What to do when someone dies

If you have just lost a loved one, please accept our heartfelt condolences. We recognise this may be an extremely difficult time for you and that it can be hard to know what to do when grief takes over. Our role is to make the funeral process as straightforward as possible so you have one less thing to worry about. The following is a detailed step-by-step process, with additional information available in our downloadable PDF guide.

What happens first?

Wherever your loved one dies – at home, in hospital or in a care or nursing home – a hospital doctor or GP will need to certify the death by signing a medical certificate. Please contact us as soon as possible and we will arrange to bring the deceased back to our premises until the funeral. In the case of a sudden or unexpected death, you will need to call an ambulance or the police; the Coroner may order a post mortem examination before issuing the required documents and there may be an inquest. Please contact us as every situation is different and we can advise you, whatever the circumstances, including a death overseas or a young person or child. Once you have the medical certificate, you will need to register the death at your local Registration Office.

Where do I register the death?

If there is no post mortem examination, you will need to book an appointment at your local Registration (or ‘Register’) Office within five days of the death. Local Registration Offices can get very busy so our advice is to do this as soon as possible. If you can’t get an appointment at your nearest office, you should be able to get one at another nearby location.

Registering a death in Essex

In Essex, the nearest offices to our branches are in: Braintree, Colchester, Clacton, Dunmow, Halstead, Harwich and Witham. To book an appointment, call 0345 603 7632 or email registration@essex.gov.uk; visit the Essex County Council website for further information.

Registering a death in Suffolk

In Suffolk, the Ipswich office can be contacted on 0345 607 2050 or email ipswich.registrars@suffolk.gov.uk; the Sudbury office can be called on 0345 607 2080 or email sudbury.registrars@suffolk.gov.uk. Visit the Suffolk County Council website for further information.

If the Coroner is involved, there are different procedures. Please contact us for specific advice.

What happens at the Registration Office?

Allow around an hour for your visit (and check parking in advance). The Registrar will ask you for the medical certificate with the cause of death signed by the doctor. They will also need the following information about the deceased: full names of the deceased and any previous names (with marriage certificate); date and place of death; usual home address with postcode; date and place of birth (with birth certificate); occupation of the deceased; full name, date of birth and occupation of the spouse or civil partner; NHS number or medical card, information about their state pension or benefits.

The Registrar will give you a Certificate for Burial or Cremation (the ‘green form’), giving permission for the burial or cremation to take place, and a Certificate of Registration of Death (the ‘white form’), issued for Social Security purposes, if the deceased was on a state pension or benefits.

They will also provide a Death Certificate for free and will charge a small payment for further copies. It is cheaper to purchase additional copies of the certificate at the time of registration rather than later as you will need to send them to other organisations (e.g. pension provider, utility companies, banks etc) to provide proof of death. The Registrar will also give you a unique reference number and contact details for the Government’s ‘Tell Us Once’ system.

What is the Tell Us Once system?

The Tell Us Once system means you only need to inform local and central Government organisations once about the death. You can call them on the number provided by the Registrar or log onto the Tell Us Once website with your reference number and other information requested. Through this, you will be able to inform HM Revenue and Customs, Department for Work and Pensions, Passport Office, Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency and your local council.

When should I contact my local branch of GW Hardy & Sons?

Please contact your local branch of GW Hardy & Sons funeral directors in Essex and Suffolk as soon after the death as you feel comfortable. We can arrange to see you at home, in our office or at a location that’s convenient to you. We will arrange the funeral to sort your requirements in terms of date and location.

What funeral choices do I need to make?

There are a number of areas for you to consider, such as:

  • Is the deceased to be buried or cremated?
  • Where is the funeral to be held, e.g. a local church or crematorium?
  • Do you have a local vicar, priest, humanist, civil celebrant or other officiant in mind to take the service?
  • Would you like to view the deceased in our Chapel of Rest prior to the funeral?
  • What sort of coffin do you require? Please see our coffin selection.
  • Will you require any limousines for mourners to follow the hearse?
  • What type of service would you like e.g. non-religious, Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Sikh or other faith?
  • Would you like your Order of Service leaflets printed?
  • Would you like us to put a notice in the obituary section of the local paper?
  • At a later stage, you may wish to view our selection of memorials.

How much will the funeral cost?

