Frequently asked questions for bereaved people in Scotland

In this section, we hope you will find useful answers to frequently asked questions relating to funerals in Scotland. Whilst there are many similarities with England and Wales, there are differences in relation to some legal procedures following a death. If you have a question which isn’t answered below, please contact your local NAFD funeral director who will more than happy to assist with any enquiries.

What should I do if a relative dies at home?

If your loved one dies at home and the death is expected, there are a number of steps which need to be taken, the first of which is to contact the deceased’s GP or if the death occurs out with normal GP working hours then NHS 24 should be notified. Once a medical professional has verified that the death has taken place then you can contact your funeral director.

In addition to calling the doctor, you should also contact any nearest relatives.

If the death was violent, accidental or unexpected – or if there are any unusual circumstances and the cause of death is unknown, the police should be called, it may be that they will arrange for the deceased to be transferred to a local mortuary in order that the Procurator Fiscal can be informed that an unexpected death has occurred. If the death is clearly medically related then the Police may inform you to contact your own Funeral Director who can attend in the interim period until the GP has confirmed that the Medical Certificate of Cause of Death will be certified.

Once the death has been certified or verified then you should contact your chosen funeral director, if you are unsure of which funeral director to use, please feel free to search for a reputable firm listed on this website. The funeral director will then discuss with you what your wishes are, this is likely to include whether the deceased has to be transferred from the home to the funeral directors chapel of rest.

At this stage you might also want to contact your chosen minister of religion or find out if there is a will and who is responsible for its handling – your funeral director will be able to offer advice on these and other questions you will have.

What should I do if someone dies in hospital?

If you were not present at the time of death, the charge nurse or police will contact the nearest relative or next of kin to arrange a convenient time to attend the hospital.

As the nearest relative or next of kin, you could be asked to identify the body, consider authorising a post-mortem examination (unless the situation requires a post-mortem by law), and provide documents required that enable release of any personal possessions that belonged to the deceased.

You may also need to tell the hospital staff of the person’s intention to donate body parts, or whether they wanted their body to be donated to medical science.

Your funeral director can also be contacted at this stage and they will liaise with the hospital in order to transfer the deceased to their chapel of rest once the hospital confirm that this is possible. If you are unsure of which funeral director to use, this website has a useful search function that will help you find a reputable local firm.

You will also need to find out if there is a will and who is responsible for its handling. Finally, the hospital should discuss with you when the Medical Certificate of Cause of Death is likely to be available.

The doctor won't issue the Medical Certificate of Cause of Death. Why is this?

If the doctor will not issue the Medical Certificate of Cause of Death (Form 11), this is most likely because he or she has reported the death to the Procurator Fiscal for investigation.

A death can be reported to the Procurator Fiscal if it is deemed that it was sudden, suspicious, accidental, unexpected or unexplained – or the circumstances in which it occurred give rise to serious public concern.

In most cases reported to the Procurator Fiscal, it is established at a very early stage that the death was indeed due to natural causes rather than anything suspicious.

What does the Procurator Fiscal do?

The Procurator Fiscal is tasked with investigating all sudden, suspicious, accidental, unexpected and unexplained deaths and deaths that give rise to serious public concern. The Procurator Fiscal will investigate the circumstances of the death in an attempt to establish the cause before considering whether criminal proceedings or a Fatal Accident Inquiry is required. In most cases it is established early on that the death is due to natural causes.

Whilst deaths are normally referred to the Procurator Fiscal by the police, the Registrar, GPs or hospital doctors, anyone who has concerns about the circumstances of a death can make a report. The Procurator Fiscal may investigate any death brought to his or her notice.

The Procurator Fiscal’s first priority is to establish the cause of death, with the police will providing full information about the death’s circumstances. Police officers will interview relatives and any other associated people in order to gather this information.

Sometimes a post-mortem examination will be required. This could be where doctors are unable to issue a death certificate, or where criminal proceedings or a Fatal Accident Inquiry might be considered. In this instance, no consent is required from next of kin or nearest relatives.

Post-mortem examinations usually take place within a few days of the Police providing the Procurator Fiscal with the information they require. Infant and child deaths usually result in a greater likelihood of the Procurator Fiscal requesting an examination. The Procurator Fiscal should be informed of any objections, be they cultural, religious or other, as soon as possible, however, legal reasons might make the post-mortem unavoidable.

