When Someone Dies

Contact us at Porteous Family Funeral Directors, we're available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

First Steps

When a Death Occurs at Home

  • If your loved one had been ill for some time and death was expected, contact their Doctor quickly, particularly if the deceased wanted to donate their organs or their body to medical research. He/she will then arrange to issue the Medical Certificate of Cause of Death Form 11 (MCCD) which is required to officially register the death.
  • If death occurs out with normal surgery times however, you should seek advice from NHS 24 on 111.
  • If your loved one was being attended to by district nurses, death can be verified by one of the nurses, provided they have the required experience. It is still the responsibility of the GP however to issue the MCCD.
  • As soon as death has been verified by a doctor, nurse or a paramedic, and it is clear that there is no reason why the Medical Certificate of Cause of Death cannot be issued, your loved one can be conveyed into our care, no matter the time of day or night.
  • If the death is at home but was sudden, suspicious, accidental, unexpected and unexplained, you should contact the Police. You should not touch or move the deceased or anything in the home. The death is likely to be reported to the Procurator Fiscal and the Police will instruct their agents to convey the deceased to Edinburgh City Mortuary where a post mortem may have to be carried out to establish cause of death

When Death Occurs in Hospital, a Hospice, Care or Nursing Home

  • Unless you are present when death occurs, you will be notified by the nursing staff as soon as possible. Arrangements can then be made with the hospital administrative staff to deal with the formalities. These will include collecting the Medical Certificate of Cause of Death (MCCD), which will be issued by the Doctor in attendance. This may not happen immediately –  it is not uncommon for the MCCD not to be issued for at least 24 hours after death has occurred. The hospital, hospice, care or nursing home may also issue a ‘Release Form’, which needs to be signed by the next of kin, which authorises the release of your loved one into our care.
  • If the death occurred in hospital, staff may ask you to consider authorising a hospital post-mortem examination if that would provide valuable information about the person’s final illness or treatment which could help other people in the future.
  • If the death was sudden, suspicious, accidental, unexpected or unexplained, it is likely to be reported to the Procurator Fiscal, the deceased will be conveyed to Edinburgh City Mortuary where a post-mortem may have to be carried out to establish cause of death. View more information here.

Sudden or Unexpected Death

  • The Procurator Fiscal has a duty to investigate all sudden, suspicious, accidental, unexpected and unexplained deaths and any death occurring in circumstances that give rise to serious public concern. Where 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. In the majority of cases reported to the Procurator Fiscal, early enquiries rule out suspicious circumstances and establish that the death was due to natural causes.
  • Deaths are usually brought to the attention of the Procurator Fiscal through reports from the police, the Registrar, GPs or hospital doctors. However, anyone who has concerns about the circumstances of a death can report it to the Procurator Fiscal.
  • The first task for the Procurator Fiscal is to find out the cause of death. The police will provide full information about the circumstances of the death. They will normally interview relatives and others who can provide information about the circumstances of the death.


  • In some cases reported to the Procurator Fiscal it will be necessary to instruct a post mortem examination, for example, where a doctor is unable or unwilling to issue a death certificate or where criminal proceedings or a Fatal Accident Inquiry may be considered. The consent of the next of kin is not required where the post mortem examination is instructed by the Procurator Fiscal.
  • The examination will be carried out as soon as possible but may still take several days. If the sudden or unexplained death is that of an infant or child, the Procurator Fiscal may be more likely to ask for a post mortem examination. If there are any cultural, religious or other objections to a post mortem examination it is important to tell the Procurator Fiscal as soon as possible. There may be legal reasons why a post mortem is unavoidable, but where possible the wishes of the next of kin will be respected.

Further investigation

  • In most cases, the Procurator Fiscal’s investigations are complete when the Medical Certificate of Cause of Death (Form 11) has been issued. In some cases however, the Procurator Fiscal will need to carry out further investigations into the death. The time necessary to investigate the death can vary considerably depending on the circumstances.
  • Nevertheless, you should still contact us as soon as possible to start the initial funeral arrangement procedures. You should be aware however, that we will not be able to book a date and time for the funeral until you or we have been contacted by the Procurator Fiscal to confirm that all investigations have been concluded and the Medical Certificate of Cause of Death (Form 11) has been issued.

Dying Elsewhere and Repatriation

If death occurs away from home, for example abroad or elsewhere in the United Kingdom, then the initial formalities will be completed by the Doctor or Hospital staff in that area. If you wish to have your loved one repatriated home for the funeral to take place, then Porteous Family Funeral Directors will organise all the legal procedures and practical details to get your loved one home as quickly as possible.

