Registering a death
Registering a death is a legal requirement to tell the government that a person has died.
If a death on the road was due to natural causes, you will have to register the death yourself.
If the coroner decides to investigate the death, the death cannot be registered until their investigation has been completed. The coroner’s office will tell you when and how the death will be registered.
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.
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.
You cannot register a death until the cause of death is known. You may need a death certificate sooner than this, for example to enable you to move money between bank accounts or claim benefits. The coroner can give you, for free, a ‘coroner’s certificate of the fact of death’ to help you deal with administrative matters. This is sometimes called an ‘interim death certificate’.
For information about the coroner’s investigation, see Section 4: Court cases.
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.
The standards you can expect to receive from a coroner's office and what to do if you feel those standards have not been met are written into the government document called ‘Guide to Coroner Services’. You can access this document at www.brake.org.uk/codes-and-standards.
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 insurer needs, such as the details of another driver. You do not have to tell the 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 can make a claim for compensation. It is up to you whether you choose this solicitor or a different solicitor.
Whether or not a person who died was driving, 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.
You may be contacted by the motor insurer for other people involved in the crash. They may offer 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 friends and family who 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 some holiday; some employers and trade unions also have funds that provide support to families of employees who have died)
- school, college or nursery (teachers can provide valuable support)
- doctor (your GP)
- life insurance and pension companies (the sooner you tell them, the sooner you may be able to make a claim from any 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.
The ‘Tell Us Once’ service can report a death to other government organisations on your behalf, so you don't have to tell lots of different people. To find out if the service is available in your area, you can go to your local authority website, speak to the coroner's office or registrar when you register a death, or go to www.gov.uk and search for 'Tell Us Once'.
LifeLedger is a free service that can help you tell other organisations, including banks, utility providers, insurers and social media, about a death. To find out more, go to lifeledger.com.
Burials or cremations
Arranging a burial or cremation
Burial or cremation can take place once a coroner has given permission for the body to be released (see Section 1: What happens now?).
Arrangements for a loved one’s body to be buried or cremated, and arrangements for any funeral service or gathering in their memory, are usually overseen by a close relative or group of relatives or friends.
If you are the person making arrangements, or involved in making arrangements, consider any instructions that the person who died left in a will, or elsewhere, or told anyone. If the person who died followed a religion, there may be religious practices to follow.
People often have different or strong views on what should be done. Discussing options together with other family members, or other people who were close to the person who died, and sharing tasks, can help. Alternatively, you may choose to let someone else make decisions.
As long as a legal method is chosen, no one should push you to make arrangements for a burial or cremation that you are not comfortable with.
This means that no one else (for example, a faith leader or a funeral director, or friends) has the right to decide the details.
Some people hold more than one memorial event, so everyone gets an opportunity to say goodbye in a way that has meaning to them.
Using a funeral director
Many people use a funeral director to help arrange a burial or cremation. A funeral director may offer a range of services, including:
- looking after a loved one’s body before a burial or cremation
- arranging for you to view a loved one’s body
- providing a choice of coffins, shrouds or urns to buy
- liaising with the burial or cremation authority on your behalf
- organising a funeral ceremony
- transporting a loved one’s body.
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.
Funeral directors should publish a standardised price list so you can compare prices and services of different funeral directors in your area. You can ask them to send a price list for other options including bespoke coffins, flowers and funeral vehicles. To find a funeral director in your area, you can use one of these websites:
If you decide to use a funeral director, you may want to choose one who is a member of an association and follows a code of practice. For a list of associations of funeral directors, go to our 'Useful organisations' webpage at www.brake.org.uk/orgs.
Some people choose not to use a funeral director because they want to manage arrangements themselves. 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.
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 materials that can be used to make coffins and wrap bodies. Your funeral director, if you are using one, should be able to give you advice about coffins and shrouds.
The Natural Death Centre can give you information and advice about natural burials, coffins and shrouds. They can also give you information about direct funerals and cremations. Go to www.naturaldeath.org.uk or call 01962 712 690.
