Click on a subheading to see information relating to care after death. We hope you find this information helpful.

Please contact us at any time if you cannot find answers to your queries here, if you have ideas for other information which could be helpful to others, or if you would like to discuss your options. Whether you are newly bereaved, caring for someone who is imminently dying or just curious, we would be delighted to chat with you.

Laws about death & funerals in Scotland

In Scotland, a death must be registered with the Registrar of Births, Deaths & Marriages within 8 days – and this must be done before burial or cremation.

There are no other laws about dead bodies in Scotland.

  • Nobody actually owns someone after they die.*
  • There is no time limit after death within which someone has to be buried or cremated.
  • You can keep someone who has died at home between their death and their funeral.
  • You can transport a someone who has died in any vehicle, as long as they remain out of sight.
  • You can make all the funeral arrangements yourself.
  • You can bury someone who has died on land you own, with the permission of your local authority and SEPA.
  • Ashes from cremation can be scattered anywhere you like as long as you have the landowner’s permission.

PLEASE NOTE: The Burial and Cremation (Scotland) Act 2016 gives a legal hierarchy of who can arrange a funeral and the possibility to name the person one would like to arrange their funeral. In this legal hierarchy spouse/partner comes above children.

*The person named as the Executor in the Will of the deceased, or if there is no Will, the person most entitled to be appointed Executor, has the right to decide how they are to be cared for. Very often, that person happens to be the closest family member also.

Please, try this quiz to find out how much you know: After Death Legalities Quiz.

Body Care for Someone who has Died

In the days between death and burial or cremation, people have the option to care for someone who has died. Not much more than 60 years ago, this was the usual way. However, in our current society this often takes courage since it is not “the norm” and most people have lost the knowledge about how to do it.

Caring for someone yourself, even for 24 hours immediately after their death, can give you a breathing space to decide on the next steps eg appointing a funeral director with an approach and cost that suits you.

If this feels right for you then it probably is but you do not need to do it alone. Please remember there is help available – contact us on 0300 102 4444.

You can download a leaflet here it help you think about the practicalities. It is also worth thinking about advance preparations.

Our short booklet here has practical information on caring at home for someone who has died, including the legalities, Must Dos, practical tips and sources of help (this is designed to be printed as an A5 booklet). You can download it – or contact us and we can send a paper copy (£8 incl p&p).

This booklet also contains information about what is helpful to have in a “Home Death Kit”. Most of the items will likely already be in your home.

The most important extra is a way of cooling the body – you can use bags of ice but this has a risk of leaking and we do not recommend it. We recommend cool packs as these are sealed and also stay cool for longer too – you picnic blocks are available from most supermarkets. You can also get ones from pharmacies or online sold as “reuseable gel packs”, “techni-ice” or “cool cubes”. 

You can also find useful information from these websites:

Immediately after someone dies at home

Here are points to guide you if you are with someone at home when they die. The main thing to remember is that there is no rush to do anything. Also, if you are in this situation there will often be nursing staff visiting the house who will be able to advise you.

  1. Note the time you noticed them stop breathing.
  2. STOP – take as much time as you need to do whatever you need to do. It’s not a time to “do the right thing”.
  3. When you are ready, call the GP or out of hours service within a few hours – they must visit to verify the death. Ask approximate time they will come.
  4. Don’t move the person’s body from the place of death, or remove any medical devices until their death has been verified.
  5. While you are waiting for verification of the death it is OK to:
    • lay their body straight – their head can be elevated slightly
    • close their mouth – pillow under their chin or a scarf around their head
    • close their eyelids – place a bag of rice or pile of damp tissue over them
    • replace any dentures, using fixative if necessary
    • place a continence pad under their pelvis if there is not already one there.
  6. Be prepared that rigor mortis (natural muscle stiffening) may start after about 3 hours but more usually 6.
  7. Make plans for washing/ dressing their body if you are going to do this – either do it yourself or get help from a community nurse or a funeral director. This is not always necessary, depending on when a person was last washed. For some people this is a very important ritual, but does not necessarily need to happen immediately after death.
  8. Choose if and when you would like a funeral director to visit and/or for the person’s body to be removed. Note that there is usually an extra call out charge at night, and no practical reason not to wait until morning.

