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The following information may help you think about some of the practical issues to address and highlights some of the emotional impacts on carers when the person they cared for dies.

Losing someone close to you is devastating. If you have been caring for that person, the loss can seem even greater. How you cope with the death of the person you cared for is a very personal thing. There is no right or wrong way to feel following a death.

Immediately after a death there are a lot of practical things to do, like registering the death and arranging the funeral, and family and friends tend to be around a lot more. 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 grieve. 

The following information may help you think about some of the practical issues to address and highlights some of the emotional impacts on carers when the person they cared for dies.

How grief might affect you

Everyone’s reaction to losing someone is different. There is no right or wrong way to deal with your own grief. Many people find that it is beneficial to listen to their own feelings; to do what’s best for you rather than what other people think is best.

There are no time limits on grief, and no set pattern of emotions and behaviours that everybody follows. Grief does not always happen straight away.

As well as coping with the loss of the person you cared for, you also have to deal with the loss of your caring role. You may feel guilty about feeling relief, but you may also feel exhausted or alone.

The death of the person you cared for may mean that the relationships you built up with 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. Picking up old social contacts or meeting new people may be the last thing you feel like doing when you have just lost someone.

Finding support

The best help and support often comes from the people you know best – and who know you best. You may find that some people seem awkward around you, often because they want to do and say the ‘right thing’ but are not sure what that is. 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.

Talking about what has happened, and about the person who died, can help you to come to terms with their death, and to cope with the feelings you have. Friends and relatives who knew the deceased 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 better understanding of what you are going through, can also help.

There are many organisations, such as Cruse Bereavement Care, which run groups for people who are grieving. Your GP can put you in touch with a local bereavement counsellor if you’d like more formal one-to-one counselling. Many hospices also provide bereavement support for the families of people who have used their services.

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Practical matters following a death

Thinking about what we need to do in the short- and long-term can be helpful. Here is some information on questions and practical matters that arise when a person dies.

Medical Death Certificate

When you have the medical death certificate, you need to take this to the local registrar’s office to register the death. The hospital, hospice or GP will issue the medical certificate for the cause of death with a form called Notice to informant, which explains how to register the death.

A Post-mortem

A post mortem is a medical examination of the body of the deceased. 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 (an independent official who enquires into un-natural death, for example, sudden, unexpected or those related to procedures or operations) or by the hospital or close relatives.

Permission of the close relatives of the deceased 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 and the body is released on the day of the post mortem, so planning for the funeral should not be affected.

Following the post mortem, reports are sent to the GP/consultant of the deceased and the coroner (if applicable). Relatives can also request a copy.

Organ donation

It may have been the deceased’s wish to donate their organs for transplant or medical research and, if you are aware that was the case, you need to inform the healthcare professionals involved in their care as soon as you can after the death.

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Registering the 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 death certificate.

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.

What documents do I need to take with me?

When you register the death, the registrar will need:

  • the medical certificate showing cause of death
  • the deceased’s NHS medical card (if possible)

You will also need to tell the registrar:

the date and place the deceased was born and the date and place they died

  • their full name (including any maiden name)
  • their occupation and the name and occupation of their spouse or civil partner
  • their usual address
  • whether or not the deceased 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).
  • 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).
  • A booklet called What to do after a death with advice on probate and other administrative issues.
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Arranging the funeral

The funeral can be very important in helping you and friends and family of the deceased to mourn. It is an event where the person’s life can be thought of, valued, and celebrated. It is a time to think of the person who lived, and not just the difficulties of the last few weeks, months or years spent caring for them.

When the funeral takes place may depend on factors such as religious or cultural requirements. Aside from that, the funeral or cremation does not have to happen immediately, unless that is what you want. In any case, you will not be able to finalise the date until the death has been registered.

When planning the funeral, you should find out whether the deceased left any instructions about their funeral in a Will or other written document. Other than that you can choose between burial, cremation or alternative burials of various sorts and, if you choose to use one, a professional funeral director will help you make the arrangements.

Paying for the funeral

Funeral costs can be quite high so it is worth obtaining quotes from more than one funeral director. Make sure that everything has been included (church or other venue for the service, burial or cremation fees, cars for the mourners, flowers etc). You can ask for written quotations.

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 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 national savings account (bank or building society accounts may be frozen until probate is granted but some banks or building societies may agree to release funds).

Alternatively, you or the executor (the person responsible for sorting out the deceased’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 Social Fund Funeral Payment from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP). Eligibility is based on your circumstances (rather than those of the deceased) 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 Jobseeker’s 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 to be responsible for the funeral expenses. There are specific rules about this and you should seek advice.

