Getting help to cope
The impact of losing someone close to you can be devastating and can leave you struggling with grief.
We have provided some guidance to help, covering some of the emotional challenges as well as the practical aspects of dealing with a bereavement. It is important to know that there is help and support available to help you cope during this very difficult time.
Some suggestions on how to cope and what to consider
It can feel like there is not enough time to process all the complex emotions you face. Immediately after losing someone, there are usually a lot of practical matters to deal with, such as registering the death and arranging the funeral.
Family and friends tend to be around more at this time. So often, it's only when all the practicalities have been handled, and the people around you get back to their everyday lives, that you really start to focus on your own feelings.
Grief can affect people in different ways and can encompass a startling range of emotions.
Everyone reacts differently to becoming bereaved. There is no right or wrong way to deal with how you feel.
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.
We have also produced some tailored tips and guidance on looking after your emotional wellbeing and there is a section on our website about life after caring as it can help to have a positive focus for the future.
If you are struggling to cope, it is important to open up about how you're feeling to trusted friends or family or let your doctor know. It may also be helpful to seek support from a bereavement counsellor or grief specialist. The charity Cruse offers helpful services.
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.” – 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. Getting in touch with old social contacts or new people may be far from what 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 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 uncomfortable expressing that.
If you feel able to, 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 who know you best.
Talking about what has happened, and about the person who has died, can help you to work through the feelings 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. Here are some suggestions:
- 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.
- Sue Ryder’s Online Bereavement Support also offers sources of support you can connect to from your own home. This includes one-to-one professional support, talking to others in similar situations, or finding information resources.
- Your GP can put you in touch with a local bereavement counsellor if you feel one-to-one counselling would be helpful for you (timelines can be 3-6 months).
- Many hospices provide bereavement support for the families of people who have used their services.
- Your local carers' organisation may also know of local bereavement organisations.
There are often many practical matters to deal 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. This will explain that the certificate will need to be taken to the local registrar’s office so the death can be registered.
It may be possible for the doctor to scan and email the Medical Certificate Cause of Death to your registrar so you don’t have to take it there in person. If you need to contact any organisations to let them know someone has died, you can do this by phone rather than in person.
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.
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 the 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.
What other considerations are there?
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 (see below).
- If the person you looked after had any NHS equipment on loan, eg, 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.
Protect yourself from identity fraud
Rising numbers of people are falling victim to identity fraud, but there are many ways you can reduce the risk to you and those close to you:
- When clearing someone's home, shred or destroy any personal documents before disposing of them (criminals routinely scour bins for personal information).
- Make sure any personal details are removed from public obituaries.
- Make a list of the bank and financial providers of the person who you cared for and contact each one to close or cancel the accounts.
- If you have access to them, edit any social media accounts to remove personal information, or delete them.
- Cancel any relevant identity-related documents such as a driving licence or passport (see last bullet).
- Make sure their mail gets cancelled or redirected if they lived alone or in a care home.
- Consider using the government's Tell Us Once to cancel the person’s passport, driver’s licence and social benefits, and remove them from the electoral roll, along with notifying other relevant departments (as mentioned above).
If you are worried about identity theft or financial fraud, contact Take Five, an impartial campaign to stop fraud.
To register a death, the Medical Certificate Cause of Death will usually be sent electronically by the doctor to your registrar. GOV.UK has more information on the steps you need to take.
You usually need to visit a register office and can make a telephone appointment in advance. If you prefer, your funeral director can register the death on your behalf. The registrar will then post the death certificate to you.
In England, Wales and Northern Ireland a death must be registered within five days - although this can be extended in certain circumstances.
In Scotland, the death must be registered within eight days.
It is free to register the death but each copy of the death certificate costs £11.
Where do I register the death?
Deaths are registered at the local registry office and appointments need to be pre-booked. 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 register 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 register 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)
- to see your passport or driving licence to prove your identity.
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 following:
- 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. (Make sure that the death certificate includes all names that the deceased was known by not just previous last names.)
- 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.
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.
Funerals can feel very difficult but can also offer a special opportunity for saying goodbye. You can find some supportive guidance on what to consider with the planning process on Marie Curie's website.
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.
You may perhaps be worried about meeting the cost of a funeral during this time. The NAFD has been in contact with the Department for Work and Pensions to look at how the Social Fund Funeral Payment could be adapted to support those in need of financial support. For bereaved families in Scotland, you can find more information on the Funeral Support Payment.
In general, funeral costs can be quite high so it is worth obtaining quotes from more than one funeral director if you are using one. Particularly during this time, many are concerned about meeting payments. 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 £1000 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.
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 (IHT) may have to be paid on any amount above that. However, IHT does not have to be paid if the estate passes to the deceased’s spouse or civil partner (no matter how much they inherit). The rules around IHT are complicated so there are exemptions to the above.
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. Contact the Carer's Allowance Unit (in England, Scotland or Wales) or the Disability and Carers Service (in Northern Ireland).
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 partner has died)
A Bereavement Support Payment might be available if your partner has died. What you earn or your savings will not affect how much you are paid as it is not means-tested.
Reporting your change of circumstances
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.
There are different ways in which your circumstances may have changed. Perhaps you were claiming benefits as a carer and these no longer apply or you are no longer part of a couple for benefit purposes as it was your partner who died. To help review what you are now entitled to, you may wish to arrange a benefits review to see if there are other benefits you are now eligible for.
The benefits system can be complicated, and so it is a good idea to get a benefits check, to make sure you are claiming everything you are entitled to. The Carers UK Helpline can carry out a benefit check for you – you can request one by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.
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, 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.
- 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.
- In Wales if you are in a council or a housing association property or a privately rented property, see the Shelter Cymru guidance.
- In Scotland, if you are in a council or housing association property, you can see some further information on the Shelter website.
- 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 and if you are in a privately rented property with a short assured tenancy agreement, you can view some further guidance.
- In Northern Ireland, if you are in a Housing Executive property, you can see the Housing Advice NI website, and if you are in a housing association property, you can find guidance.
- In Northern Ireland, if you are in a privately rented property, see the Housing Advice NI website.
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.
It is best to seek advice if you are in this situation.
For specialist housing advice, you could contact one of the following:
- Shelter (in England)
- Shelter Cymru (in Wales)
- Shelter (in Scotland)
- Housing Rights (in Northern Ireland)
If a loved one or friend has a terminal illness or condition, it can be very difficult to face the future.
Whilst it may be helpful to face each day as it comes, there may also be comfort in planning ahead to make sure your loved one's or friend's final wishes are met. You can read more about this on our end of life planning page.