Registering the death

  • If the death has occurred in Scotland, it can be registered at any registrar’s office in Scotland. There are details below for some of the local offices in Edinburgh and the Lothians you may wish to contact but for a full list of all registration offices in Scotland, please click here.
  • You should phone to make an appointment at the office you require, or we can do this on your behalf if you prefer. If getting to the office is difficult for you, let us know as we can provide transport to get you there and back.
  • Once registration is complete you will be given a Certificate of Registration of Death (Form 14). This is the document that confirms that the death has been registered and is required before a burial or cremation can go ahead.
  • Please be aware however, a selection of Medical Certificates of Cause of Death are chosen for review during the registration process. Please do not be alarmed if you are chosen, the selection process is totally random and is designed to check the quality and accuracy of certificates and to improve how this information is recorded.
  • Please note, the review process does not apply if the death has already been investigated by the Procurator Fiscal.

How a Review Affects You

  • If the death you are registering is selected for review, you may not immediately be able to complete the death registration. The registrar will explain the review process and timescales and will contact you when the review is complete. You can still make initial funeral arrangements while the review is underway. However, the funeral itself cannot take place until the review is completed and a certificate of Registration of Death (Form 14) is produced.
  • Depending on which level of review you have been selected for, this could mean one working day delay (Level One) or up to 3 working days (Level 2) before the Form 14 will be issued. You should notify us if you are selected for review as this helps us to consider a likely date for the funeral to take place ensuring enough time for the documentation to be completed and lodged with the appropriate authorities.
  • The Form 14 can be collected from the registrar, sent to you or sent direct to us. If you need the funeral to go ahead quickly, in special circumstances you may be granted advance registration and the Registrar will advise you on how to apply.

When should you register the death?

Legally, a death must be registered within eight days of the date of death. However, our advice is that you register the death at the earliest opportunity in case you are randomly selected for review. The funeral cannot take place until the review is completed and a Certificate of Registration of Death (Form 14) is produced. A review may result in a delay of between 1 and 3 working days before the Certificate is issued to you.  There will also be other paperwork you need to complete which we have to take with the Certificate to the burial/cremation authorities at least 48 hours prior to the funeral taking place.

Documents to take with you

  • Medical Certificate of Cause of Death (MCCD) supplied by the Doctor/Fiscal
  • Marriage or Civil Partnership Certificate (If married)
  • Birth Certificate
  • NHS Medical Card

If you cannot find the marriage certificate, birth certificate or medical card, it is still possible to register the death as long as you know the following information:

  1. Deceased’s full name and address:
  2. Age, date of birth and where he/she was born
  3. Occupation
  4. Marital status
  5. Date and time of death and where
  6. If married, wife’s/husband’s name before marriage
  7. Father’s full name and last occupation
  8. Mother’s full name, maiden name and occupation
  9. Are parents still alive?
  10. Registered GP or Surgery details
  11. NHS Number
  12. National Insurance Number

Who can register

It’s usually a relative of the deceased who is responsible for registering the death. If a relative isn’t available however, then any of the following people can register the death:

  • Any person present at the death
  • The executor, next of kin or another legal representative
  • The occupier of the place where the death took place
  • Any person who has the necessary information. This may include the funeral director if there are special circumstances

Tell Us Once

‘Tell Us Once’ is a service provided by the registrar to notify government departments of a death, including Department for Work and Pensions and different services in the council. You tell them which departments apply and they send off notification for you.

To use the service please also bring along these documents, if you have them:

  • National Insurance number
  • Passport
  • Driving Licence
  • Blue Badge

The above documents can also be used to register the death if the Marriage, Birth and Medical card is not available.

The Registrar will issue:

  • An abbreviated extract from the Register of Death, free of charge
  • A Certificate of Registration of Death (Form 14) for Funeral Director, free of charge

If you do not use the Tell Us Once service to inform the Department for Work and Pensions, the registrar will give you a BD8 form so you can notify them yourself. This is also free of charge.

Documents you may need to purchase

Although the abbreviated Extract from the Register of Death is free, it does not have the Cause of Death noted on the certificate. To close down bank accounts or release funds from insurance policies etc., you will probably need to submit a full, certified copy of the extract from the Register of Death, which has the cause of death noted. The Registrar will advise on current costs to purchase these.

