How to Report a Death

How a death is reported will depend on where a person died and the probable cause of death. Reporting a death is usually the responsibility of a person who was with the deceased at the time of death or a medical professional.

A Medical Certificate of Death (sometimes called a Medical Certificate or a Cause of Death Certificate) must be issued before a death can be formally registered. There are two types of certificate commonly associated with death – these are sometimes both called death certificates and this is where confusion arises.

You can see a sample Medical certificate of cause of death here.

  • If the death occurs in hospital, the staff will be very supportive. They will contact the next of kin who will be asked to identify the body and informed if a post mortem is needed. They may also be asked if they know the wishes of the deceased person regarding organ donation and may be asked to consider it if no preference has been expressed.
  • The hospital will provide a Medical Certificate of Death. The body will be kept in the hospital mortuary until an executor arranges for it to be taken.
  • If the person dies at home and the death was expected, then the GP should be contacted to come to the house. If the cause of death is clear then the GP will provide a Medical Certificate of Death. There is no charge for this certificate and this is the certificate that should be handed to the registrar when registering the death.
  • If the person who has died is going to be cremated then a Cremation Certificate is also needed, requiring a second signature from another doctor. A GP can arrange this. The doctor may charge for providing a cremation certificate, a GP normally charges the funeral director who passes the cost to the family or person paying for the funeral. This is usually £5 - £10.
  • If a death is sudden and unexpected then a GP should still be contacted but the police should also be contacted. If there are any suspicious circumstances surrounding the death contact the police immediately and do not touch the body. It is also important that the nearest relative (the next of kin) is informed.

Sometimes a doctor may report a death to the coroner. This happens if the cause of death is unknown or very sudden. The doctor will inform the family if the death is being reported to the coroner. Registering the death and proceeding with the funeral must wait until authorisation is received from the Coroner.
A death must always be reported to a coroner in the following situations:

  • The person's doctor had not seen them in the 14 days before they died or immediately afterwards (28 days in Northern Ireland).
  • A doctor had not looked after, seen or treated the person during their last illness (in other words, death was sudden).
  • The cause of death is unknown or uncertain.
  • The death was violent or unnatural (for example, suicide, accident or drug or alcohol overdose).
  • The death was in any way suspicious.
  • The death took place during surgery or recovery from an anaesthetic.
  • The death took place in prison or police custody.
  • The death was caused by an industrial disease.

Coroners may want to carry out a post mortem which they have a right to do without family permission and the Coroner will be in contact with the relatives directly. This is always done to establish the cause of death. A Coroner can hold an inquest to investigate the circumstances around a death; this is not a criminal court case and is quite common.

If the death has been referred to the coroner it may not be possible to register the death within 5 days. The Coroner’s Officer will keep the next of kin informed about what will happen and what to do concerning registration of death and funerals.

If the death is pronounced to be from natural causes after the post mortem, the Coroner will inform the Registrar, who then registers the death. The Registrar only issues 'The Registrars Certificate for Burial' if burial is required. If there is to be a cremation then the Coroner will issue a form (Form 102a – yellow form) directly to the Funeral Director.