Scroll down for information and advice on practical issues that often come up after a road crash.
This includes information about informing people, burials or cremations, legal issues, personal finance, the media, memorials, and if the crash happened abroad.
Registering a death
Unless a death on the road was due to natural causes, you don’t have to register the death yourself. This will be done by the coroner, who is responsible for investigating violent or unnatural deaths. The coroner will register the death once their investigation is completed.
Once the death has been registered, you can obtain a certified copy of the entry in the register, which is called a ‘death certificate’, from the Registrar. Local authorities can give you contact details for a Registrar.
You may need a death certificate sooner than this, for example to enable you to move money between bank accounts or claim benefits. In this case, the coroner should give you an ‘interim’ death certificate, which is called a ‘certificate as to fact of death’. This is free.
Some organisations will ask for an original copy of a death certificate. It’s a good idea to order as many copies of a death certificate as you think you will need. It may be more expensive to order extra copies at a later date.
For general advice from the government on what to do after a death, go to www.gov.uk and enter the word ‘death’ into the search box.
Talking to motor insurers
If a person who died was driving a vehicle then you, or someone on your behalf, needs to tell their motor insurer that they have died. The police can give you basic details that the motor insurer needs, such as the details of another driver. You do not have to tell the motor insurer what happened in the crash. You only need to say that the crash is being investigated by the police.
The motor insurer may offer you a solicitor to help you find out if you have a compensation claim. It is up to you whether you choose this solicitor or a different solicitor.
Whether or not a person who died was driving a vehicle, you are advised to consult a solicitor of your choice as soon as possible. It may be possible, at no cost to you, to make a significant claim for compensation from the motor insurer of a vehicle that contributed to the crash.
At any stage you may be contacted by the other side’s motor insurer, offering you money in settlement for any compensation claim you may have. If this happens, you are strongly advised not to accept this money. Do not sign any forms they send you. A settlement they offer may be lower than the amount that a solicitor could obtain for you.
There may be people other than relatives and friends who may need to be told about a death quite soon. You can choose to tell these people yourself or ask someone to do it for you. These people may include:
- employers (if you are employed you may be entitled to immediate bereavement leave or be given permission to take your holiday entitlement now; some employers and trade unions also have benevolent funds that provide support to families of employees who have died);
- school, college or nursery (teachers can provide valuable support);
- life insurance and pension companies (the sooner you inform these companies, the sooner you can go ahead with any possible claims from these plans);
- bank or building society;
- mortgage or loan provider;
- housing department or housing association (if a person who died was living in social housing);
- utility providers (for example, gas, electricity and phone), particularly if a person who died lived alone;
- benefit providers;
- HM Revenue and Customs (if a person who died paid tax);
- Passport Office (if a person who died had a passport);
- DVLA (if a person who died had a driving licence);
- social clubs that a person who died attended.
Some local authorities provide a ‘Tell Us Once’ service where they will pass information about the death to other government organisations on your behalf, so you don't have to inform lots of different people. When you register a death, the registrar should tell you whether the service is available in your area and give you a unique reference number that you will need to use the service. You can visit your local authority website to see if this is available in your area, speak to your coroner's office or registrar, or go to www.gov.uk and search for 'Tell Us Once'.
Arranging a burial or cremation
Burial or cremation can take place once a coroner has given permission for the body to be released. Arrangements for a body to be buried or cremated, and arrangements for any funeral service or gathering in their memory, are usually overseen by a close relative. If you are the person making arrangements, consider any instructions that the person who died left in a will or elsewhere, or told anyone. You may also want to consult other people who were close to the person who died. If the person who died followed a religion, there may be religious practices to follow.
Making decisions at this time can be hard. You may find it easier to make decisions and share tasks with other close family or friends. People in the same family sometimes have different or strong views on what should be done. Discussing options and making decisions together can help.
Alternatively, you may choose to let someone else make decisions. Some people hold more than one memorial event, so everyone gets an opportunity to say goodbye in a way that has meaning to them.
