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Who's Who after a Death

There are a number of technical titles and terms involved after a death. This glossary explains some of the most common roles.

Administrator The legal representative of a deceased person who has died without a Will and is usually one of the deceased's closest relatives; or the legal representative of a deceased person who has died with a Will but where there are no executors able or willing to act.

Anatomical Pathology Technologist or Technician Assists pathologists with post mortem examinations.

Asset Holder Anyone who holds money or property on behalf of the deceased e.g. a bank.

Barrister See ‘Lawyer'.

Beneficiary Someone who will inherit from the will or under the intestacy laws; also, the recipient of a payment under a trust or a life insurance policy may be described as a beneficiary.

Celebrant Someone who officiates at a ceremony including a funeral. May be religious e.g. may be a faith leader, a humanist (secular) or civil (may include some religious content).

Certifier of Death The doctor who completes the Medical Certificate of Cause of Death. Must have cared for the deceased during life and be certain of the cause of death and that it is natural.

Coroner The independent judicial officer who investigates unnatural and unexplained deaths.

Coroner's Officer Works under the supervision of the coroner in the investigation of deaths. May be civilians or police officers.

Counsellor A qualified person who provides emotional therapy to others either in one to one interviews or though group meetings.

Creditor A person or organisation owed money by the deceased.

Embalmer Works for a funeral director to care for bodies.

Executor A person appointed by a Will to administer the deceased person's estate.

Funeral arranger Works for a funeral director making the practical arrangements for a funeral.

Funeral director Sometimes called an undertaker. Takes responsibility for the care of the deceased person and arranging and conducting funerals.

Lawyer There are three main categories of lawyer, i.e. solicitors, legal executives and barristers. They are all qualified professionals specialising in legal matters. Solicitors and legal executives are both able to assist in writing Wills and in dealing with the administration of estates of deceased persons. Barristers  represent clients in court.

Legal Executive See ‘Lawyer'.

Medical Examiner A senior independent doctor who is responsible for checking that what a doctor who completes a Medical Certificate of Cause of Death is accurate. They are part of a new system of death certification to be introduced in the next few years so they have only been appointed in a few places.

Medical Examiner’s Officer A person whose role is to assist the Medical Examiner. They make work in the background helping with the paperwork or may speak with bereaved families.

Next of kin The person who is the closest relation to the deceased in law. However is often used in quite a loose way e.g. a hospital patient can name someone to hospital staff as their 'next of kin' even if they are not the patient's closest relative.

Officiant See ‘Celebrant'

Pall bearer A person who carries the coffin at a funeral. May be a professional employee of the funeral director or a relative or friend of the deceased. 

Pathologist A specialist doctor who diagnoses disease through the examination of body tissues and fluids. This may include carrying out post-mortem examinations. Sometimes called a histopathologist. A Home Office pathologist is a pathologist who is qualified to carry out specialist forensic post-mortem examinations to find evidence of unnatural death.

Personal representative An executor or administrator.

Probate Registry An office of the Probate Service (which is part of Her Majesty's Courts Service) which issues a Grant of Representation to the personal representatives of a deceased person, giving them the formal legal authority to deal with the deceased's estate.

Procurator Fiscal The independent judicial officer who investigates unnatural and unexplained deaths in Scotland

Power of Attorney Formal deed by which one person appoints another to act on his behalf or represent him, usually in respect of conducting financial affairs. The deed ceases to have effect on the appointor's death.

Registrar Registrar of Birth and Deaths. Employed by local authorities to receive information on deaths and issue death certificates.

Sexton Responsible for church graveyards. An old term and it is usually best to approach the priest-in-charge, rector or vicar in the first instance to arrange burial in a churchyard.

Solicitor See ‘Lawyer'.

Verifier of death Person who confirms that death has occurred. The point at which they do this is usually taken as the official time of death. May be a doctor or in some circumstances may be a nurse or an ambulance paramedic.

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