Bereavement due to suicide

Practical matters

After someone dies many practical matters must be sorted out - friends and family can be a great help. After Stephen’s wife died he found it very helpful to have his brother in the house, who told others what had happened and who, with the help of friends, managed ‘everything’.

If the person who died made a will, the executor of the will (also called the personal representative) is responsible for making sure that all debts, taxes and expenses from the dead person’s estate are paid and for sharing out what is left according to the will. The executor's role can be complex and daunting, particularly as executors are often close relatives of the deceased and have their own grief to deal with, though a solicitor may deal with some of the work. Sometimes, if an estate is large or complicated, it is necessary to employ a solicitor. It is possible to complete probate using the coroner’s ‘interim death certificate’ (see below).
 
A few people we talked to mentioned that the person who had died had left a will. When Susan’s father died by suicide her brother was the executor. He found it quite easy to deal with everything because their father had left clear instructions. However, when Paula’s husband died she had great difficulty in sorting out his affairs because he had left an estate in Turkey and another one in Scotland. Paula had to get the death certificate translated, and had to find a relative in Turkey to deal with his estate there. 
 
The contents of a will may be unexpected or distressing. Mike was very upset on finding that his father had left half his money to his step-mother.
After a suicide the bereaved relative does not register the death. The coroner registers the death after the inquest is concluded. Then relatives can obtain the ‘final death certificate’ from the registrar.
 
Before the inquest an ‘interim death certificate’ is issued so that practical matters can be dealt with. Only the coroner can issue it, but the coroner’s officer or the family liaison officer may give it to the relative, or it may be posted.
 
After someone dies a list of the various things that need to be done or thought about is available from the registrar. Relatives can contact the Bereavement Register, which will arrange for the dead person’s name to be taken off mailing lists and databases in the UK. 
 
Relatives will also have to tell various people to that the person has died. Organisations that may need to be informed about the person’s death include pension schemes, insurance companies, bank or building society, mortgage providers, the tax office, the work place, college or school, utility providers, car insurance, DVLA to return a driving licence, passport office to return a passport, social services, and library. The dead person’s doctor and dentist also need to know.

When someone has died due to suicide, passing on this information to the officials may be particularly distressing. Other people may not know what to say, or they may make insensitive comments.

Some people found that officials from some organisations failed to reply to their letters, or demanded to speak to the account holder, even though the account holder was the person who had died, or demanded a final death certificate.
Others said that companies or other organisations continued to send letters to their dead husband, wife or partner for years after the death had occurred, which was hurtful. Alex said he felt outraged when an insurance company failed to reply to his letters. When the Chairman of the company eventually got involved in the situation he addressed a letter to Alex’s daughter, Alice, who had died.
Steve said that after his sister died he found the bureaucracy difficult. Some officials wanted a letter from his parents, who were next of kin, stating that his sister had died, even though he had sent them an interim death certificate. Steve decided that his parents were not in a fit state to write letters about their daughter’s death. He preferred to lose the money that was owed to the family. However, dealing with the officials gave him a purpose and made him feel he was doing something for his sister.

Some insurance companies refused to pay life insurance, or any other insurance claims because the person had died by suicide, or had died by suicide within a year of taking out the policy. If the policy had been taken out more than a year before the person had died some companies agreed to pay the insurance claims.
Banks had to be informed too. Bob felt that he lacked information about the implications of freezing his son’s bank account. Bob told the bank that his son had died and the bank immediately said it would put a stop on any funds leaving the account. However, this became a problem because the bank also stopped any funds coming into the account, such as Darren’s last wage, and a refund on some theatre tickets. Bob had to get the account temporarily unfrozen so that money could be received.  
 
Paying bills and the cost of the funeral was a problem for some people. When Graham died Marion was not aware that she could have had help with the cost of his funeral from the State, then the Department of Social Security, now called the Department for Work and Pensions (see Department of Health - ‘Help is at Hand’ and for information about financial help for funerals see GOV.UK). Marion was given information after the inquest, but that was three months after Graham died, much too late.
Paula found it hard to obtain information from a company where her husband had worked in order to complete her husband’s tax return. Initially he was fined, even though he had died, because it was returned late. However, eventually it became clear that he owed no tax and Paula received a rebate.    
 
Melanie was very angry that she had to pay tax on her Widowed Parent’s allowance (paid to a parent whose husband, wife or civil partner has died and having a dependent child under 16 for whom Child Benefit is paid (or under 20 if they stay in approved education or training).
 
Melanie also found it hard to adjust to a new role without Simon, having to do everything on her own. When Simon was alive he had looked after the garden and did simple house repairs.
 
After a person had died, clearing up the room where the death had occurred, or sorting out clothes and other belongings, were other tasks that had to be undertaken by someone. Some people found this difficult and distressing. Others found friends to help (see Interview 31, Stephen’s account above).
People found other practical matters difficult too. Stuart, for example, had to collect his wife’s car from a car recovery company. The police had taken it there after Anne died. Stuart did not collect the car immediately and was upset when the company tried to charge him for storage.

Dealing with the aftermath of the death reminded some people of the importance of having an up to date will. Soon after Simon died, Melanie decided to make a new will because her children were worried about what might happen to them if she died too. She found friends who would be guardians for the children in the event of her death.

Last reviewed July 2017.

Last updated July 2017.

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