We are dedicated to keeping our prices fair, offering value for money. We know people are concerned about how much a funeral will cost, especially if the deceased does not have a pre-paid funeral plan. However, the fee will vary depending on the numerous variables outlined. As well as our own fees, we will also include third party fees – and we are one of only a small number of Funeral Directors who do not take payment for disbursements in advance.

These disbursements will include fees for the crematorium or cemetery including doctors’ fees if a cremation or gravedigger’s fees if a burial; the officiant who conducts the service; the coffin/urn/headstone/transportation fee, which will vary depending on your choice; the newspaper announcement about the death plus the design and print of the Order of Service.

You will be offered beneficial payment terms if you settle your invoice within 30 days of receipt. If you do not have sufficient funds, we can arrange for payment from the estate of the deceased. We are happy to provide a price list on request.

How long does it take to organise a funeral?

There are a number of factors to take into account when organising a funeral, such as the availability at the crematorium or church and officiant to conduct the service. Plus you need to inform the mourners and you may wish to book a wake at a local venue. You will normally need to allow at least one week from the death to the time of the funeral – longer in many cases. We pride ourselves on being able to arrange a funeral when YOU want it and as quickly as you would like it.

What happens to the deceased prior to the funeral?

We look after everyone in our care like they were a member of our own family. We pride ourselves in ensuring they are taken care of in the most professional manner. We have our own mortuary facilities plus Chapels of Rest where you can view the deceased in private. On the day of the funeral we will bring them in our Rolls-Royce hearse either to your home for a funeral procession or direct to the church or crematorium, should you prefer. We have a selection of Rolls-Royce limousines. You are welcome to place flowers on the coffin for the journey or on the roof of the vehicle; many florists will deliver wreaths and funeral sprays direct to us and we will do this for you.

What happens at the church/crematorium?

We will ensure the venue is ready to receive the mourners and can arrange for the Orders of Service to be laid on the seats, plus a framed photo of the deceased to be placed on a table or on the coffin itself. Our pall bearers will carry the coffin into the church/crematorium and place it at the front. They will then wait respectfully until the service is over and will then take the coffin either for burial or cremation. At the committal for cremation, you may wish the curtains to remain open or closed. If the deceased is being buried, the pall bearers will take the coffin to the grave and will lower it into the grave while the officiant conducts the final part of the service. Mourners will be invited to attend unless you wish to request family only at the graveside.

What goes into the Order of Service?

This will depend on the time allocated by the crematorium or church. A typical Order of Service may include processional music when the coffin is brought in, a welcome and introduction from the presiding minister, a eulogy or two about the deceased from family or friends, a couple of hymns, a psalm or reading and music to exit to. The officiant conducting the service will contact you to discuss what you would like to include in your service and arrange the appropriate music. In many cases, singers, choirs and musicians can be accommodated. We can arrange for Orders of Service to be printed for you, with photos of the deceased, if required.

Who else do I need to inform about the death?

If you have been widowed and now have a single-person household, you will be eligible for a discount on your council tax, so let your local council know as soon as possible. Plus don’t forget to change any relevant details with the deceased’s loan companies (e.g. car), pension provider, GP/dental surgeries, opticians, lawyer (for the will), mortgage provider, utility companies, insurance companies, banks/building societies/ISAs, loyalty card schemes, etc.

Coroners Service

The coroner becomes involved in an investigation if a deceased person has not seen their doctor within the past 14 days, a doctor is uncertain of the cause of death, the death is unnatural, a death occurs within 24 hours of admission to hospital or occurs in certain institutions. Generally there is nothing at all sinister implied in these proceedings and is only a formality.

The Coroners Service engage their own contractor for the transportation, administered by the relevant county council and they pay to take your loved one into care.

Even though your loved one may have been transported by a particular funeral director – selected by the council for transportation services – it does not mean that you are obliged to use them for any other services and will not be liable to them for any costs. Each family is entitled to select their own funeral director, one which they feel is best suited to providing the perfect send off for their loved one.

  • I would just like to say thank you for the wonderful send off you gave our father. Your team did a wonderful job and were kind, patient and compassionate throughout.

    Mrs HB
  • Thank you for your immense kindness and calm; you and your colleagues looked after us in a way that is beyond words. Today was as special as it ever could have been.

    Mrs LT, Colchester