You, or someone else responsible for the dead person’s estate, are responsible for ensuring the cremation or burial happens, and deciding how. This means that, as long as you choose a legal method, no-one (including friends, family, a faith leader or a funeral director) should push you to make arrangements that you are not comfortable with.
Using a funeral director
Many people arrange a burial or a cremation with the help of a funeral director. A funeral director’s services often include, among other things, looking after the body prior to burial or cremation, arranging for you to view a loved one’s body, providing you with a choice of coffins, shrouds or urns to buy, liaising with the burial or cremation authority on your behalf if necessary, organising a funeral ceremony, and transporting the body.
If you decide to use a funeral director, and are considering which one to use, you may want to choose one who is a member of an association and follows a code of practice. The following associations provide lists of members:
- National Association of Funeral Directors
T: 0121 711 1343 W: www.nafd.org.uk and www.funeral-directory.co.uk
- SAIF (The National Society of Allied and Independent Funeral Directors)
T: 0345 230 6777 or 01279 726 777 W: www.saif.org.uk
Some people choose not to use a funeral director because they want to manage arrangements themselves. Some people choose to use a funeral director only for certain things, such as looking after the body or helping with the paperwork that needs to be completed after a death. You can get advice on managing arrangements yourself from the charity the Natural Death Centre. Go to www.naturaldeath.org.uk or call 01962 712 690.
Some people choose not to use a funeral director because arrangements are being managed by a faith leader.
Your local authority or funeral director can provide you with lists of local cemeteries and church graveyards. Some burial grounds may already be full. The person in charge of a burial ground can tell you.
There are also an increasing number of woodland and meadow burial grounds. These are run by local authorities, private landowners and wildlife charities and provide a natural setting for burial, while also using the land to grow plants and encourage wildlife. The Natural Death Centre (see above) provides a list of these.
If your loved one’s body is being cremated, then their ashes can be scattered in a place of your choice or garden of remembrance, buried in a cemetery or graveyard, or kept by you. You need to get permission from any landowner before making arrangements to scatter or bury ashes.
Coffins and shrouds
Bodies can be placed in coffins made from a range of materials, including cardboard. The body can alternatively be wrapped in a shroud before being buried or cremated. You can buy coffins and shrouds from a funeral director, over the internet or make your own. There are rules governing the covering of bodies. If you are not using a funeral director, you can get advice from the Natural Death Centre (see above).
Paying for a burial or cremation
You may be able to get help paying for all or some of the costs of a burial or cremation if:
- you receive certain benefits or tax credits. (Ask your local Jobcentre Plus office as soon as possible whether the government can help you pay. You can also find information on www.gov.uk by searching ‘funeral payment’);
- the person who died was signed up to a scheme providing payment for such costs. This scheme could be part of an employment package, a personal pension plan, or an insurance plan;
- the person who died had paid in advance for their own burial or cremation through a payment plan. Some credit union accounts also make a payment towards funeral costs when the account holder dies. (Some payment plans may only pay for the use of a particular funeral director.)
If you aren’t eligible for this help, you should still keep receipts of costs in case you can claim them back later. You may be able to do this if someone is found to have been responsible for a death as part of a claim by you for compensation.
Direct funerals or cremations
One option for reducing the cost of a funeral is a burial or cremation without any mourners present. This is sometimes called a ‘direct’ funeral or cremation. The funeral director makes arrangements with the crematorium or burial site, collects the body, and returns ashes from the crematorium in an urn. Many people who choose this option still have a memorial ceremony, but hold it on a different day, later on.
A funeral director should be able to advise you on ways to lower the cost of a burial or cremation. The Natural Death Centre lists funeral directors specialising in direct funerals. Call 01962 712 690 or go to www.naturaldeath.org.uk.
