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Bereavement

Losing someone close to you can be devastating. If you have been caring for that person, the loss can seem even greater. How you process your feelings about the death of the person you looked after is a very personal thing.

Immediately after a death there are usually a lot of practical matters to attend to, such as registering the death and arranging the funeral. Family and friends tend to be around a lot more at this time, and so it may be that only when all the practicalities are dealt with, and the people around you get back to their everyday lives, that you really start to focus on your own feelings.

The following information highlights some of the emotional impacts that bereavement can have, and may help you think about some of the practical issues to address.


How grief may affect you

Everyone reacts differently to becoming bereaved. There is no right or wrong way to deal with how you feel about this. Even though our circumstances may feel similar, the life we have lived is ours alone, and individual to us.

As well as coping with the loss of the person you looked after, you may find you need to cope also with the loss of your caring role. You may feel a whole range of emotions, from relief at having some time to yourself, to guilt at feeling that way, to wanting to make some big changes, to feeling exhausted and alone and unable to do much at all.

“I have been caring for my wife for the past eight years. She passed away a few weeks ago, and I am feeling so bereft. Not only is it the acute sadness of losing the woman I love, whom I had been married to for 45 years, but I am no longer needed for the caring role that I had spent 24 hours a day thinking about.” Anon – Forum user

“I think we can all relate to how hard it is losing someone, but when you've also been that person’s carer it’s a double whammy. Your whole identity is changed in an instant” Anon – Forum user

The death of the person you looked after may mean that the relationships you built up with many of the professionals involved in their care come to an end. Carers also talk about losing contact with friends and family because of the demands of their caring role, and feeling quite isolated. Picking up old social contacts or meeting new people may be the last things you feel like doing when you have just lost someone, so take things at a pace that feels right for you.

You may find that some people seem awkward around you and are unsure what to say when you see them after the person you looked after has died. They want to do and say the ‘right thing’ but are not sure what that is, or they feel awkward expressing that. If you feel able, tell the people around you what you need from them and how they can help. Close family and friends may also be able to help you do this, as they are likely to be the people that know you best.

Talking about what has happened, and about the person who has died, can help you to work through the feeling you may have. Friends and relatives who knew the person who died and can share memories of them with you can be a great source of support. Talking to other people who have been bereaved, and who have a good understanding of what you may be going though can also help.

There are different ways of accessing bereavement support, such as:

  • Cruse Bereavement Care is a charity for bereaved people in England, Wales and Northern Ireland – they offer support, advice and information to children, young people and adults when someone dies
  • your GP can put you in touch with a local bereavement counsellor if you feel one-to-one counselling would be helpful for you
  • many hospices provide bereavement support for the families of people who have used their services
  • your local carer’s organisation may also know of local bereavement organisations
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Practical matters following a death

There are often many practical matters that need to be dealt with when a person dies. Some of these will be organised by family and friends, and some will be arranged and undertaken by professionals.

Medical Certificate of Cause of Death

When a person dies, a doctor will issue a Medical Certificate of Cause of Death. This can be a doctor at a hospital or hospice, or a GP if the person you looked after died at home, or whilst living in residential care.

In some instances a coroner will need to confirm how a person died, and once this is established they will issue the Medical Certificate of Cause of Death.

The Medical Certificate of Cause of Death will be issued with guidance on what steps now need to be taken, and will explain that the certificate will need to be taken to the local registrar’s office so the death can be registered.

A post-mortem

A post-mortem is a medical examination of the body of the person who has died. Post-mortems are usually carried out when there is uncertainty about the cause of death. The doctor who certifies the death has a legal responsibility to inform the coroner (procurator fiscal in Scotland) if a post-mortem is needed.

Post mortems can be requested by the coroner or by the hospital or close relatives.

Permission of the close relatives must be sought if the hospital wants a post-mortem to be carried out, but permission is not needed if the post mortem is requested by the coroner.

Post-mortems usually take place within a couple of days of the death, with the body being released on the same day if possible, so planning for the funeral should not be affected.

Following the post-mortem, the report of the findings is normally sent to the GP/consultant of the deceased, and to the coroner (if applicable). Relatives can also request a copy but there may be a fee for this.

