What to do after a death in Scotland

When the person you are caring for has died, you may feel very shocked, however well you have prepared yourself. You may feel confused and bewildered. Don’t feel that you have to do anything. You can just stay with your friend or relative’s body for a while. You may have many different emotions or you may feel numb.

The death of someone close to you is a very significant event in a person’s life. Most cultures and religions have developed rituals or processes to mark this event and to help the people left behind to adjust to the change.

During the first few hours, the loss of your loved one may seem very unreal, and there are some actions which you need to take. However, it’s important that you don’t feel rushed to ‘get on with things’. If you want, you can just spend some quiet time with the person who has died. Many people like to sit and talk or hold hands, and see the person at peace, especially if the last few hours or days were a strain. In many religions, this is a time when there are things that the people who have been left behind need to do to help their relative or friend to pass onwards. So it’s important to follow your instincts, and do what you feel is appropriate.

If you are in a hospital, hospice or a care home, the nursing staff will be nearby. If your relative died at home, you should let your doctor know within a few hours. Your GP, or someone who is covering for them, will come as soon as possible. If you are alone, ring a friend or relative to come and be with you. You may want a spiritual leader to be with you as well.

The doctor will give you a certificate called the Medical Certificate of Cause of Death (MCCD) – usually just called the death certificate. You should also be given a copy of a pack called ‘When Someone Has Died’, which outlines things you need to do at this time. If you do not receive a copy of this you can access it, along with other practical advice and emotional support in the bereavement section of the site. 

The Scottish Government booklet What to do after a death in Scotland – PDF (402KB) may also be useful to have, as it covers all the legal steps involved following a death. You can also get a copy from a registrar or social services office.

The following websites may also provide useful information:

Last updated:
01 May 2024