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What to do first when someone dies

Information on what will happen in the first few hours and days after a person dies.

See GOV.UK's step-by-step guide to what to do when someone dies, including who you should contact.

If the death occurs in hospital

The funeral directors will usually arrange for the deceased to be transferred from the hospital to the chapel of rest until the funeral is arranged.

The hospital will arrange for the nearest relative to collect the deceased person's possessions.

The hospital bereavement officer will advise you when the medical cause of death certificate has been issued. You can then proceed to book an appointment to register the death.

If the death occurs elsewhere

Expected death

Contact the doctor, who will come to certify the cause of death. The doctor will give you:

  • a medical certificate that shows the cause of death (this is free of charge and will be in a sealed envelope addressed to the registrar)
  • a formal notice that states that the doctor has signed the medical certificate and tells you how to get the death registered.

You may wish to contact the person's minister of religion if you have not already done so. Arrangements for the funeral may be made by a funeral director.

If the death followed illness from HIV or AIDS there may be special rules about handling the body. The Terrence Higgins Trust can advise on funeral arrangements.

Unexpected death

If the death was sudden or unexpected, you should contact:

  • the family doctor, if known (you can find a list of GPs on the NHS website
  • the nearest relative of the deceased 
  • the minister of religion of the deceased
  • the police, who will help find the people listed above if necessary.

If there is any reason to suspect the death was not due to natural causes, do not touch or remove anything from the room. The death may be referred to the coroner. The doctor may ask the relatives for permission to carry out a post-mortem examination. This is a medical examination of the body which can find out more about the cause of the death and should not delay the funeral.

If a death is reported to a coroner

The doctor may report the death to the coroner in any of the following circumstances:

  • it was caused by an accident or injury
  • it was caused by an industrial disease
  • it happened during a surgical operation
  • it happened before recovery from an anaesthetic
  • the cause of death is unknown
  • the death was sudden and unexplained, for instance, a sudden infant death (cot death).

If the death is reported to the coroner, you cannot register the death or arrange a funeral without the coroner's authorisation. 

Please note that the coroner will send the paperwork directly to the Register Office enabling the registration of death to proceed.

Post-mortem examination

A coroner can order a post-mortem examination without getting the relative's permission. This examination will find out the cause of death.


The coroner may also wish to investigate the circumstances leading up to a death (this is called an inquest). When an inquest is called, the coroner's office will contact the relatives. This is a legal formality. Please note that an interim death certificate will normally be issued by the coroner to allow the funeral to take place.

When an inquest is to be held, the death cannot be registered until the conclusion of the inquest. The death registration will then be completed by the Register Office, and you will then be able to obtain copies of the death certificate. 


Bereavement Services

Email: bereavement@lewisham.gov.uk
Telephone: 020 8314 3210

Register Office

368 Lewisham High Street, Hither Green, London, SE13 6LQ
Email: register.office@lewisham.gov.uk
Telephone: 020 8690 2128

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Contact the coroner's officer