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What to do After a Death in Scotland ... Practical Advice for Times of Bereavement: 8th Edition




If someone dies at home, you should:

  • Contact the family doctor (see section 3).
  • Contact the nearest relative(s).
  • Contact the police if the death was violent, accidental, unexpected, if there are unusual circumstances or if the cause of death is not known. If the police are called, do not touch or move anything in the home (see section 4).
  • Contact the relevant minister of religion.
  • If the dead person wanted to donate their body, or body parts (such as organs), you will need to contact a doctor quickly.
  • Contact a funeral director (undertaker) who will arrange for the laying out of the body.
  • Find out if there is a will, and if so, where it is and who is responsible for dealing with it (see sections 10 and 11).

If someone dies in hospital:

The Charge Nurse or the police will contact the nearest relative or next of kin and arrange a convenient time for them to attend the hospital.

If you are the nearest relative or next of kin, you may be asked to:

  • Identify the body, if the person was not a patient of the hospital.
  • Consider authorising a post-mortem examination, although such authorisation is not needed when a post-mortem is legally required (see section 4).
  • Provide the documents needed to allow you to take away any personal possessions.
  • Tell the hospital staff if you know that the person wanted to donate parts of their body for transplantation. More details are given in section 2.
  • Let the hospital staff know if the body is to be donated to medical science (see section 6 for more information).
  • Contact a funeral director (undertaker) who will arrange for the laying out of the body.
  • Find out if there is a will, and if so, where it is and who is responsible for dealing with it (see sections 10 and 11).
  • Get a death certificate.


If someone dies in hospital, the donation of body parts for transplantation becomes possible. All the major organs and some kinds of tissue can be used for transplantation. One donor can help several of the hundreds of people in Scotland on the waiting list. A new organ will very often save a life. In other cases, an organ or tissue can free the recipient from long and painful treatments such as kidney dialysis.

To make sure of the best possible outcome for recipients, body parts for transplantation have to be removed very soon after death. This means that hospital staff must approach you in the very early stages of your bereavement. This will be done by a dedicated member of staff called a "transplant co-ordinator" who is trained to approach the subject in as sensitive a manner as possible.

Under the present law, the transplant co-ordinator needs to check whether the person who died expressed any objection to organ donation, and whether or not that objection was still in force at the time of his or her death. The co-ordinator also needs to ask whether the surviving spouse or civil partner or any surviving relative objects.

From 1 September 2006, a new law will be in place in Scotland dealing with the use of body parts for transplantation. It is based on making sure that the wishes people expressed in life about donation are carried out after their death.

People can express their wishes in a variety of ways, including:

  • carrying a donor card
  • putting their name on the NHS Organ Donor Register
  • adding a provision to their will
  • writing their wishes down
  • telling someone verbally.

Under the new law, these expressions are called "authorisations". If authorisation has been given properly, the hospital staff are entitled to go ahead with the retrieval of body parts for transplantation. The transplant co-ordinator will still wish to speak to you about this to find out if there is anything in the donor's medical or social history which would rule out the use of his or her body parts for transplantation.

If the person who died did not leave a clear indication of his or her wishes, the transplant co-ordinator will approach the nearest relative to ask whether or not he or she will authorise the removal and use of body parts for transplantation. The new law makes it clear who the nearest relative is. If you are the nearest relative, you can give authorisation based on what you know your relative's views were.


If someone dies at home

If death occurs during the night and is sudden and unexpected, the doctor should be notified at once. Otherwise you can call the doctor in the morning.

The doctor will:

either issue a medical certificate of cause of death (Form 11) needed by the registrar, provided that there are no unusual circumstances. If the body is to be cremated, the doctor will arrange for the signature of the second doctor required to complete the cremation certificate. Doctors charge fees for providing cremation certificates;

or in some cases, report the death to the Procurator Fiscal (see section 4).

If someone dies in hospital

The hospital will:

either issue a medical certificate of cause of death (Form 11) needed by the registrar, provided the cause of death is quite clear. The hospital staff may ask you to consider authorising a post-mortem examination if that would provide valuable information about the person's final illness or treatment which could help other people;

or in some cases, report the death to the Procurator Fiscal (see section 4).

Should you wish more information about hospital post-mortem examination, leaflets are available from the hospital.

Note: If the actual time of death is not known, the doctor may estimate the time of death.


