Dealing with the practicalities

Sudden death

When someone dies a ‘violent or unnatural death’ or a ‘sudden death of which the cause is unknown’, the death has to be reported to the coroner. An inquest must be held to identify the person and answer the questions ‘how, when and where’ the person died, and if there is to be criminal proceedings. Given that drug deaths usually occur from either accidental or purposeful poisoning (overdose), they are often sudden.

Families' rights

When a person dies, if they have children it is common for family members to assume care of the children either temporarily or on a long term basis. If you take on the care of a child, you are likely to need financial and other support to help you care for them. There are various sources of support, including specialist agencies, the local council and benefits/tax credits. Your arrangement could be known as either: Family and friends care (often called kinship care) Private fostering Family and friends carers

Post Mortem

A post mortem is the examination of the body after death in order to determine the cause of death. Post mortems are carried out by pathologists, and provide useful information about how, when and why someone died. If a family member has died and a post mortem is to be conducted, hospital bereavement officers can offer you support and advice, and can act as the main point of contact between you and the staff carrying out the post mortem. 


Many hospitals employ bereavement staff who can help you understand the next steps and coordinate any necessary documentation. The preparation of documents can take time and can only be completed by medical staff who were directly involved in the person’s care before they died. If the person who has died is registered for organ or tissue donation and are eligible, the hospital will talk to you about this, since organs and tissues for transplantation have to be removed soon after death.

Cause of death

Understanding the results of the post mortem and cause of death. When you receive the result of the post mortem examination it can be particularly devastating to read the cause of death and it can also create confusion if the cause appears to be different to what you believed. The results are written by a pathologist and they have to record the cause very precisely. This precision, medical terminology and necessary brevity can be very stark and upsetting.