What to do when someone dies outside Scotland

When someone dies outside of Scotland, either overseas or elsewhere in the UK, it can be difficult to know what to do and who to turn to. Robert Cole of Brodies LLP explains what to do when someone dies outside Scotland.

What to Do When Someone Dies Abroad Scotland

What should you do in Scotland if someone dies abroad?

  • Contact the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office, embassy or consulate

When someone dies abroad, the death must be registered with the local authorities in the country where the person died. To do this, you can either contact:

Both will be able to help with country-specific procedure, liaise with the police to inform the next of kin, and they will also help you to contact other organisations that can assist, such as translators, funeral directors, solicitors and charities.

  • Contact the deceased's travel insurance company

If the deceased had travel insurance, contact their insurance company as soon as possible. Travel insurance may cover costs like repatriation (bringing the body home), as well as medical, legal and translation fees. The insurance company may also employ a local assistance firm who will do things like arrange an international funeral director or repatriation company.

If you are unsure of the deceased's insurance status, check with their bank, credit card company or their employer if they were travelling for work.

Do you need to register the death of someone who dies abroad in Scotland?

You do not need to register the death in Scotland if the death took place abroad. All deaths must be registered in the country where the person died.

The FCDO, hospital, local police, or a funeral director can usually advise you how to register a death in that country and obtain a death certificate. As a general guide, you will usually need documentation about yourself and the person who died, confirming their full name, date of birth, passport number and details of the next of kin if this is not you.

Most countries will then issue a local death certificate. It is common for the certificate to be issued in the local language. If it is not in English, an official translation will be required to administer the estate (money, property and possessions) of the deceased.

It is not necessary to register the death again in Scotland. The local certificate, together with a certified translation (if it is not in English), can be used to administer the estate. If for any reason you do need to register the death in Scotland, these documents can be submitted to the National Records of Scotland.

Can you bring the body or ashes to Scotland if someone dies abroad?

The next of kin will need to decide between a local burial or cremation or transporting the body back to Scotland for funeral arrangements to be made there. This is known as repatriation:

  • If deciding to repatriate the body back to Scotland, it is usually advisable to instruct an international funeral director to deal with the arrangements. If the deceased had travel insurance, the insurer may choose a certain company.
  • Repatriation can only happen once processes in the country where the person died have finished, including any post-mortem, police and judicial inquiries. The process of repatriation will usually require the body to be embalmed, and this can affect any post-mortem carried out in the UK.
  • It’s important to note that before a burial or cremation can take place back in Scotland, an application must be submitted to Healthcare Improvement Scotland (HIS), together with certified copies of the death certificate, passport and (if appropriate) the application for cremation.
  • If the decision is for the deceased to be buried or cremated in the country in which they died, a local funeral director should be instructed. The FCDO can again provide a list of funeral directors overseas, which may assist.
  • Ashes can be returned to Scotland without a permit, however if travelling by plane you should tell the airline in advance and have the cremation certificate ready as evidence and to help answer any questions. Ashes can then be scattered anywhere in Scotland providing the permission of the landowner has been obtained.

What happens if a Scottish person dies in England or Wales?

If a Scottish person dies in England or Wales, a death certificate must be obtained in the country where they died. Usually, this involves the executor(s) (the person(s) named in the will to deal with the estate) or next of kin contacting the appropriate registrar to provide details of the deceased.

As with a death overseas, the next of kin will need to decide whether to arrange for the burial or cremation in the country where the death occurred or for the body to be returned to Scotland for funeral arrangements to take place there.

If the decision is to remove the body from England or Wales, a notice of intention must be given to the coroner responsible for the local authority where the body lies, at least four days prior to moving the body. If the coroner decides not to hold an inquest, the body can be removed once acknowledgement has been received from the person requesting to move the body. If the coroner decides to hold an inquest, the body cannot legally be removed until the inquest has been concluded.

All acknowledgements and certificates should be retained, ready to be produced on demand to the keeper of the cemetery or superintendent of the crematorium in Scotland.

About the author

Robert Cole is a solicitor in Personal and Family at Brodies LLP.

See also

What to do when someone dies abroad (England and Wales)

Why you should make a 'foreign will' for assets abroad

Find out more

Find a British embassy, high commission or consulate (GOV.UK)

Registration of Deaths and Still-births (National Records of Scotland)

UK-based international funeral directors (GOV.UK)

Deaths abroad (Healthcare Improvement Scotland)

Register a death (GOV.UK)

Image: Getty Images

Publication date: 27 October 2020

Any opinion expressed in this article is that of the author and the author alone, and does not necessarily represent that of The Gazette.