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What happens when somebody dies

We understand how difficult it can be when someone close to us dies. It's a time when there are many things to be done, just when we may feel least able to do them. The Coroners Office can assist you during this time.

What do I do if someone dies suddenly?

Contact your GP or the local police.

The police, acting for the Coroner will arrange for a local Funeral Director to attend to move the deceased. In most cases the deceased's own doctor or a hospital doctor will be able to give a medical cause of death. If the death occurs at night or at a weekend there may be a delay in contacting the deceased's GP.


Why are the police involved?

The police act as Coroner's Officers, although the officer may be in uniform, in this instance he/she will not be acting as a police officer (it is not always possible for an officer to be in plain clothes).

A visit by the police should not make people think there is anything suspicious about the death.

The purpose of the visit is to obtain the information that the Coroner needs to conduct his enquiries and to provide the correct personal information to the Registrar.

You will be given a telephone number for the Coroner's office and a Coroner's Officer will be assigned and will be able to answer any questions you may have.

The duties of a Coroner's Officer are to:

  • Liaise with the family regarding the procedures involved in the conduct of the Coroner's inquiry
  • Contact the Coroner on your behalf if you so wish and to guide you through the time leading up to an inquest if one is necessary
  • Liaise with the witnesses regarding their involvement in the inquest


What if the deceased dies unexpectedly in hospital?

If the death occurs in hospital, the Coroner will arrange for the post-mortem examination to be carried out by a pathologist other than one employed at or connected with that hospital, if a relative asks the Coroner to do so and if it does not cause an undue delay.


Why have a post-mortem?

A post-mortem is an examination of the body of a person who has died. It is sometimes referred to as an autopsy.

If the deceased's own GP or the hospital doctor cannot give a medical cause of death then an examination must take place to determine the cause.


Can I object to a post-mortem?

Although the Coroner will be mindful of any views held by members of the family it is for the Coroner alone to decide whether a post-mortem must take place.  The Coroner has a legal duty to ascertain the cause of death, and if a doctor cannot satisfy the Coroner of this then a post-mortem examination must take place.


Who organises and pays for the transport of the deceased to and from the post-mortem?

The Coroner's officer will organise the removal of the deceased to and from the hospital and will pay for this service.

You are not obliged to retain the services of the Funeral Director appointed by the Coroner to transport the body of the deceased to and from the hospital and you may appoint a Funeral Director of your choice to organise the funeral.


What happens if the deceased wished to be an organ donor?

Where a death is referred to the Coroner and the person concerned has consented to organ donation any organ or tissue donation cannot take place without the agreement of the Coroner.

In such circumstances contact will be made with the Coroner and, having obtained the necessary information from medical staff, the Coroner will decide whether to agree to donation.

The Coroner is very anxious to support organ donation and to comply with the wishes of the person who has died but must also be satisfied that any donation will not interfere with the Coroner's duty to investigate the cause of death. There are circumstances where the Coroner will not be in a position to give permission.

Where an inquest is held it is the Coroner's normal practice, subject to the views of the family, to announce at the hearing that organ donation has taken place and to explain, where appropriate, how the organs have been used.


Why are organs sometimes removed from the body of the deceased and what happens to these?

Sometimes the Pathologist needs to carry out a more detailed investigation of particular organs in order to establish the cause of death. If he/she does this then the Pathologist must tell the Coroner for how long the organs should be retained. The Coroner will notify the family of this and ask them to confirm what they wish to happen to the organs at the end of that period.

Usually, the Pathologist only needs to take a very small sample of an organ, rather than removing the organ itself. This sample then forms part of the deceased's medical records.

More information is available on the website for the Human Tissue Authority.


Do I have to accept the result of a post-mortem?

No. You can ask the Coroner for a second post-mortem but this will be at your cost and you will need to make all the arrangements yourself.


Will a post-mortem delay the funeral?

Not usually. The Coroner and Pathologist understand the desire on the part of the family to deal with matters expeditiously, particularly in cases where the religious or cultural beliefs of the family require a funeral to be held within a particular time period.

However there are some cases where a slight delay occurs. In such cases an explanation will be given to the family together with an estimate of how long the delay will be. 


Can I have a copy of the post-mortem report?

The Coroner will usually supply a copy of the report to "properly interested" persons, immediate family, legal representatives etc, on application in writing.

The Coroner's Officer will usually explain the main points of the report to the family as soon as it is available. Your GP will be able to answer questions in more detail.


When can I get a death certificate/interim death certificate?

When the Coroner is given a cause of death by the doctor, the doctor and the Coroner will notify the Registrar of the death. This will happen normally within 24 hours.

You may then register the death. You must do this in person.

If the Coroner has decided to hold an inquest or is awaiting further results from tissue analysis etc. then a full death certificate will not be available until after the inquest/investigation is concluded.

However to enable the family to deal with banks, insurance companies, pension provider, National Savings, or any other body which needs official confirmation of the death, the Coroner will, on request, issue an Interim Certificate as to the Fact Of Death, more commonly known as an Interim Death Certificate. 

The interim certificate is not a death certificate. Copies of this are supplied to the next of kin once the inquest/investigation has been opened.


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