The role of the Procurator Fiscal

The Procurator Fiscal has a duty to investigate all sudden, suspicious, accidental, unexpected and unexplained deaths and any death occurring in circumstances that give rise to serious public concern. Where a death is reported, the Procurator Fiscal will investigate the circumstances of the death, attempt to find out the cause of the death and consider whether criminal proceedings or a Fatal Accident Inquiry is appropriate. In the majority of cases reported to the Procurator Fiscal, early enquiries rule out suspicious circumstances and establish that the death was due to natural causes.

Deaths are usually brought to the attention of the Procurator Fiscal through reports from the police, the Registrar, GPs or hospital doctors. However, anyone who has concerns about the circumstances of a death can report it to the Procurator Fiscal. There are certain categories of deaths that must be enquired into, but the Procurator Fiscal may enquire into any death brought to his notice.

The first task for the Procurator Fiscal is to find out the cause of death. The police will provide full information about the circumstances of the death. They will normally interview relatives and others who can provide information about the circumstances of the death.

Post mortem examination

In some cases reported to the Procurator Fiscal it will be necessary to instruct a post mortem examination, for example, where no doctor is able to issue a death certificate or where criminal proceedings or a Fatal Accident Inquiry may be considered. The consent of the next of kin is not required where the post mortem examination is instructed by the Procurator Fiscal.

The examination will be carried out as soon as possible, normally within a day or two of the death. If the sudden or unexplained death is that of an infant or child, the Procurator Fiscal may be more likely to ask for a post mortem examination. If there are any cultural, religious or other objections to a post mortem examination it is important to tell the Procurator Fiscal as soon as possible. There may be legal reasons why a post mortem is unavoidable, but where possible the wishes of the next of kin will be respected.

Further investigation

In most cases, the Procurator Fiscal's investigations are complete when the death certificate has been issued. In some cases the Procurator Fiscal will need to carry out further investigations into the death. The time necessary to investigate the death can vary considerably depending on the circumstances.

Victim Information and Advice

The Victim Information and Advice Service is a division of the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service. One of its aims is to help bereaved relatives where the Procurator Fiscal is involved in investigating a death. The Victim Liaison Officer may contact you if there is to be a meeting with the Procurator Fiscal, or if criminal proceedings, or a Fatal Accident Inquiry are being considered. They will assist you in dealing with the Procurator Fiscal by passing on any questions you may have. If you wish, they can also come with you to support you at any meeting with the Procurator Fiscal.

Information for relatives

If a post mortem examination takes place on the instructions of the Procurator Fiscal, the Fiscal's staff should inform you as soon as they can whether any organs have been retained from the examination for the Fiscal's purposes. Once the Fiscal is satisfied that those purposes are complete, you will be asked what you wish to happen to this material. After new human tissue legislation comes into effect on 1 September 2006, you will have the additional option of authorising the keeping of that material for purposes such as research, education or training.

Tracing relatives

If someone dies and there are apparently no blood relatives, local Procurators Fiscal will make preliminary enquiries on behalf of the Queen's and Lord Treasurer's Remembrancer ( QLTR). The QLTR deals with the property of people who die when there are no traceable relatives.

The Procurator Fiscal - often in cooperation with the Local Authority's Legal or Housing or Social Work Department - may therefore visit the house and speak to neighbours. The Procurator Fiscal will collect relevant papers and documents and forward them to the QLTR Department with a form giving as much background information about the dead person as possible.

Sometimes someone will report a death to the QLTR Department directly. In those cases the QLTR Department will decide whether to administer the estate or to ask the local Procurator Fiscal to investigate in more detail.



The Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages must register the death within eight days. But it is desirable to have the death registered as soon as possible. A death that happens in Scotland must be registered in Scotland, even if the dead person's usual residence was outwith Scotland and the body is to be taken outwith Scotland for internment. Registration of a death must also take place before cremation.

By whom?

The death may be registered by any relative. This includes:

  • the spouse or civil partner of the person who died;
  • a relative by marriage or civil partnership;
  • any person present at the death;
  • the executor or other legal representative;
  • the occupier of the premises where the death took place;

or, if there is no such person

  • any other person possessing the information needed for registration.


Deaths may be registered by any registrar in Scotland with effect from 1 January 2007. The Local Electoral Administration and Registration Services (Scotland) Act 2006 abolished the need to register a death in the district in which the person lived.

