Death and bereavement during COVID-19

Introduction

The COVID-19 emergency has had a big impact on our daily lives.

It is a particularly difficult time for people who have been bereaved. Only a small number of mourners can attend funerals and travel is restricted in accordance with public health guidelines.

This document provides practical guidance on how the restrictions affect removal and funeral arrangements, and advice on dealing with the emotional and legal issues that often follow a bereavement. It includes information on:

  • Registering a death
  • Funerals
  • The deceased's estate
  • Financial matters following a death
  • Bereavement support services

Registering a death during the COVID-19 emergency period

Every death in Ireland must be recorded and registered at the General Register Office. A relative by blood, marriage or civil partnership should register the death. You do not need to be next-of-kin to do this. You should register a death as soon as possible, and no later than 3 months from the date of death. Usually the person registering the death needs to do this in person, however this requirement has been suspended during the COVID-19 pandemic.

You will not be charged a fee to register a death. However, there is a fee of €20 for a full standard death certificate. You can read about registering a death.

If the cause of death is not related to COVID-19

If someone dies during COVID-19 but their death is not related to the virus, a registered medical practitioner (such as a doctor, nurse or paramedic) will complete and sign part 1 of the Death Notification Form (DNF). They will include (to the best of their knowledge) what they believe is the cause of death.

Next, they will give you (the deceased’s spouse, civil partner or relative) the partially-completed DNF. You must complete and sign part 2.

When you have completed the DNF, you can email it and a copy of your photo ID to gro@welfare.ie. Alternatively, you can send these by post to your local Civil Registration Office or to the General Register Office (see ‘Further information and contacts below’).

If the cause of death is COVID-19

When someone dies as a result of COVID-19 (pdf), the death should be reported to your local coroner's office. A doctor, nurse, paramedic, funeral director, person in charge of the mortuary, or Garda may usually reports the person’s death to the coroner.

Usually, a post mortem will not be needed. However, if it is unclear whether COVID-19 was the cause of death, a COVID-19 test may be carried out. You can proceed with funeral arrangements while awaiting the results.

The coroner will send a certificate to the General Register Office to register the death. You do not have to do anything else.

Funerals during COVID-19

Dealing with the loss of a loved one is different during COVID-19. Current restrictions on travel and social gatherings impacts many religious, cultural and family traditions – whether the person has died from COVID-19 or not.

Practical steps when arranging the funeral

You should contact your preferred funeral director as soon as you can. The HSE has issued clear guidance to all funeral directors (pdf) to ensure your loved one is handled safely and with care.

You should avoid direct contact with the funeral director, particularly if you have been in close contact with the deceased. Instead, try to arrange the funeral details over the phone or by email (pdf). If you find this too difficult, you can ask a family member to be your spokesperson.

Let people know that your loved one has died. Your funeral director can place a notice on rip.ie, and you may want to tell your local newspaper or radio station.

Do not include the funeral arrangements in the death notice. You can share this information privately with close family members (and anyone the deceased person was living with).

You should avoid using condolence books during this time. Instead, you can ask people to send condolences through social media, online websites, text or by letter.

If you wish, you can organise a memorial service for extended family and friends at a later date, when COVID-19 restrictions have been lifted.

You may feel mixed emotions at this time. It is important you look after your mental health while also following social distancing guidelines. You can contact many organisations providing bereavement counselling services, or you may find comfort through phone calls, video calls and messages with friends.

Guidelines on wakes and open coffins

Open coffins are not allowed during COVID-19. Instead, the body will remain in the funeral home (pdf) until the burial service.

For your protection and the safety of others, the coffin will be kept closed. In very rare circumstances, it may be opened for viewing (you can discuss this with your funeral director).

Other common practices – including embalming, washing of the body and kissing the deceased – cannot take place during the pandemic. These HSE rules (pdf) may be updated at a later date.