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 benefits office as soon as possible whether the government can help you pay, or go to www.gov.uk and search for ‘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 help paying funeral costs, 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 and you are making a claim for compensation.
Direct funerals or cremations
One way to reduce 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.
All funeral directors should now be able to offer direct burials or cremations. They should also be able to advise you on other ways to lower the cost of a burial or cremation.
A direct cremation can also be arranged without a funeral director although you will need to make arrangements to transport the body yourself. You can ask a crematorium about how to arrange a direct cremation.
Legal and financial issues
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.
For advice on choosing a solicitor specialising in road death and personal injury claims, see Section 5: Can I claim compensation?
For more information about finding an expert solicitor that can help you, go to Legal Support.
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 gives instructions on what should happen to their possessions and money after their death. It may also include information about what sort of funeral they would like and whether they would prefer a burial or cremation.
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, you can 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.
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 used to be done 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
call 0800 138 1111 or go to stepchange.org
- National Debtline
call 0808 808 4000 or go to www.nationaldebtline.org
- Citizens Advice Adviceline
England: call 03444 111 444 or go to www.citizensadvice.org.uk
Wales: call 03444 77 20 20 or go to www.citizensadvice.org.uk
- MoneyAdvice Service
call 0800 138 7777 or go to 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 (see Section 5: Can I claim compensation?).
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 stop unwanted sales calls, mail and faxes by registering with the following services:
- Telephone Preference Service
call 0345 070 0707 or go to www.tpsonline.org.uk
- Mailing Preference Service
call 0207 291 3310 or go to www.mpsonline.org.uk
- Fax Preference Service
call 0345 070 0702 or go to www.fpsonline.org.uk
You may have to re-register with these services every few years.
Registering with these 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 messages or email.
There are 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, online media, 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 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 call, email or write to journalists. Your solicitor or the police may also 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 may be able to help you to manage your relationship with the media, particularly in the first few days after the crash or around any court case.
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 give the media any written statement you want to make, any photograph you want to see published or 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.
Police best practice is to help you develop a ‘media strategy’ that takes into account your views on media coverage.
Photographs and videos
When choosing a photo or 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.
Some 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. This is a personal choice. If you are doing this, 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, and you should get a record of this agreement. You can ask the journalist to email you about how the photo will be used or you can ask 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. It is better to give a digital copy, if you can.
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 news outlet, following their published complaints procedure. Sometimes the media offers to print or broadcast an apology. A newspaper or magazine may offer to print a letter from you.
Media outlets often sign up to codes of practice that require them to respect privacy and feelings of victims. To read these codes, go to www.brake.org.uk/codes-and-standards.
If you feel you are being harassed by a journalist, contact the Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO) helpline: 07799 903 929.
To make a complaint about broadcasting, go to www.ofcom.org.uk or call 0300 123 3333.
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 allow small permanent memorials, such as a plaque on a grass verge or, depending on the location, larger memorials such as a bench. Some local authorities may not allow any roadside memorials, and some may limit 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. Brake’s National Road Victim Service 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 collect 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, where they publish memories, poems, songs, messages, pictures or videos. There are several organisations that can provide this service, including ones that are free or low cost. You can ask a funeral director about these services.
Brake’s National Road Victim Service can also put you in touch with these services, call 0808 8000 401 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
You can find more information about memorialising and other ways to honour a loved one’s memory at www.brake.org.uk/memories.
Some people bereaved by a road crash wish to campaign for road safety. For a list of organisations that can help you do this, click here.
If a loved one died abroad, there may be many added complications, such as different legal procedures or a language barrier.
Brake’s National Road Victim Service works with the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) 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 FCDO you should have been offered support from the National Road Victim Service. If not, you can call the National Road Victim Service on 0808 8000 401 (Monday–Friday, 10am–4pm) or email email@example.com.
You can also ask for support from FCDO Consular staff based at British Embassies, High Commissions and Consulates overseas, and in London in the Consular Directorate of the FCDO.
This text is taken from the 2022-23 edition of Information and advice for bereaved families and friends following death on the road in England and Wales. Published 2022. ISBN 978-1-906409-84-5.