Organ donation

The person you looked after may have wished to donate their organs for transplant or medical research, and may have registered their wishes with the NHS Organ Donor Register.

If you are aware that was the case, you should inform the healthcare professionals involved in their care as soon as you can after the death.

In England, Scotland and Northern Ireland a person can opt in and sign the NHS Organ Donor Register if they wish for donation to go ahead, or opt out if they specifically do not wish to donate. People can also nominate representatives to make that decision after their death. Family can object to any decision the person you looked after may have made, and if so a discussion would take place before any action was taken. The aim would be for an agreement to be reached, but it would be made clear that family do not have the legal right to override the decision someone has taken to opt in or register. If the person you looked after has not specified their wishes around donation and has not nominated a representative to make that decision then the law allows people close to them to decide on donation if appropriate. This can be their:

  • spouse, civil partner or partner
  • parent or child
  • brother or sister 
  • other relatives
  • close friend

In Wales a person can opt in, opt out or if they do nothing, be regarded as having no objection to donating their organs. This is called deemed consent. For this to apply the person must have lived and died in Wales. Again a person can also appoint a representative to make that decision after death. Where the person you care for has not registered to either opt-in or opt-out, there will be a discussion with their family. If following those discussions it is apparent they lacked capacity to understand organ donation and or the opt out system, their consent will not be deemed to have been given. If the person has not appointed a representative the decision will fall to their family or close friends.

Other practical matters you may need to consider

The following would be useful to get done as soon as you can manage it:

  • contact relevant government departments to let them know about the death of the person you looked after - you could use the Tell us Once service to contact several government departments in one go
  • contact the local council/trust if the person you looked after, or if you as a carer, received any support from the social services/social work department or any other council/trust department
  • contact the landlord or the mortgage lender of the person you looked after
  • contact any relevant insurance companies, pension providers, banks and building societies
  • if the person you looked after had any NHS equipment on loan, e.g. crutches, wheelchair or medical equipment, you will need to arrange for this to be returned - their GP or local health trust will be able to tell you how to do this
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Registering a death

In England, Wales and Northern Ireland a death must be registered within five days - this can be extended in certain circumstances.

In Scotland the death must be registered within eight days.

Where do I register the death?

Deaths are registered at the local registry office. You do not have to register the death yourself. Another relative may be able to register the death as long as they take all the necessary documents – including the Medical Certificate of Cause of Death.

Many registry offices now only see people by appointment so it is a good idea to phone the office first. You can find details of your local registry office in the telephone directory or you can search on the gov.uk website.

What documents do I need to take with me?

When you register the death, the registrar will need:

  • the Medical Certificate of Cause of Death
  • the deceased’s NHS medical card (if possible)

You will also need to tell the registrar:

  • the date and place the person you looked after was born, and the date and place they died
  • their full name (including any other last name they may have been known by at some point)
  • their occupation if they were in work, and the name and occupation of any spouse or civil partner if applicable
  • their usual address
  • whether or not the person you looked after received a pension or any state benefits

What do I need to get from the registrar?

The registrar will give you:

  • the certificate for burial or cremation (you will normally need to give this to the funeral director if you are using one)
  • a death certificate - a small fee will be charged - it is advisable to have a few extra copies for dealing with the Will and other tasks
  • a certificate of registration of death issued for social security benefits (Form BD8)
  • information on the Tell Us Once service (if available) - this service lets you report a death to most government organisations in one go - the registrar will tell you if the service is available and give you the correct telephone number or unique online code in order to use the service
  • a booklet called What to do after a death with advice on probate and other administrative issues
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The funeral

The funeral service can be very important in helping you and friends and family say your goodbye to the person you looked after. It is an event where the person’s life can be reflected upon and celebrated.

Arranging the funeral

The timing of the funeral may depend on factors such as religious or cultural requirements, as well as availability at the preferred location.

When planning the funeral, there are various things to think about:

  • you should find out whether the person you looked after left any instructions about their funeral in a Will or other written document
  • if they had spoken to you about their wishes you may want to ensure that you honour those as much as you can
  • you can choose between burial, cremation or alternative funerals
  • you can have a religious, secular or individually designed service that incorporates the elements that feel important to you - for example music, readings, poems and settings

If you choose to use one, a professional funeral director will help you make the arrangements. If you choose not to use a funeral director there are organisations and charities that can give you information and advice on planning such as the Natural Death Centre.