Someone Dies in a Hospital, Hospice or Care Home

When someone dies in a hospital, hospice or care home it may especially help you – and others close to them – to be able to spend time at home with them in comfort and privacy during the period between their death and their funeral.

If possible, discuss your plans with staff before a death, remembering that it may be the first time that the member of staff has been asked about this and they may need time to find out how to help. The advantage of being in this setting is that staff will be available who can do the initial preparations/ washing of their body if this is what you wish.

The usual routine immediately after someone dies goes something like this:

  1. staff give those present some time alone with them,
  2. you are then asked to leave to allow the staff to prepare them for transfer to the mortuary, you are given arrangements for collection of personal belongings and the death certificate and asked to arrange a funeral director,
  3. they are taken to the mortuary and placed in a refrigerator,
  4. they are taken from the mortuary to a funeral directors’ premises by a funeral director.
    In larger hospitals a Bereavement Service may be involved in some of the arrangements and liaison with next of kin. Hospices may have a special room where family can spend more time with the person who has died. Care homes may not have storage facilities and so someone is taken directly from their room out of the building.

Here are a few things to consider if you want to have control over what happens when someone dies in this case:

  • After a death in Scotland no-one has ownership of the person who has died. The next of kin have the right to decide what will happen to someone’s body immediately after a death is verified and so the right to take it away immediately if that is what they wish. Staff often do not know this and can insist that the death must be registered first – this is incorrect.
  • However, a doctor needs to write a Medical Certificate of Death, giving the cause of death (you then take this to a Registrar to register the death). It is at this point the Doctor decides whether there are any reasons to refer the death to the Procurator Fiscal eg unexplained death. This is not always done immediately after the death and so, if you move someone before this time, there could be difficulty with you interfering with evidence. If you wish to move someone quickly then inform medical staff so that they are aware a Medical Certificate of Death will be needed soon after the death.
  • Tell the staff as soon as possible if you have any particular wishes about what happens immediately after death, including you assisting with washing and dressing.
  • Some hospital mortuaries are more helpful than others to people who want to collect someone who has died themselves.
  • It would be helpful to have a coffin available for transport, although this is not strictly necessary so long as the person is covered with something strong enough to handle. (Coffins can be bought online often cheaper than that provided by a funeral director.)
  • Unless you have enough people robust enough to handle someone’s body then it is wise to consider asking a funeral director to transport them home.
  • Asking a funeral director to transport as a stand alone service gives you time to consider how you want to proceed with the rest of the arrangements. All funeral directors may not offer transport of someone’s body as a stand alone service so you may need to shop around.

Please contact us at any time if you cannot find answers to your queries here, if you have ideas for other information which could be helpful to others, or if you would like to discuss your options. Whether you are newly bereaved, caring for someone who is imminently dying or just curious, we would be delighted to chat with you.

When a Baby Dies

Parents can benefit from spending a prolonged period of time with their baby after death. After childbirth, parents are psychologically and biologically primed to bond with and nurture their newborn. Even after a death, parents wanting to be with their baby is a natural expression of their postpartum drives and parental devotion. As a result, spending time with the baby’s body can offer a number of therapeutic benefits over the course of several days or longer.

  • Spending time with their baby allows parents to say hello before saying goodbye, easing the transition from “We’re having a baby!” to “Our baby died.”
  • Saying hello gives parents the opportunity to become acquainted with their baby, rendering this child more real. It also reassures them about the normal aspects of their baby’s appearance, offers memories of love, and grants opportunities to gather keepsakes and integrate the baby into their family—all of which can ease emotional suffering.
  • In becoming acquainted, parents can express their love to their baby in the tangible ways that parents do naturally, such as examining the body, admiring adorable features, noticing family resemblances, bathing, dressing, and sleeping with their little one.
  • Providing the special care their baby needs, parents can feel a sense of competence and authority, counteracting the failure and helplessness that parents typically feel when a baby dies.
  • Having the gift of time allows parents to find their way to doing what is most meaningful for them, and to revel in this time without feeling rushed and unsure.
  • Having the gift of time also allows parents to recover somewhat from the shock of their baby’s death, a traumatic delivery, pain-killing drugs, or exhaustion, ensuring that their memories of this time aren’t just a hazy fog.
  • When parents set the pace for spending time with their baby, they get to gradually say their hellos and goodbyes, and determine for themselves when to part with their baby’s physical body. Some parents report that they feel like they got to witness the soul’s leave-taking, another reassuring experience. Setting their own pace, rather than having the hospital staff, morgue, or funeral home set the pace, also offers parents a sense of control, which can minimise the trauma of letting go.
  • Having their baby for an extended period enables parents to invite family and friends to meet and welcome their little one. This ritual enables them to cultivate shared memories and surround themselves with support.

