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What is a coroner and what do they do?

Coroners are appointed by local councils to investigate deaths where the cause is unknown, where there is reason to think the death may not be due to natural causes, or which need an inquiry for some other reason.

What does a coroner do?

Deaths are usually reported to a coroner by the police, registrars of deaths and doctors. However, this process only applies to England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

A coroner is typically appointed by the local authority to investigate a death when:

  • The cause of death is unknown
  • The death was sudden, violent or unnatural
  • The person died in prison or custody
  • The identity of the person who has died is uncertain or unknown
  • A Medical Certificate of Cause of Death isn’t available

It is the coroner’s duty to identify how, when and where the person died for official records, as well as for the benefit of the bereaved.

What happens in Scotland?

In Scotland, there is no system of coroners’ inquests. Instead, sudden or unexpected deaths are reported to the procurator fiscal and dealt with by Fatal Accident Inquiries.

When a death is reported, the procurator fiscal will investigate the circumstances of the death, attempt to find out the cause of the death and consider whether criminal proceedings or a Fatal Accident Inquiry is appropriate.

What you need to do during the investigation

Your role during a coroner or procurator fiscal investigation is very important and it’s your responsibility to co-operate fully and provide all information that is relevant to the investigation.

If you have any concerns or worries about the death, please inform the coroner’s office or procurator fiscal’s office. Please ensure not to share any confidential information you are told during the investigation.

What happens in a post-mortem?

In some cases, the coroner may decide a post-mortem is needed to find out how the person died. It is an examination of a body after death and is typically carried out by pathologists.

If the post-mortem shows that the deceased died of natural causes, the coroner will issue you paperwork to register the death. You will usually be able to view your loved one after a post-mortem, should you wish to do so.

However, if the post-mortem shows an unnatural or unknown cause of death, the coroner may open an inquest.

What happens at an inquest?

If the cause of death is still unknown after a post-mortem takes place, if it was a violent or unnatural death or if the person died in prison or police custody, the coroner will hold an inquest. An inquest is a fact-finding legal investigation which is open to the public.

During an inquest, evidence will be reviewed to determine how the person died. You will not be able to register the death until after the inquest has taken place, but the coroner is able to give you an interim death certificate to allow you to notify relevant organisations and apply for probate. When the inquest is over the coroner notify the registrar and inform them of what to put in the register using the Pink form 100B.

A funeral cannot take place until the Coroner’s inquest has been completed and the cause of death established.

Will the funeral be delayed?

We understand how distressing these investigations can be for family and friends arranging the funeral, especially if you wish to say goodbye to help with the grieving process.

Whilst a post-mortem examination can delay funeral arrangements, an inquest should not unduly delay your loved one’s funeral.

Next steps:

Registering the death:

When someone dies, you will need to register the death. Once the death has been registered, you will be given all of the paperwork required to arrange the funeral. If you are unsure how to go about it, our registering a death guide will explain everything you need to know.

Inform the relevant people:

When a loved one passes away, you will need to notify various organisations about the death as soon as possible, from relatives and friends, the GP, their employer, mortgage and utilities providers, to HMRC, banks and building societies and even social media providers. Our guide on who to notify when someone dies provides a checklist to help.

Choosing a type of funeral:

As well as deciding between a burial or cremation or alternative funerals such as eco or woodland burials, you’ll need to consider the type of coffin, flowers, transport and details such as flowers and music. Find out about the range of funerals we cater for.

Making funeral arrangements:

A funeral is a personal event and people often have different requirements. There are a number of details that you will need to take care of, from choosing songs or readings for the service to writing a eulogy and sorting out the order of service. Our guide to making funeral arrangements clearly details all of the things you may want to think about when making arrangements.

What to do after the funeral:

Once the funeral is over, there is still a lot to think about. From dealing with the estate and finances through to choosing a memorial and dealing with your own grief. Have a look at our guide, which covers what you need to consider after the funeral.


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What to do when someone dies: Common questions

A list of common questions we're asked by families after the death of a loved one.

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