You can get the address of the Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages for the area from the funeral director, the telephone directory, the hospital or doctor or the Post Office. You should check when the registrar is available.

Take with you:

  • Medical certificate of death (Form 11) (see section 3).
  • Any certificate or document relating to any pension, benefits, or allowances which the person was receiving from public funds.
  • NHS medical card, if available.
  • The person's birth and marriage or civil partnership certificates, if available.

Things to tell the Registrar:

  • The full name, occupation and postal address of the person and his or her date and country of birth.
  • If the person was:
  • married or a civil partner;
  • widowed or a surviving civil partner;
  • divorced or his or her civil partnership was dissolved or annulled

tell the registrar the full name and occupation of the husband, wife or civil partner. If the person had been married or in a civil partnership more than once, you should also give the registrar details of previous spouses and civil partners.

  • If the person was married or a civil partner at the date of death, tell the registrar the date of birth of the surviving widow, widower or civil partner.
  • The full name and occupation of the dead person's father, and the full name and maiden surname of his or her mother.
  • Whether the person was in receipt of a pension or an allowance from public funds.
  • The name and address of the person's NHS doctor.

The Registrar will give you:

  • A Certificate of Registration of Death (Form 14), to be given to the funeral director so that the funeral can go ahead.
  • A form 334/ SI, "Registration or notification of death" for use in obtaining or adjusting Social Security Benefits or for National Insurance purposes.
  • On payment of the appropriate fee, an extract of the entry recorded in the Register of Deaths. You may need this to get information about the person's assets. This could include things such as their pension, insurance policies, savings, and Premium Bonds.

If someone dies abroad:

  • Register the death according to the rules in the country where the person died, and get a certificate of death.
  • Although not required, you may also be able to register the death with the British Consul. This would mean that a record of the death will be kept in Scotland, and you would be able to get a copy later from the General Register Office for Scotland, New Register House, West Register Street, Edinburgh EH1 3YT, telephone: 0131 334 0380.

If a baby is stillborn (born dead after the 24th week of pregnancy):

  • Register the stillbirth within 21 days.
  • Give the Registrar a certificate of stillbirth (Form 6) signed by the midwife or doctor.
  • If no midwife or doctor was present, the parents will have to sign a Declaration as to Stillbirth (Form 7) which they can get from the registrar. The registrar will then give you a Certificate of Registration of Stillbirth (Form 8) to give to the funeral director so that the funeral can go ahead. (For help with the funeral of a stillborn baby, see also section 8.)


You should start planning the funeral as soon as possible. But you should not make the final funeral arrangements until you are sure that the death does not have to be reported to the Procurator Fiscal, since this may affect the date when the funeral can be held.

Pre-paid funeral plans

A number of people now pre-arrange and pre-pay for their funerals by taking out a pre-paid funeral plan or funeral bond. These are different from insurance policies in that they do not pay a monetary amount on death but provide an entitlement. Usually someone will pay in advance for a specific funeral director to carry out the funeral.

Before contacting a funeral director or making any arrangements, check whether the person had a pre-paid funeral plan or bond. Look among personal papers at home or with relatives. If such a document exists then it is advisable to contact the plan or bond provider, who will give details as to which funeral director should be contacted.

Funeral director or undertaker

You can make arrangements for a funeral yourself, but most people go to a funeral director (or undertaker) who can take over all the arrangements. Funeral directors are normally a most helpful support to the family.

You will need to decide:

  • Where the body is to rest while awaiting the funeral.
  • The time and place of the funeral.
  • How much you intend to spend on the funeral.
  • Whether to have a funeral service.
  • Whether to have flowers, or to make any donations to a named charity.
  • Whether to put a notice in the newspapers.
  • Whether the body should be buried or cremated.

You may wish to obtain estimates from at least two funeral directors.

A funeral director who is a member of the National Association of Funeral Directors ( NAFD) must give a full estimate when you first make enquiries. This estimate will include what is called a "basic simple funeral" as well as any additional services. Check when the bill will have to be paid.

A "basic simple funeral" will include a coffin, a hearse and one car. It will not include things like church or crematorium fees, flowers or newspaper notices. If you are not satisfied with the service you get, or the price you have to pay, the NAFD have a complaints and arbitration service which you can use.