Paying for the funeral

Funeral costs can be quite high so it is worth obtaining quotes from more than one funeral director if you are using one. Make sure that everything you want has been included (church or other venue for the service, burial or cremation fees, cars for the mourners, order of service, flowers etc.).

If you are not using a funeral director the local authority of the deceased person can give you the costs of cremation, burial and so on, and you can obtain quotes and prices for the other parts of the funeral directly from the different providers and suppliers, for example casket costs, cars and, celebrant fees. As above the Natural Death Centre can give information on pricing the different elements that you wish to include.

If you arrange the funeral, you will be the person responsible for ensuring the fees are paid, so it is sensible to check in advance if the deceased had money available to cover the funeral costs.

You could check their paperwork to find out:

  • whether they took out a prepayment funeral plan
  • whether they had a pension scheme, workplace Death in Service payment, or insurance plan which included a lump sum for funeral costs
  • whether they belonged to a union or professional association which pays benefits when a member dies
  • whether a lump sum could be released from a bank or building society account - bank or building society accounts may be frozen until probate is granted, but many banks or building societies will agree to release funds for the funeral

Alternatively, you or the executor (the person responsible for sorting out the deceased person’s estate) may be able to pay the costs of the funeral yourself and then recover those costs from the estate.

Help with funeral costs for people with a low income

If there are no other means of paying for a funeral, you may be able to claim a Funeral Payment from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).

Eligibility is based on your circumstances (rather than those of the person who has died, although the person must have been ordinarily resident in the UK at the date of death, and there are some rules around where the funeral takes place) and you may be eligible if you, or your partner, are in receipt of at least one of the following benefits:

  • Income Support
  • income-based Jobseekers Allowance
  • income-related Employment and Support Allowance
  • Pension Credit
  • Housing Benefit
  • Child Tax Credit (which includes an amount higher than the family element)
  • Working Tax Credit (where a disability or severe disability element is included)
  • Universal Credit

You can claim the Funeral Payment any time between the date of the death and up to three months after the date of the funeral.

The DWP must accept that it is reasonable for you in particular to be responsible for the funeral expenses. There are specific rules about this and you should seek advice.

The Funeral Payment covers the cost of specified necessary items and services (eg burial fees) and up to £700 for other funeral expenses. Be aware though that the payment will not necessarily cover all the costs of the funeral, so there may be an outstanding amount that needs to be paid.

If there is no one that is able to take responsibility to pay for or arrange the funeral, then you can speak to the local authority to which the person belonged and let them know of your concerns

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Wills and probate

When someone dies, everything they own (their money, property and possessions etc.) makes up what is known as their estate.

If the person who has died has left a Will, this will indicate how they wanted their estate to be dealt with after their death. It will also usually name executors (the people appointed to deal with the Will).

The estate cannot be used to pay bills or debts, (please see the above exception for funeral costs), or be given to the named recipients until either of the following takes place:

  • the Will has been granted probate – this is a formality which confirms that a Will is legally in order
  • a grant of administration (in England and Wales), a confirmation (in Scotland) or a grant of probate (in Northern Ireland) has been given – this is a formality which allows the personal representative to deal with the estate when there is no Will

This means that any bank accounts in the deceased person’s name will be frozen until the formalities have been completed. Bank accounts in joint names can continue to be used by the other account holder.

Note: If you had power of attorney or were a court appointed deputy for the person you looked after, this will end as soon as they have died. This means you will no longer be able to use their bank account or carry out any business on their behalf.

If the person you cared for has an estate worth more than £325,000, Inheritance Tax will have to be paid on any amount above that. However, Inheritance Tax does not have to be paid if the estate passes to the deceased’s spouse or civil partner (no matter how much they inherit).

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Benefits

The death of the person you looked after may have an effect on your own financial situation and you may need to find out which benefits you can claim now your circumstances have changed.

Carer’s Allowance and carer premium/carer addition

If you were receiving Carer’s Allowance when the person you cared for died, this will usually continue for eight weeks from the Sunday following their death.

Note: If you are 65 or over and were entitled to Invalid Care Allowance on the 27th October 2002 (as Carer’s Allowance was then called), you will be entitled to Carer’s Allowance indefinitely after the person you looked after has died.