Hiring a solicitor
Many people bereaved by a road crash benefit from hiring one or more solicitors as soon as possible. The earlier you consult a solicitor, the sooner they can consider your case and the greater the chance they will be able to help you. An initial consultation with a solicitor should be free.
Different solicitors specialise in different areas of law. A personal injury solicitor is the best person to advise you on whether you can claim compensation and pursue any claim for you. Sometimes a lot of money can be claimed, so it is important to find out. You may also need advice from a solicitor specialising in wills. Depending on your circumstances, you may also need specialist advice regarding issues around an inquest, a post-mortem examination, a criminal case, or a death that happened abroad.
It is important to use solicitors experienced in the right areas of law. A solicitor who has helped you before, for example to buy a house, may not be the best solicitor for you now. See below for advice on contacting a solicitor specialising in wills.
If you are the next of kin of an adult who has died, or you have been appointed as their representative, you need to find out if they made a will. Copies of wills may be held by a bank or solicitor or may have been deposited with the Probate Service. For more information go to www.gov.uk and search for 'probate'.
A will appoints a person or people (known as an executor) to administer a dead person's estate (everything they owned). It also gives instructions on how possessions and money should be distributed and may also include instructions about their burial or cremation and any funeral arrangements.
Wills can be complicated. Sometimes there is no will. Whether or not there is a will, a specialist solicitor can give you advice on what you need to do. STEP provides details of solicitors who specialise in wills. Go to www.step.org or call 020 3752 3700.
If you need advice about a will but cannot afford a solicitor, contact your local Citizens Advice office (www.citizensadvice.org.uk)or law centre for free advice. To find your nearest law centre, go to www.lawcentres.org.uk.
Some people qualify for benefits after being bereaved. You may be able to claim benefits for all sorts of reasons, for example if a partner has died, or you are bringing up children on a low income.
If a person who died was claiming benefits or a state retirement pension, or you were receiving benefits for them, you need to let their benefits office know about the death.
To find out if you can claim any benefits, visit www.gov.uk and search for 'benefits'. You can also contact your local Citizens Advice service for free advice (www.citizensadvice.org.uk).
Many people find their bereavement causes financial issues; for example if a person who died was working and provided income. Some bereaved people struggle to pay bills at this time.
Some bereaved people also find they are managing finances for the first time, because this was a task undertaken by a person who died. Understanding finances that someone else previously managed can be challenging, particularly at such a difficult time.
The following organisations can give advice:
- StepChange Debt Charity (0800 138 1111 or www.stepchange.org)
- National Debtline (0808 808 4000 or www.nationaldebtline.org)
- Citizens Advice Adviceline (England 03444 111 444, Wales 03444 77 20 20 or www.citizensadvice.org.uk)
Government-established advice service:
- MoneyAdvice Service (0800 138 7777 or www.moneyadviceservice.org.uk)
If you are pursuing a claim for compensation, it is sometimes possible to obtain an early partial payment, to help with immediate financial needs. Your solicitor can advise you.
The Death Notification Service is a free service that allows you to notify a number of banks and building societies about a person's death, at the same time. To find out more, call 0333 207 6574 or go to www.deathnotificationservice.co.uk.
Stopping unwanted mail
You may find it upsetting to receive junk mail, email or sales calls for someone who has died. One way to reduce the chance of this is to register, for free, with The Bereavement Register. Call 0800 082 1230 or go to www.thebereavementregister.org.uk. You can also register with The Bereavement Register by completing the form inserted in the back inside cover of this pack.
You can also stop unwanted sales calls, mail and faxes by registering with:
- Telephone Preference Service (0345 070 0707 or www.tpsonline.org.uk)
- Mailing Preference Service (0207 291 3310 or www.mpsonline.org.uk)
- Fax Preference Service (0345 070 0702 or www.fpsonline.org.uk)
The above services may not stop all unwanted correspondence, but will reduce the chance of it happening.
Communicating with friends, family or colleagues through social media (such as Facebook and Twitter) is an important part of many people's lives. You may find comfort and support through your use of social media at this time.