Funeral service

If you wish to have a funeral service you should contact the minister of religion as soon as possible. Most ministers appreciate a personal approach by relatives and can be helpful in many ways. If you wish to have the services of a minister but do not know one in the area, most funeral directors will do their best to advise and in some cases arrange for one to officiate at the service.

If you would prefer to have a non-religious service at the funeral, you may be able to get help with this by contacting the Humanist Society of Scotland. The Society produces a leaflet describing its views and purposes and it can be contacted at the address given at Part VI of this booklet.

Medical research

If the body is to be given for medical teaching purposes, the dead person will usually have made arrangements in advance with a Medical School. A written statement of the intention to benefit medical science should therefore be among the dead person's papers. You should contact the Anatomy Department of the appropriate University Medical School (Aberdeen, Dundee, Edinburgh, Glasgow or St Andrews), and they will advise on the procedures involved. Before a body can be accepted by a Medical School, there are several factors which have to be considered, such as:

  • place of death;
  • cause of death;
  • condition of body at time of death; and
  • extent of demand in the Medical School.

Bodies are normally refused if there has been a post mortem examination, or if any major organs have been removed. In normal circumstances, the costs of removing the body, and burying or cremating it are normally borne by the Medical School. A body used for teaching purposes will normally be cremated or buried within 3 years at a special memorial service.

If someone dies abroad or in England, Wales or Northern Ireland

You can arrange a local burial or cremation to avoid the expense of bringing the body back;

or bring the body back to Scotland once you have got the certificate of death and an authorisation for the removal of the body from the country of death from the appropriate authorities, and arrange a funeral in Scotland. For this you will need either an authenticated translation of a foreign death certificate or a death certificate issued in England, Wales or Northern Ireland, depending on the country of death.


The decision on whether to have a cremation or a burial will depend on a number of factors such as the person's own wishes, the views of the executor, the wishes of the person's next of kin and family, and the costs involved. If a death has been reported to the Procurator Fiscal, he will usually allow the body to be released for cremation or burial after establishing the cause of death. The Procurator Fiscal has to authorise the release of the body and written permission must be obtained before a cremation can be carried out. A form called an E1 is used and can be collected from the Procurator Fiscal's office. The funeral director will be in contact with the Procurator Fiscal and will be able to advise about when to make the funeral arrangements.


No one can be cremated until the cause of death is definitely known. Four forms from the funeral director or crematorium have to be completed. They are:

  • An application form signed by the next of kin or executor.
  • Two cremation certificates signed by the family doctor and another doctor who will charge for this. Note there will be charges for this, even if the death happened in hospital.
  • A third certificate signed by the medical referee at the crematorium. The medical referee has power to refuse cremation, require a post-mortem examination or refer the matter to the Procurator Fiscal.

Note that cremation cannot normally take place until the death has been registered and a certificate of registration of death issued by the registrar has been produced to the crematorium authorities.

If the death has been referred to the Procurator Fiscal, the two doctors' cremation certificates are not needed. The Procurator Fiscal will give a certificate for cremation.

If someone dies abroad

If someone dies abroad (including the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands) and you want to arrange a cremation in Scotland, you will need to get an order from the Scottish Government Health Department. To apply for this, take or send the documents which accompany the body - amongst which must be a death certificate or equivalent, in English, showing clearly the cause of death - together with the application form for cremation to:

Scottish Government Health Department
Public Health Division 1
St Andrew's House

Telephone: 0131 224 2501

Normally this procedure will be undertaken on your behalf by the funeral directors who are making the funeral arrangements. If death occurred in England, Wales or Northern Ireland the procedure to arrange a cremation is the same as that to be followed when the death occurred in Scotland.


Most crematoria are run by a local authority. The charges usually include the medical referee's fee and use of the chapel, and may include the chaplain's fee for a short service.

The ashes

Ashes can be scattered in a garden of remembrance, or a favourite spot chosen by the dead person, buried in a churchyard or cemetery or kept in an urn. It is important to make quite clear your wishes about the ashes. If no wishes have been expressed, it is the responsibility of the crematorium staff to contact the relatives before disposal. Arrangements can be made for the placing of a memorial plaque at the crematorium.


Find out if the person had already paid for a lair in a churchyard or cemetery, by checking the will (see section 10) and looking through their papers for the necessary documents. You should give these to the funeral director. If not, you will have to buy one. Ask the funeral director how to arrange it.