If you are receiving a carer premium as part of your Income Support, income-related Employment and Support Allowance, income-based Jobseekers Allowance, Pension Credit, Housing Benefit or Council Tax Reduction, this can continue for eight weeks following the death.

If you are receiving Universal Credit, the carer element can continue for the rest of your Universal Credit assessment period in which the death occurred, and for the next two assessment periods. At the end of this time it will stop and you may need to discuss a new claimant commitment with your work coach.

Bereavement Support Payment (if your spouse or civil partner died on or after 6th April 2017)

A Bereavement Support Payment might be available if it was your spouse or civil partner who has died.

Note: If it was your spouse or civil partner who died, but they died before 6th April 2017, you might still be able to apply for the old style bereavement benefits – see below for further information.

Bereavement Support Payments are not means tested, will not be included in the assessment of benefit income which will be subject to the household benefit cap, and will also be subject to a disregard in the calculation of means-tested benefits.

There are two rates of Bereavement Support Payment, and which one you are eligible for will depend on your circumstances:

  • if you aren’t responsible for a child (which means getting Child Benefit for a child) and aren’t pregnant you might be eligible for the standard rate which pays a one off lump sum payment of £2,500 followed by 18 monthly payments of £100 (the 18 months start from the date your spouse or civil partner died)
  • if you are responsible for a child when your spouse or civil partner died (which means getting Child Benefit for a child) or were pregnant when your spouse or civil partner died you might be eligible for the higher rate which pays a lump sum payment of £3,500 followed by 18 monthly payment of £350 (the 18 months start from the date your spouse or civil partner died)

You should claim Bereavement Support Payment within three months of the date your spouse or civil partner died.

To claim Bereavement Support Payment you must be under state pension age and your spouse or civil partner must meet certain National Insurance contribution conditions.

For further information visit the gov.uk website (in England, Wales & Scotland) or the NI Direct website (in Northern Ireland).

Bereavement Benefits (if your spouse or civil partner died before 6th April 2017)

If your spouse or civil partner died before 6th April 2017 then you might still be able to apply for the old style bereavement benefits.

Bereavement benefits are not means tested, but they will be taken into account as income if you claim any other means tested benefits.

There are three bereavement benefits:

  • a bereavement payment is a one off tax free lump sum payment of £2,000, paid on the death of your spouse or civil partner – you normally have to be under State Pension age when your spouse or civil partner died - to receive this payment your spouse or civil partner must have paid enough national insurance contributions or must have died as a result of an industrial accident or disease – you should claim within 12 months of your spouse or civil partner’s death
  • Bereavement Allowance is a regular taxable payment that may be made if you were 45 or over (but under State Pension age) when your spouse or civil partner died - the amount you are paid depends on your age when their death occurred and on their national insurance contribution record - it is payable for up to 52 weeks
  • Widowed Parent’s Allowance is a regular taxable payment that may be made if you were under State Pension age when your spouse or civil partner died and if you have at least one dependent child (or in some cases if you are pregnant) – to receive this payment your spouse or civil partner must have paid enough national insurance contributions or must have died as a result of an industrial accident or disease

Note: You cannot be paid Bereavement Allowance and Widowed Parent’s Allowance at the same time. A Bereavement Payment can be paid in addition to Widowed Parent’s Allowance or Bereavement Allowance.

Benefits you may be able to claim now your circumstances have changed

It’s important to let all the benefit agencies and departments know of any changes of circumstances as they occur. If you are not sure if the change is one that needs to be reported, it is probably best to inform them anyway, just in case. Some changes need to be reported in writing. The benefit agencies can let you know how they wish for you to report the change.

Now your circumstances have changed (ie if you were claiming benefits as a carer and these will stop or if you are no longer in a couple for benefit purposes as it was your partner who died), then you could see if any of the following benefits might apply to you.

The benefits system can be complicated, and so it is a good idea to get a benefit check, to make sure you are claiming everything you are entitled to. The Carers UK Adviceline can carry out a benefit check for you.

