How to Confirm a Death
Dealing with the practical and administrative tasks following the death of a loved one is never easy, particularly if it is sudden or unexpected. The circumstances surrounding each death will be different, but in all cases there will be processes to follow and legal requirements to plan and manage, starting with the death confirmation.
Please find below some guidance on what happens in various settings following a death.
Confirmation or Verification of a Death
Firstly, it is important to understand the difference between Verification or Confirmation of Death and Certification of Death.
Verification of Death (VoD), (Confirmation of Death in Scotland) is the process of confirming the fact of death and documenting it formally in line with national guidance.
Death confirmation can be done by a ‘competent adult’, which is usually a doctor, GP, registered nurse or paramedic.
Certification of Death, is the process of issuing a Medical Certificate of Cause of Death (MCCD), which establishes and states the probable cause of death. This must be done by a registered doctor. For more information on MCCDs, please see below.
If the cause of death is unclear or if there are unusual circumstances, the doctor will report the death to the Coroner who may need to investigate further or request a post mortem or an inquest. For more information on reporting a death to the Coroner, please see below.
Please note that the Medical Certificate of Cause of Death is different to the Death Certificate, which is issued by the Registrar once the death has been registered. For more information, go to What the Registrar Will Issue in How to Register a Death.
When someone dies at Home
A Death at Home that was Expected
If the death was expected, it may be that family and friends are already present. The time immediately after a death may be an opportunity for you to sit peacefully alone with your loved one or to gather people together to say a quiet goodbye.
Verification of Death (VoD) will usually be undertaken by a member of the healthcare team involved in the person’s care, or by a GP or paramedic.
Once the death has been verified, the cause of death must be established by a registered doctor who can then complete a Medical Certificate of Cause of Death (MCCD). For more information on MCCD, please see below.
A Death at Home that was Sudden or Unexpected
If the cause of death is unclear or if there are unusual circumstances, the doctor will report the death to the Coroner. For more information on reporting a death to the Coroner, please see below.
A doctor or medical professional at the hospital will confirm the death of the patient and the hospital will usually issue a Medical Certificate of Cause of Death (MCCD). The deceased will be moved to the hospital mortuary whilst a decision is made about where they will lay at rest until the funeral. This will usually be in a Chapel of Rest or at home.
If there is any doubt about the cause of death or if there are unusual circumstances, the doctor will report the death to the Coroner. For more information on reporting a death to the Coroner, please see below.
In a Care Home
The death will usually be verified by a registered nurse, doctor or paramedic. However, if there is no trained person in attendance and the death was expected, remotely supported verification by a care worker can be used to prevent delays.
A GP must then be notified so that they can certify the death and issue a Medical Certificate of Cause of Death (MCCD).
As with a death elsewhere, if there is doubt about the cause or if there are unusual circumstances, it must be reported to the Coroner. For more information on reporting a death to the Coroner, please see below.
In Hospice Care
Verification of Death (VoD) will usually be undertaken by a doctor, registered nurse or paramedic. If the death was expected or if the doctor has attended within the last 14 days, the doctor can then issue a Medical Certificate of Cause of Death (MCCD).
If there is doubt about the cause of death is or if there are unusual circumstances, the doctor will report the death to the Coroner. For more information on reporting a death to the Coroner, please see below.
Out-of-country death: when someone dies abroad
The death of someone close to you is always distressing. If you are abroad when they die, it can be even harder to cope. What you need to do will depend on the laws and customs of the country.
If you are travelling with the person who has died, contact the British Embassy, High Commission or Consulate nearest to you. They will be able to advise you. You will need to register the death and obtain a death certificate.
If you are in the UK when a family member or close friend dies abroad, contact the Foreign and Commonwealth Development Office (FCO) who will be able to keep you informed and help with arrangements.
For further information see the FCDO’s information on when a British National dies abroad or view the Government information about a death abroad.
The Medical Certificate of Cause of Death (MCCD)
The MCCD is a Legal Document that States the Cause of Death
Once a death has been verified a doctor must complete a Medical Certificate of Cause of Death (MCCD) on which they state, to the best of their knowledge and clinical judgement, the cause of death. The doctor must be registered and licensed to practice with the General Medical Council (GMC).
Incomplete or Inaccurate MCCDs Can Cause Delays in in Funeral Arrangements
Mistakes or omissions on the MCCD can cause delays, so it is important that all information, including underlying conditions and illnesses that may have contributed to the death, are recorded on the certificate.
Referral to the Coroner or the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service
Why and When to Report a Death to the Coroner
If there are unusual circumstances surrounding a death, for example if it was sudden, violent or unnatural, or if the doctor cannot reasonably give a likely cause of death, then the case must be submitted to the Coroner for investigation.
A Coroner’s investigation may also take place following death by suicide, medical negligence, industrial disease or an accident.
What a Coroner Does
A Coroner is a government official who has the power to order or conduct an inquest into how a person died and, if the identity of the person is unknown, to investigate and confirm their identity.
The Coroner may request a post-mortem (also known as an autopsy) to establish a cause of death. The post-mortem is carried out by a pathologist who will examine the body to try to establish how the person died. If the post-mortem examination cannot establish this, the Coroner may request an inquest.
An inquest may also be held if the person might have died a violent or unnatural death or died in prison or police custody.
At the inquest, the Coroner will hear evidence from witnesses and experts. They will then decide whether further investigation is required.
For more information about Registering a Death when an inquest is being held, please see How to Register a Death.
For further information, please see the Government information about when a death is reported to a coroner.
Scotland: the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service
The equivalent service to the Coroner in Scotland is the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS) which investigates sudden, suspicious or unexplained deaths. For more information see their Guide for Bereaved Family Members.