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What Actually Happens When A Loved One Dies

Death is never an easy thing to handle, especially when it feels like it’s too soon. Cancer has robbed millions of people of their loved ones over the years, and those deaths never get any easier. Our charity founders Lyndsey and Jemma went through the death of their mother when they were only 27 and 20, and all of the legal processes that went with it. So today we want to guide you through the first few weeks of losing a loved one, what you’ll need to do, and how you can make it a little easier.

The Information You Will Need

If you’re in charge of your loved one’s affairs, then there are a few things you’ll need to get the process started. You can progress without them, but it will make the whole thing a lot easier if you can find them. The essentials you’ll need include:

  • National Insurance number

  • NHS number

  • Date and place of birth

  • Date of any marriage or civil partnership

  • Child benefit number

  • Tax reference number

  • Organ donor card (if they were registered)

These documents will let you get the process started, and help you skip a lot of the long, complicated processes involved with declaring a death and managing an estate. If you know ahead of time, you can prepare these documents in a pack to make things go a little smoother.

The First 5 Days

The initial period after a loved one passes is incredibly difficult, and you’ll probably struggle to get your head together a lot of the time. We wish we could say it gets easier, but this is the time when your grief will be freshest, and you will need a lot of support to get through it. Unfortunately, the government is quite dispassionate, and there are some official things you need to do within 5 days of a loved one dying. Mainly:

  • Tell the family doctor.

  • Register the death at the relevant Registrar’s office (except where the death has been referred to a Coroner, in which case they will handle this).

  • Find the will (if you can’t find one, check with their solicitor for a copy).

  • Begin funeral arrangements

  • If relevant, complete Form 36 and send it to the local Jobs and Benefits office about the deceased’s benefits.

  • If they were receiving any benefits or tax credits, contact The Bereavement Service.

  • If they were a Blue Badge holder, this must be returned to the Blue Badge Unit.

  • If they were the first named on an insurance policy, call providers and make sure you are still insured.

It’s awful that such procedural things have to be done so soon after a loss, but those are the rules set out by the government. Again, if you know that a loved one will pass in advance, you could pre-plan for some of these things, but if not know there is support available to help get you through it.

Planning The Funeral

This is one of the harder things you’ll have to do at this point, but funeral plans need to be arranged fairly quickly. If you’re lucky your loved one will have either pre-paid for a funeral plan, or have left specific instructions in their will along with an allocation of money to pay for their funeral. This is what we recommend to cancer patients with a terminal diagnosis, as it allows them to make sure their wishes can be met and makes this easier on their loved ones when they pass on. If there is a funeral plan or a section in the will, then organising the funeral simply becomes following a set of instructions.

If there are no instructions, then you will need to start planning the funeral. It can feel like an overwhelming job, so if you can, involve others to help you keep things on track, delegate jobs to and support you through it. The steps you’ll need to go through are:

  • Find out if there are any funeral instructions or funds left to pay for the funeral. If not, decide how the funeral will be paid for.

  • Choose a funeral director – this is someone who can handle a lot of the logistics of arranging a funeral. You don’t have to use one, but many people find it’s a lot easier with one.

  • Burial or cremation? Hopefully, you will have had the ‘funeral chat’ with your loved one and they will have made their wishes known.

  • Choose a coffin. There are hundreds to choose from in pretty much every price range, and you can get them from online stores or direct from the funeral director.

  • Arrange the funeral service. Again, you have a lot of options to create a funeral that reflects your loved one. Whether that’s a religious ceremony, a cremation, a woodland funeral or a humanist ceremony. You’ll also need to arrange a celebrant, decide on who will deliver eulogies, choose music and flowers and issue a dress code (black, colourful, or anything else).

  • Choose a venue and date for the funeral.

  • Plan the wake. This is what will happen after the funeral. Will you all gather at a family member’s house, go to the pub, or hire a village hall?

Unfortunately, there is nothing anyone can do to make losing a loved one easier to cope with, but there is a way to ease the stress and burden while you’re dealing with it. Reach out, accept help, and remember all of the goodness they brought to the world. And if you can, do something in their memory. You never know what good can come of it – after all, that’s how Jill’s Fundraising Journey started out. Just two daughters wanting to do something in their mothers’ memory.


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