The Procurator Fiscal’s investigations are usually complete once a death certificate has been issued but occasionally further enquiries may be required.

How do I register a death?

A death may be registered by any Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages in Scotland and your NAFD funeral director will be able to advise of their address and contact details, as it may be necessary to make an appointment with the Registrar.

When you register a death, you will need to take with you the following documents:

  • Medical Certificate of Cause of Death (Form 11)
  • Any certificate or document relating to any pension, benefits or allowances in which the person was in receipt
  • NHS medical card, if available
  • The person’s birth and marriage or civil partnership certificates, if available.

It may also be helpful to take such information as the deceased’s National Insurance number, Driving Licence or Passport as the Registrar will be able to cancel these through their Tell us Once service.

You will need to register the death before the funeral takes place but it is perfectly okay to begin making arrangements for the funeral with your chosen funeral director.

A death must be registered with the Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages within eight days, although the authorities prefer that it is done sooner, if possible.

Each day in Scotland a random selection of Medical Certificates of Cause of Death are subject to scrutiny in order to monitor the quality and accuracy of the certificate. In this instance a Medical Review will take place, this is conducted by a team of Medical Examiners and will mean that the Registrar may not be able to complete the Registration at the time you visit but they and your funeral director will be able to explain more about process to you.

Additionally, any death that occurs in Scotland must be registered in Scotland regardless of the person’s usual place of residence.

Upon completing the registration of death process, the Registrar will give you:

  • A Certificate of Registration of Death (Form 14). This form is to be given to the funeral director so that the funeral can go ahead
  • A form 334/SI, “Registration of notification of death” for use in obtaining or adjusting Benefits or for National Insurance purposes
  • On payment of the appropriate fee, an extract of the entry recorded in the Register of Deaths. This might be required in order to acquire information about the person’s assets, such as pension, insurance policies, savings and Premium Bonds.
How do I decide which funeral director to choose?

Choosing a funeral director can be difficult, especially if you are confronted with having to make a quick decision.

Membership of a reputable trade association should be mandatory. By choosing a funeral directing business which is a member of the National Association of Funeral Directors you can be assured it is quality assessed on a regular basis and can be expected to provide a guaranteed level of service. Our members are bound by a Code of Practice against which their performance can be measured. In the sad event that the experience is not all that it could be, we also provide a mechanism by which satisfaction can be sought, namely the Funeral Arbitration Scheme. To search for a member use the NAFD Member Search.

Many people ask friends or relatives to recommend a funeral director that they have dealt with, or have heard positive comments about. If you do not have the opportunity to ask advice from others, your local solicitors or doctors will know of local funeral directors. Failing that you can research funeral directors in your area by browsing the internet or looking for advertisements in your local newspapers, parish magazines, or telephone directories.

These will tell you if the funeral director is a member of the National Association of Funeral Directors – this is your guarantee of a quality service. The advertisements may also give you further information, such as whether it is a small family business or part of a larger group.

I was not thinking when I rang the funeral director. Can I change my mind?

You can change your mind at any time. If you have signed an agreement for services to be provided in the offices of a funeral director this may not be straightforward. If you signed the agreement at a location other than the funeral director’s premises then your agreement is subject to the consumer protection legislation and you have the right to a 14 day cooling-off period.

The NAFD’s Code of Practice requires that members should always withdraw in favour of another funeral director under these circumstances. You should be aware, however, that there may be costs incurred with the first company and you will be responsible for paying that bill.

Who will lead the funeral service?

Many people in Scotland conduct the funerals of loved ones according to their faith, with the majority of services led by a local Catholic, Episcopal or Protestant minister depending on your denomination. If you are unsure of your church’s contact details, this website may be of help.

There are also a number of other major faiths represented in Scotland, including Sikhism, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism and Buddhism to name but a few.

Whilst faith-led funerals form the majority in Scotland there is no requirement to hold a religious service and there are a number of alternatives. Perhaps a relative or friend could take the service if they feel able to do so. Other members of the congregation could speak or read verses or poems.

Additionally, the British Humanist Association, Institute of Civil Funerals and Fellowship of Professional Celebrants have networks of officiants who will provide a very personal non-religious ceremony.