Normally the funeral is arranged by a member of the family or a close friend. This section explains what happens when there are no surviving family or friends available or they are not able to arrange the funeral. There are also other circumstances in which public authorities will help with or arrange a funeral. These are explained below.

When someone dies in hospital, a local authority home or in temporary accommodation

The funeral may be arranged by the NHS Board, NHS Trust or the Social Work Department of the local authority. The authority that arranges the funeral can make a claim on the estate of the person who died.

Ask at the hospital or the home.

In the event of a stillbirth

The NHS Board may arrange and meet the cost of funerals of stillbirths occurring in hospitals or in the community under the NHS.

If no other arrangements can be made

The local authority has a duty to bury or cremate a dead person. It may also claim on the estate. Ask at your local council office.

Funerals conducted by public authorities are conducted with dignity and respect and bear no resemblance to the "paupers' burials" of the past. Some local authorities prefer to carry out cremations rather than burials, but the wishes of the person or his/her relatives are normally respected.


Funerals can be expensive. Check where the money for the funeral will come from before finalising arrangements. If there is not enough money available, you may have to bear the cost yourself. The cost can be met from the following:

The money and possessions left by the dead person

Reasonable funeral expenses take priority over other debts on the person's estate. The bank account may be frozen unless it is a joint account. You should ask the branch manager of the bank in which the account was held. The manager will be able to explain this further to you.

There are organisations which may release the money to you on the evidence of the death certificate if the overall value of the dead person's estate is small and there are no complications. Ask the organisation about this.

If the person had been living in hospital or a residential home, the body and possessions - up to a certain figure fixed by the relevant local authority - will be handed over to the nearest relative in exchange for a receipt or to a person with written authority from whoever is dealing with the will. Any belongings worth more than the figure cannot be released until confirmation has been obtained.

Funeral Payments from the Social Fund

You may be able to get help if you or your partner are receiving one of the following benefits:

  • Income Support
  • Income-based Jobseeker's Allowance
  • Pension Credit
  • Child Tax Credit which includes an amount higher than the family element
  • Working Tax Credit where a disability or severe disability element is included in the award
  • Housing Benefit
  • Council Tax Benefit

It must also be reasonable for you to have taken responsibility for the funeral expenses. This will usually mean that you were the partner of the person who died, or if they had no partner, you were a close relative or friend of the person.

You may be asked about the financial circumstances of any parent, son or daughter of the person. You may also be asked about the financial circumstances of the person's other close relatives.

The person who died must have been ordinarily resident in the United Kingdom at the date of death, and the funeral must normally take place in the United Kingdom. (You may be able to get a Funeral Payment if the funeral takes place elsewhere in the European Union ( EU), but you should check with your local Jobcentre Plus or social security office, as this will depend on the circumstances.)

A funeral payment covers the costs of a simple respectful low cost funeral. The amount allowable includes the cost of certain specified items, including necessary burial or cremation fees, and up to £700 for all other funeral expenses.

The amount payable may be affected by any other means of paying for the funeral. Where items and services have been provided under a pre-paid funeral plan or similar arrangement, the amount is up to £120. If you get a Funeral Payment, it will have to be paid back from any estate of the person who died.

To claim, complete form SF200 "Funeral Payment from the Social Fund", available from your local Jobcentre Plus or social security office. You must claim within three months of the date of the funeral. For more information, see leaflet SB16 "A Guide to the Social Fund" which you can find on the DWP website http://www.dwp.gov.uk.

War pensioners' funeral expenses

If the person was a war pensioner the Veterans Agency will pay for a basic funeral if the war pensioner died from a disablement for which he or she was entitled to a pension, or was receiving in-patient treatment for this disablement, or if the war pensioner was entitled to Constant Attendance Allowance.

A cash sum or pension

These may be paid by the dead person's employer or trade union, professional body or other association.

Insurance policies of the dead person

Tell the insurance company as soon as possible. They will tell you exactly what documents they need before they can meet a claim for insurance. You should make certain that a receipt is obtained when rendering insurance policies. You should also check carefully the amount due to be paid before signing for any money. It is also advisable to make sure that all policies are still in force and what their true values are before committing yourself to funeral costs.

A tax refund

A refund may be payable if the person was paying tax. Contact HM Revenue and Customs to find out if a refund is due.