It is important not to make comments publicly on websites that could create problems for a police investigation, a criminal trial or a compensation claim. If you wish to discuss such things with people who are close to you, it is safest to do so only through private messaging or email.
There are many websites that encourage people to state their views on public forums (for example, on news websites). These forums often contain a variety of views, some of which may not be sensitively worded nor fair comment.
They may contain incorrect information. A driver who has caused a crash may also post things on their own social media accounts that you may find upsetting. For your wellbeing, you may choose to avoid sites which could contain insensitive posts or incorrect information, and only visit places on the internet where you feel safe, supported and can trust what you are reading.
If you feel you are suffering online harassment, for example threats to harm you physically, talk to the police.
Your case in the media
Journalists from newspapers, or radio or TV programmes, often want to cover crashes and court cases. You cannot stop the media from reporting on your case or publishing your name and where you are from. Journalists may publish or broadcast stories about your case without talking to you, or they may phone you, knock on your door, or approach you at a court hearing for a comment. They may ask you for a photograph or home video of someone who has died. They may ask to interview you or photograph you.
Different people feel differently about the media. You may feel grateful for media coverage, or dislike it, or feel disappointed that there isn't more media coverage. It is up to you whether you talk to journalists or not.
You may decide to talk to journalists to help raise awareness of road safety, or to help find witnesses to the crash. You may find that you prefer to talk to some journalists but not to others. You may decide not to talk to journalists for personal reasons.
If you aren't contacted by journalists but want media coverage, you can contact them. You can ring up, email or write to journalists. Alternatively, your solicitor or the police may be able to help you liaise with journalists.
Ask your police contact or your solicitor if there is anything you shouldn’t talk about to journalists. If someone is accused of causing a death, it is important not to make comments that could create problems for a police investigation, a criminal trial or a compensation claim.
Police help with the media
The police can often help you to manage your relationship with the media, particularly in the first few days after the crash or around any court case.
A police manual called Family Liaison Officer Guidance says police should work with you to develop a ‘media strategy’ that takes into account your views on media coverage. You can download this manual at www.brake.org.uk/support.
The police often release their own media statements about crashes and resulting court cases to the media, and will be able to give these to you. Your police contact should be able to pass on to the media any written statement you want to make, any photograph you want to see published or home video you want broadcast. In some cases, the police also organise press conferences for bereaved families. This might happen at the end of a court case, or to appeal for witnesses.
Choosing a photo or home video
When choosing a photo or home video of someone who has died to pass on to the media, you may wish to consider how they might have wanted to be remembered. Your police contact can arrange for a photo to be altered if necessary – for example, taking a loved one’s image from a group photo.
A few families have given the media a photo of a loved one’s dead body, or of them critically ill in hospital before they died. They have done this as part of an appeal for witnesses or to explain to the public the horrors of road crashes. You can ask the media to use a photo for a specific purpose and on just one occasion, accompanied by specific words from you, and then ask for the photo not to be used again.
If you would like a photo to be used on just one occasion, you should agree this with the journalist who contacts you, before the photo is used. It is advisable to have a record of this agreement, for example by asking the journalist to email you, or asking the journalist if you can record their verbal agreement on your mobile phone.
You can release a photo to just one journalist or lots of journalists. Your police contact may be able to help.
You are advised not to give original photos or home videos to the media in case they lose them. Newsrooms can be hectic, messy places. The police should be able to make copies for you.
Being interviewed by a journalist
Being interviewed by a journalist can be hard, particularly if they are a stranger and they want you to talk about how you feel. It can be particularly hard to do interviews that are being broadcast on radio or TV. If you decide to talk to a journalist, it can help to ask in advance what questions they want to ask, and to think what you might want to say. If you are doing an interview at a radio or TV station, you might want to take a friend for support, or if you would prefer, ask for the interview to be done at your home.