Ask your funeral director for more information or, to organise a humanist ceremony, visit humanist.org.uk or iocf.org.uk It is important to remember that a humanist ceremony is not the same as a non-religious ceremony.

Is there any support available for the funeral of a child?

Any loss is tragic but especially that of a child. The NAFD is often asked what support is out there for families in the event of the death of their child.

Although at the discretion of each individual company, many NAFD member funeral directors do not charge their normal fees when entrusted with funeral arrangements for a child and will actively encourage the other organisations involved to minimise or waive their costs also – although these remain outside the funeral directors’ direct control.

There are a number of charities who support families following the loss of a child such as Child Bereavement UK and The Child Funeral Charity.

The NAFD is also able to signpost families to other forms of support, including counselling services and to recommend a local funeral director.

The NAFD has worked closely with the Scottish Government in recent years to introduce the Code of Practice issued by The National Committee on Infant Cremation, to which all funeral directors and associated stakeholders involved with the funeral of an infant or child must adhere.

What are green funerals and woodland burials?

“Green funeral” is a term often used to describe funeral services that take a less traditional form and seek to minimise impact upon the world’s natural resources. This may mean choosing a woodland burial ground, deciding not to have overseas-grown flowers at the funeral or selecting a coffin made of materials such as bamboo or wicker.

An environmentally responsible funeral need not differ significantly to any other. By checking that the wood used to make a wooden coffin is obtained from sustainably-managed resources, using a local cemetery or crematorium and arranging to share vehicles when travelling to and from the funeral would be significant strides to achieving an environmentally responsible funeral.

Woodland burial grounds are cemeteries, often privately run, where strict rules govern what can and cannot be buried. If you are considering buying a grave in a woodland burial ground, you should visit to see whether it is what you expect and ask to see their terms and conditions.

Of particular interest should be the length of the exclusive right of burial and what the long term plans for the site are. Your funeral firm will be able to provide you with information about woodland burial grounds local to you should you require it.

Funerals can be expensive. How will I know if I can afford it?

Every funeral firm should be able to give you an indication of what the costs of their services are likely to be. It is essential to ensure that, when various firms provide you with an indicative cost, they do so on a like-for-like basis. This should separate their fees from those of third parties such as cemeteries, crematoria, churches, doctors (if the deceased is from England) and so forth (known to funeral directors as disbursements).

If you choose a funeral firm that is a member of the National Association of Funeral directors they will be bound to abide by the Code of Practice which ensures that they have price lists available showing the cost of the services they provide. The Code also requires them to provide a transparent breakdown of all their costs. Every member of the National Association of Funeral Directors is required to provide you with a written estimate and confirmation of arrangements before the funeral takes place. This ensures that you are aware of the costs of the funeral you have arranged.

Price is not the only consideration when choosing a funeral firm and, to ensure you obtain the service you want and that you achieve best value, it is advisable to contact at least two funeral firms in your area for an estimate of their funeral costs. Do not assume that all funeral firms charge the same prices or offer exactly the same services.

Can I get any assistance with funeral costs?

Assistance is available from the Department for Work and Pensions’ (DWP) Social Fund which can provide assistance to individuals who meet the required criteria. To qualify you must demonstrate that you are the most suitable person to take responsibility for paying the funeral account – additionally you must be receiving at least one of several qualifying benefits and have insufficient savings to pay for the funeral.

The DWP Funeral Payment will provide a limited amount, which may cover a very basic funeral, or provide a contribution towards a more traditional funeral. Your chosen funeral firm will be able to advise you about the qualifying criteria and the likely contribution available. Form SF200 can be downloaded here.

What if something goes wrong?

There are occasions when a client may feel dissatisfied with aspects of the services provided as part of the funeral. The National Association of Funeral Directors’ Code of Practice – with which all NAFD member firms are obliged to adhere – provides a simple procedure to resolve problems between funeral firms and their clients.

Copies of the Code of Practice are readily available from all NAFD member firms. All member firms are required to comply with the decisions of the Funeral Arbitration Scheme, which provides the mechanism for resolving disputes between funeral firms and their clients.

Additional information and advice about what do when someone dies in Scotland can be found here, courtesy of the Scottish Government.