Some of the main benefits which may apply to you include:

  • Income Support – if you remain a carer for someone else and/or are a lone parent of a child under 5, have a low income and are under State Pension Credit age, you may be able to claim Income Support - in some parts of the country Universal Credit has now replaced Income Support
  • Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) – if you are unable to work because of your own health conditions you may be able to claim ESA - you also need to be under State Pension Credit age (for income-related ESA) or under State Pension age (for contributory ESA) and either have  a low income or have a sufficient national insurance contribution record – in some parts of the country Universal Credit has now replaced income-related ESA
  • Jobseekers Allowance (JSA) – if you are now able to be actively seeking and available for work you may be able to claim JSA - you also need to be under State Pension Credit age (for income-based JSA) or under State Pension age (for contribution-based JSA) and either have a low income or have a sufficient national insurance contribution record – in some parts of the country Universal Credit has now replaced income-based JSA
  • Universal Credit (UC) – this is for people who are under State Pension age who have a low income – UC is being introduced gradually and is replacing many benefits - not everyone is able to claim this benefit yet
  • Pension Credit – if you have reached State Pension Credit age and have a low income you may be able to claim Pension Credit - you can check when you may reach State Pension Credit age by entering your details into this quick government online tool
  • Housing Benefit – if you pay rent and have a low income you may be able to claim Housing Benefit to help with these payments – in some parts of the country Universal Credit has replaced Housing Benefit
  • Support for Mortgage Interest – if you own a home and pay a mortgage for this home you may be able to access Support for Mortgage Interest - this can help with mortgage interest payments if you are entitled to means-tested benefits such as Income Support, income-related ESA, income-based JSA or Pension Credit – there may be a waiting period of 39 weeks before you can access this support - this support may also be available if you live in a part of the county where Universal Credit has replaced these means-tested benefits
  • Council Tax Reduction/Support – if you have a low income and pay Council Tax, you may be able to claim Council Tax Reduction/support to help with those payments
  • Working Tax Credit – if you are working or looking to return to work you may be able to claim Working Tax Credits - eligibility will mainly depend on income and the hours you work - Working Tax Credits can also help with some childcare costs if you have dependent children - in some parts of the country Universal Credit has replaced Working Tax Credit
  • Child Tax Credit and Child Benefit – If you have dependant children you may be able to claim Child Tax Credit and Child Benefit - the amount you receive will depend mainly on your income, with increases being given within Child Tax Credit if your child receives a disability benefit such as DLA – in some parts of the country Universal Credit has replaced Child Tax Credit

Note: If you were getting a council tax discount, exemption, or band reduction, remember to let your local council know that your circumstances have changed. If you are living alone, you may still be entitled to a single occupant’s discount (25%) on your bill.

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Housing

 Your housing situation may change when your caring role changes or comes to an end.

If the property is rented

If the property is a rented property, then the right to inherit a tenancy when the tenant dies is known as succession. Succession rights depend on your relationship with the tenant and the type of tenancy they had.

Succession rights differ depending on whether you live in England, Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland, and whether the property is a council/Housing Executive property, a housing association property or a privately rented property.

  • in England if you are in a council property or a housing association property you can see some further information on the Shelter website here
  • in England if you are in a privately rented property with an assured shorthold tenancy (which is not the only type of tenancy agreement but is the most common type of tenancy agreement) you can see some further information on the Shelter website here
  • in Wales if you are in a council or a housing association property or a privately rented property you can see some further information on the Shelter Cymru website here
  • in Scotland if you are in a council or housing association property you can see some further information on the Shelter website here
  • in Scotland if you are in a privately rented property which an assured tenancy agreement you can see some further information on the Shelter website here; and if you are in a privately rented property with a short assured tenancy agreement you can view some further information on the Shelter website here
  • in Northern Ireland if you are in a Housing Executive property you can see some further information on the Housing Advice NI website here; and if you are in a housing association property you can see some further information on the Housing Advice NI website here
  • in Northern Ireland if you are in a privately rented property you can see some further information on the Housing Advice NI website here

This is a complicated area and so it is best to seek advice if you are in this situation.

If the property is mortgaged

If the property is mortgaged then what will happen will depend on whether anyone else is also on the mortgage, what type of mortgage it is, and whether there is any mortgage protection insurance in place.

This is a complicated area and so it is best to seek advice if you are in this situation.

Housing advice

For specialist housing advice you could contact one of the following:

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