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What happens when someone dies in a care home?

Having a loved one pass away is a mournful experience for anybody. For people whose loved ones live in nursing homes, these residents spend their last days in the comfort of a care home where experienced staff make their remaining time as comfortable as possible. Carers will be ready to provide you with support and advice when a relative dies, however, it is useful to understand the process followed when someone dies in a care home so that you know what to expect when the time comes.

When do care home staff contact the family?

Where possible, care home staff make it a priority to ensure loved ones are present for a relative’s death by keeping them updated before the time comes. If the death of a resident is expected and family members are present at the time of death, the first step carers will take is to verify the death. This is when a qualified medical practitioner will certify that the resident has passed away.

However, if the death is unexpected, you will potentially be away from your loved one at the time of death. In this case, a carer in the residential care home will notify the next of kin immediately. They will also contact a coroner who will order a post-mortem examination to determine the cause of death. It is important to note that a funeral cannot be conducted until the coroner’s inquest has been completed and the cause of death is established and registered.

Will a medical certificate of cause of death be issued?

If the death of a resident was expected, the resident’s local doctor will issue a medical certificate, enabling you to register the death. While this can feel like the last thing you want to do while mourning, it is an essential step before you can start making funeral arrangements. You are required to attend an appointment to register the death within five days of the person passing away (if you are in Scotland, you have up to eight days). A death certificate will be issued to you at this appointment. You will also receive a certificate for burial or cremation, which is required by funeral directors for a burial or cremation to take place.

If the death of a resident was unexpected, the coroner will order a post-mortem examination to determine the cause of death and then issue a medical certificate, allowing the death to be registered.

How do care home staff care for someone’s body after death?

Care home staff are trained to look after the resident’s body after they pass away. A carer’s main priority at this time is to treat the resident’s body with dignity and respect, respecting their wishes and supporting their close relatives. 

Personal care will be provided after the death has been verified, ideally carried out within four hours of the resident’s death. Carers will position the resident on their back and adjust the appearance of their face where necessary, such as closing their eyes, cleaning their mouth or fixing their hair. They will also wash and dress the resident appropriately, unless requested not to do so for religious or cultural reasons, or where the death is being referred to a coroner. Care home staff will then move the body into a private room where friends and family can visit.

What will happen to someone’s possessions after death?

After a resident’s death, the care home staff will keep your loved one’s possessions safe until a time is arranged for the next of kin to collect them. Generally, the care home will contact you to arrange a convenient time for you. Care homes will also require you to sign paperwork to acknowledge that you have collected these items.

Preparing for the death of a loved one can be difficult, but it is important to be aware of the processes in place so that you will be better informed when the day comes. At The Fremantle Trust, we provide first-class care to older people and all necessary support to their relatives – to ensure that they feel as prepared as possible.