as you may be entitled to claim benefits. If you are eligible to make a claim for ‘Bereavement Support payment’ and/or ‘Funeral payment’ they can also take the information for your application over the phone and forward it to the relevant department. You can contact the Bereavement Service on freephone number 0800 085 2463.

 

Return of Equipment

If your loved one was cared for at home, you may find it distressing to have equipment remain in the house or find it difficult to let the equipment go. To organise the collection of equipment, you can contact the district nurse, who will arrange for the removal of items such as electric beds and hoists. The nurse will also remove the patient records and advise you about the safe return of unused medicines to the local pharmacy.

You can arrange for removal of other equipment, such as wheelchairs, commodes and bathing or walking aids, by contacting your local occupational therapy (OT) department. The OT department will do their best to arrange timely removal; please be understanding as this may take several days.

 

Meeting Funeral Costs

Funerals can be expensive, and some people may have contributed to a payment plan to help cover the cost of their funeral. If you
are receiving particular benefits, you may qualify for financial help such as a funeral payment. You can ask your funeral director for information on funeral payments. You can also find more details at Funeral Expenses Payments | nidirect

 

People and Organisations to Tell

You need to inform a number of people and organisations when someone dies. Early contact will help avoid the distress of letters, telephone calls and supplies/equipment continuing in the weeks and months ahead. This can be a difficult task to complete. Perhaps a friend or relative could help find the numbers for you and make some of the calls or send the letters.

There is a list you can download by clicking the link below which details professionals and organisations you may need to contact. You may find it useful to use the sample letter included in this list and complete a copy for each contact.

List of professionals and organisations you may need to contact and sample letter [Word Document].

You can find relevant contact details at Home (nidirect.gov.uk).

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