The 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 you have to pay.

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Wills and probate

When someone dies, everything they own (their money, property and possessions) is called their estate. If the person who has died has left a Will, this will indicate how they wanted their estate to be divided after their death. It will also usually name executors (the people they want to deal with the Will).

The estate cannot be used to pay bills or debts, or be divided up for gifts and inheritance 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 has been given – this is a formality which allows the personal representative to deal with the estate when there is no Will. In Scotland, a grant of administration is called a confirmation.

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 be used by the other account holder.

Power of Attorney

If you had Power of Attorney for the person you cared for, because they were no longer able to deal with their own money and affairs, the Power of Attorney stops being in force as soon as the person dies. You will not be able to continue to use their bank account, or carry out any business on their behalf.

Inheritance Tax

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 goes to the deceased’s spouse or civil partner (no matter how much they inherit).

Other practical issues you may need to consider

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

  • Send the certificate for social security benefits (Form BD8) to the Department for Work and Pensions so that they can deal with the pension and/or benefits of the deceased.
  • Contact the local tax office to inform them of the death.
  • Contact the local authority in connection with Council Tax, any Housing or Council Tax Reduction , any support from social services, parking permits, etc.
  • Contact any relevant insurance companies, pension providers, banks and building societies.
  • Contact the executors of the Will if there is one or, if there is no Will, decide who will apply for letters of administration.
  • If the person you cared for had any NHS equipment on loan, eg crutches, wheelchair or medical equipment, you will need to arrange for this to be returned. The person’s GP or local health trust will be able to tell you how to do this.
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The death of the person you cared for may have an effect on your own financial situation and you may need to find out which benefits you can claim.

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. If you were receiving a carer premium as part of your Income Support or Pension Credit this will also continue for eight weeks.

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

Bereavement benefits

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

A bereavement payment is a one off lump sum, tax free payment of £2,000 paid on the death of your spouse or civil partner. It is only payable if you are under State Pension age when your spouse died, unless they were not entitled to a Category A pension.

There are also National Insurance Contribution conditions based on your spouse or civil partner’s contribution record, unless they died as a result of an industrial injury or disease. You should claim within 12 months of your spouse or civil partner’s death.

Bereavement Allowance

Bereavement Allowance is a regular taxable payment made if you were aged 45 or over when your spouse or civil partner died. It is payable for 52 weeks. The amount you are paid relates to your age when your spouse or civil partner died but it is only payable up to State Pension age and will be reduced if your spouse or civil partner’s National Insurance Contribution record was incomplete.

Widowed Parent’s Allowance (WPA) is a regular, taxable payment for men or women under pension age who have been bereaved and have dependent children (or for women if they are pregnant). If your spouse or civil partner met the National Insurance Contributions conditions the full rate is payable. If not, you receive a proportionately reduced amount of the allowance, unless they died of an industrial injury or disease.

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

To claim a bereavement benefit, ask for the appropriate claim form from any Department for Work and Pensions or Jobcentre Plus office or Social Security Office in Northern Ireland.

Claiming bereavement benefits beyond State Pension age

Widowed Parent’s Allowance and Bereavement Allowance cannot be paid beyond State Pension age. When you reach State Pension age, and if you have not remarried or formed a civil partnership, you will be entitled to a Category B pension, if your late spouse/civil partner satisfied the National Insurance Contributions or died as a result of an industrial injury or disease.

You could qualify for a Category A pension based on both your own National Insurance Contributions record and your spouse/civil partner’s record, if that would give you a higher State Pension.

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If the person you were caring for was a council tenant and you had been living in the property with them, the tenancy will usually pass to you, giving you the right to stay in the property, if you are the husband, wife or civil partner of the person you cared for. Partners or other family members of the tenant who have lived in the property for at least 12 months may also have the right to take over the tenancy and remain in the property.

However, if the person you were looking after had already taken over the tenancy from a family member or partner in this way, then the council may not pass the tenancy on to you. In addition, if the council considers the accommodation unsuitable for you to live in, (eg it is too big for your needs or has been adapted for a disabled person), they may ask you to move to another property.

If you and the person you cared for were joint tenants, you will have the right to take over the tenancy yourself. Be aware that if you take over the tenancy completely, you could also inherit and have to pay back any rent arrears that have built up for the property.

If you are not the spouse, partner, civil partner or a family member of the deceased, and have not signed a joint tenancy or lived in the property long enough, you may still be able to take over the tenancy.

Housing law is not the same throughout the UK. Different rules apply in England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland so it is important to seek local advice about your housing situation. Shelter can provide you with housing advice – contact them on 0808 800 4444.

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