Thank you to Psychology Today… the full article is available here.

Sands supports anyone who has been affected by the death of a baby before, during or shortly after birth. They offer emotional support and information for parents, grandparents, siblings, children, families and friends, health professionals and others.

Arranging Funerals in Scotland

Our leaflet Your options when someone dies is helpful for introducing the steps to think about. 

In Scotland, a death must be registered within 8 days – and this must be done before burial or cremation.

The Scottish Government has introduced a legal hierarchy of who can arrange a funeral (if there is disagreement), unless the deceased person has made an ‘arrangements on death declaration’ naming the person they want to arrange their funeral. In this legal hierarchy spouse/partner comes ahead of children.

The person who is arranging the funeral can do as much or as little as they want. People usually want to take into account any wishes left by the deceased, but there is no legal need to do this. The aspect of someone’s Will relating to their funeral wishes is not legally binding.

There are no laws about transporting, treatment or storing a body.

You do not need to hold a formal funeral/ service or use a funeral director unless you want to.

You do not need to take responsibility for arranging any funeral, even if you are next of kin, if you cannot afford to do so – but if you do, you will be responsible for it being paid.

Local authorities have a duty to arrange a funeral if no-one else is able to. They will recover the costs from the deceased’s estate if money is later available.

You can find information on arranging funerals in the Good Funeral Guide book (Available from many libraries) Good Funeral Guide or Final Fling.

Paying for Funerals

The average cost of a basic funeral in Scotland in 2019 is estimated as £4,229.

This includes the cost of burial or cremation, funeral director fees and a basic coffin. Extras such as flowers, cars, elaborate coffins or wake can double this amount. There are many ways to reduce the costs too.

The Money Advice Service and Which? give very useful information on Funeral Costs and different ways to pay for a funeral, including ways to pay in advance.

The costs of burial and cremation vary greatly across Scotland. Funeral Directors fees also vary greatly. Often people are not aware of the costs of their choices eg the cost of removing the deceased from home overnight can be over £200.

There is concern across the UK about the rising costs of funerals and the rise in the level of debt due to paying for a funeral – this has been termed “Funeral Poverty”.

In Scotland a Funeral Support Payment may be available towards funeral expenses for some people on benefits. For further information contact a Citizens Advice bureau or see here. This payment will not cover the cost of a typical basic funeral.

For the latest information and resources on the situation in Scotland, including government reports, see the Scottish Working Group on Funeral Poverty website.

Making a good after death plan

In any group of people close to someone who is dying there will be different reactions and different needs at the moment of death. Making a plan can help ensure that those you love have the best chance of moving forward without you in a helpful and healthy grieving process. Surely that is worth the effort.

It is usually helpful to give a bit of guidance as to your wishes without being too prescriptive, and always paying attention to costs and affordability. It may help to discuss with your loved ones what their wishes would be for your funeral but bear in mind that it may be difficult for them to discern this if they do not have much experience of death and funerals. 

Download a copy of our Good After Death Plan leaflet here.

Web Links and Leaflets

We are continually collecting resources to share about death, dead bodies and how we deal with it. Many come to us via network members – we are happy to share information you think would be useful to others.

Click here to receive a list of links to relevant websites.

If you know of any other useful links, please let us know.

You can download our leaflets here –

Your options when someone dies – a short leaflet giving the main options to consider when someone dies

A Good After Death Plan – for those wishing to create a plan in order to assist those they love

Keeping someone at home – introductory leaflet about this option

After death legalities Quiz – to learn about the legal situation in Scotland relating to death and funerals

Practical After Death Care – a larger booklet with practical details for care after death including MUST-DOs, advance preparations, care of someone’s body, home death kit