Registrar Offices within Edinburgh & the Lothians (details correct at time of print)

253 High Street
T: 0131 529 2600

30 Ferry Road
T: 0131 529 5520

53 High Street
South Queensferry
EH30 9HP
T: 0131 331 1590

Fairfield House
8 Lothian Road
EH22 3AA
T: 0131 271 3281

East Lothian Council Headquarters
John Muir House
Brewery Park
EH41 3HA
T: 01620 827308

Brunton Hall
Ladywell Way
EH21 6AF
T: 0131 653 5225

West Lothian Civic Centre
Howden South Road
EH54 6FF
T: 01506 80000

139 Main Street
East Calder
EH53 0EP
T: 01506 884680

Bathgate Partnership Centre
South Bridge Street
EH48 1TS
T: 01506 282916

Registering the death of a baby or child

Death occurs before 24 completed weeks of pregnancy

For legal purposes, when a baby dies at any time before 24 completed weeks of pregnancy, this is called a miscarriage. The birth cannot be formally registered at a register office.

Death occurs after 24 completed weeks of pregnancy to term

For legal purposes, when a baby dies after 24 completed weeks of pregnancy, this is called a stillbirth. If your baby was stillborn after 24 completed weeks of pregnancy, then you need to register the stillbirth.  The hospital will give you a Medical Certificate of Stillbirth (Form 6) to take to the registrar. The registrar will keep the Medical Certificate of Stillbirth and will issue a Certificate of Registration of Stillbirth (Form 8).

Death of a baby who was born alive or a child

If a baby who was born alive or child dies, the process for certifying and registering the death and arranging the funeral is the same as that of an adult.

Body and Organ Donation

Donating your body to Medical Science

You may have decided that on your death, you would like your body to be bequeathed to medical research, education and training. We can advise on the process and assist you in completing all the relevant consent forms.

However, it is important that both you and your next-of-kin understand that there is no guarantee of acceptance of every body that is offered. Among other considerations, the cause of death itself or a post mortem examination could have made the body unsuitable for anatomical examination.

If the donation cannot be accepted, responsibility for burial or cremation rests with the executors or next of kin.

If no alternative plan has been put in place, your family will need to make a decision at time of death on whether they have a standard funeral or something simpler like a direct cremation (also known as un-attended) and will be responsible for the associated costs.

Porteous Family Funeral Directors offer a free last wishes service where we record your wishes for your family so they know what your instructions are if your body is not accepted for medical research. We can also advise on Pre- Paid Plans which can be refunded if not required and can also assist with the completion of the appropriate bequest forms.

Donating your organs or tissues
Legislation in Scotland to introduce an opt-out system of organ and tissue donation for deceased donors will come into force in Autumn 2020. Under the new law, if an adult does not opt-in or opt-out of donation they may be deemed to have authorised donation for transplantation.

You can indicate whether or not you wish to be an organ and/or tissue donor on the NHS Organ Donor Register via the Organ Donation Scotland website.

All major organs can be transplanted and, in some cases, parts of organs such as cells or valves. Surgeons can also use donated tissue such as corneas and tendons.

You can specify what you would like to donate when you register and change those preferences as and when required.

It is important to remember that you are not restricted by age but your physical health at time of death will be taken into consideration and may mean certain donations will not be possible.

Organs can be donated by individuals who die in a hospital of brain death. However, tissue and eye donation can occur when someone dies at home, within 24 hours of death.

Help with Bereavement

The death of someone close to you can be utterly devastating and the grief you feel can express itself in different ways. As well as the overwhelming sadness, you may also be angry or even relieved that the person who has died is finally at peace but it is important to understand that all these feelings are completely normal. Most people will gradually move through these different stages of grief with help from family and friends, and in time, do adjust, and the feelings become less intense.

However, you should consider seeking professional support if you feel that you are not coping or experiencing any of the following:

  • Difficulty coping with intense feelings
  • Feeling unusually tired, confused and unable to concentrate
  • Feeling numb or empty quite some time after the death
  • Having nightmares or difficulty sleeping
  • Your personal relationships appear to be suffering
  • You constantly feel angry or irritable
  • You are smoking, drinking or taking medication or other drugs more than usual
  • Your work attendance or performance is suffering

As a member of the National Society of Allied and Independent Funeral Directors (SAIF) we have access to a service called SAIF Care which can offer you help to try to cope with your bereavement and the strong feelings you are experiencing.

SAIF Care provides a range of services to bereaved people over 18 including access to a free telephone Bereavement Care Line and email support, as well as an Online Chat Box. We can also put you in touch with a highly qualified professional bereavement councillor or support group in your local area.

If you would like further information, call or pop into any of our funeral homes and our staff will give you all the information you need.

Arranging a Funeral

What to do when someone dies

Our fully trained and experienced staff will guide and support you through every aspect of the funeral arrangements, whether the passing of your loved one was at home, in a hospital, a care or nursing home or
a sudden death.

We have several funeral homes throughout Edinburgh and the Lothians, so when you want to meet us to discuss the funeral arrangements, you can choose which is closest to you.

Alternatively, you may feel more comfortable within your own surroundings, so we are happy to meet you at home at a time that is convenient for you.