Making a comment or complaint about the media
If you are unhappy with a journalist's conduct or think that a journalist has published or broadcast something that is incorrect or unfair, you can make a complaint to the relevant publication or TV or radio station.
If you are complaining about a publication, address your complaint to the editor and publisher. If you are complaining about a TV or radio station, address your complaint to the director. Sometimes the media offers to print or broadcast an apology. A newspaper or magazine may offer to print a letter from you.
Journalists are governed by national codes of practice that require them to respect the privacy and feelings of bereaved people.
- The Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO) regulates the Editors’ Code of Practice, a set of rules that newspapers or magazines who are members of IPSO must follow. To read this code and find advice about dealing with media attention, or complain if you think a journalist has broken this code, go to www.ipso.co.uk. IPSO can help with unwanted press attention or harassment concerns and has a 24-hour helpline 07799 903 929.
- The Ofcom Broadcasting Code governs TV and radio journalists. To read this code and make a complaint if you think a journalist has broken this code, go to www.ofcom.org.uk or call 0300 123 3333.
Some people bereaved by a road crash wish to campaign for road safety.
Some people bereaved in road crashes wish to place flowers and other things at the place where a loved one has died, in their memory. Some people see this as an important expression of their grief. You may or may not want to do this.
Many local authorities allow small temporary memorials such as flowers and cards. Some local authorities grant permission for small permanent memorials, such as a plaque on a grass verge or, depending on the location, larger memorials such as a bench. However, some local authorities may not allow roadside memorials, and some may even restrict the length of time that flowers can be placed at the site of a crash. Memorials are not allowed on motorways.
If you want to seek permission for a roadside memorial, you need to talk to the highways department of the relevant local authority to find out what they allow.
You may want to ask someone else to talk on your behalf to your local authority about roadside memorials. The Brake helpline can do this for you. Your solicitor, police contact, or another support agency may also be able to help.
If cards or notes are placed by other people, you may want to ask your police contact to retrieve them after a period of time and give them to you.
Some people bereaved in road crashes decide to have a website in memory of a person who died, and publish memories, poems, messages, pictures or videos on this website. There are several organisations dedicated to providing this service for you, including ones that are free or low cost. You can ask a funeral director about these services. The Brake helpline can also put you in touch with these services, call 0808 8000 401.
If the crash happened abroad
If a loved one died abroad, there may be many added complications, such as different legal procedures or a language barrier.
The Brake helpline works with the Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) to provide emotional and practical support to families and friends in the UK of anyone killed in a road crash abroad.
If you have been in touch with the FCO you should have been offered Brake's support. If not, you can contact the helpline on 0808 8000 401 (Monday-Friday, 10am-4pm) or email email@example.com.
You can also ask for support from FCO Consular staff based at British Embassies, High Commissions and Consulates overseas, and in London in the Consular Directorate of the FCO.
These officials can:
- give you information about burial or cremation in the country in which someone died, or information about transporting the body and personal belongings back to the UK;
- advise you how to register a death in the country where the person died;
- help you transfer money from the UK to pay costs;
- offer basic information about the local police system and legal system, including the availability of any legal aid;
- provide you with details of local lawyers, interpreters and funeral directors.
FCO staff cannot investigate deaths abroad nor give legal advice. If you have concerns about legal issues, a solicitor with experience of dealing with deaths abroad can advise you.
Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) guidance called Support for British nationals abroad: A guide explains what support is available to family and friends if a loved one died abroad. This guidance is available online atwww.gov.uk/government/publications/support-for-britishnationals-abroad-a-guide.
If the person who died had travel insurance, it is advisable to contact the insurer as soon as possible, in case there is a possibility of a claim.
You can contact the FCO for help and advice from anywhere in the world by calling 0207 008 1500 or go to www.gov.uk/government/organisations/foreign-commonwealth-office. Tofind your nearest British embassy, High Commission or Consulate, go to www.gov.uk/world/embassies.