Social distancing on the day of the funeral

You (and up to 9 others) can attend the funeral, burial or cremation as long as social distancing rules are respected:

  • Only 10 people can attend the funeral, cremation or burial service (pdf). This includes close family members and/or anyone from the deceased’s household. If there is no close family, close friends may attend instead.
  • Fewer people may be allowed to attend if the ceremony is in a small, enclosed space. Individual churches or funeral venues may have their own restrictions.
  • You should keep at least 2 metres away from others.
  • Anyone with symptoms of COVID-19 should be asked to stay at home, away from the funeral (even if they are a close family member).
  • You should avoid shaking hands, hugging and kissing.
  • Always wipe your eyes and nose with a tissue, and put the tissue in the bin when you’re finished. Do your best to practice good hand hygiene at all times.
  • During COVID-19, you should not host family gatherings after a funeral service.

While these restrictions may be upsetting for you and your loved ones, it is for your safety (and the protection of everyone else). A memorial service can be planned for a later date, when all COVID-19 restrictions have been lifted.

Financial assistance available

If you need financial support, you may be eligible for an Exceptional Needs Payment. This is a single payment to help with essential, once-off, exceptional costs (which you could not reasonably cover with your weekly income). This payment is means tested. This means you will have to give information about how much income you have, including savings and insurance policies that the deceased family member may have had to cover funeral costs.

How to apply for an Exceptional Needs Payment

Ideally, you should apply for funeral assistance before the funeral takes place. If not, you should apply as soon as possible afterwards.

You will need your Personal Public Service (PPS) numbers for yourself, your spouse, civil partner or cohabitant and your children.

You will also need evidence of any income or social welfare assistance you are getting (such as a bank statement).

Once you have your details ready, you can complete the application form and contact the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection (DEASP) representative at your local office.

The deceased’s estate

An estate is made up of the assets that a deceased person had at the time of their death. You can read more about the process of administering a deceased person's estate. There is also detailed information on the inheritance rights of the deceased’s spouse or civil partner and children.

You can read more about marital status and inheritance rights. There is also information on succession rights following a separation or divorce and inheritance rights of cohabiting couples.

Financial matters following a death

Losing a loved one is difficult for any family. It can also lead to financial difficulties. You can access a concise checklist of financial issues you should attend to when someone close to you dies.

There are also a range of social payments available to support families during this difficult period. Read more about benefits and entitlements following a death. There is also information about gaining access to money following a death.

Tax

Revenue has published useful guidance on taxation following a bereavement. You can also read detailed information on income tax credits and reliefs following a death.

Dealing with the bills, loans and debts of the deceased

When you die, any debts you have must be repaid from your estate before any other claims on the estate can be met. Your relatives do not have to pay off your debts unless they have provided personal guarantees for those debts. You can read more about what happens to debts after death.

Accessing legal advice

When dealing with probate matters, you should get legal advice. You can learn more about accessing civil legal aid and advice and browse contact information for solicitors firms throughout Ireland.

To enquire whether you are eligible for legal aid or advice from the Legal Aid Board, contact your nearest law centre. You can also contact your nearest Citizens Information Centre for information on FLAC (Free Legal Advice Centres) services in your area.

Court office services (Probate office)

The Dublin Probate Office has been temporarily relocated to the Central Office of the High Court. From 18 May, the court will begin hearing non contentious probate business as urgent matters. Contact the relevant office by email for an appointment.

Bereavement support

There are a range of organisations that provide bereavement counselling services to anyone who has been recently bereaved. You might find these counselling services useful during this difficult time.

The Health Service Executive (HSE) has published detailed advice on how to deal with bereavement and loss during the COVID-19 emergency period. The HSE also provides advice on how to mind your mental health during the pandemic.

The Irish Hospice Foundation has published guidance about how to support family members through grief during the COVID-19 pandemic.

If you are experiencing financial difficulties following a bereavement, there are supports such as the Money Advice and Budgeting Service (MABS) available to help. MABS is a free, confidential service staffed by trained money advisors who can provide advice and assistance during this difficult time.

Page edited: 15 May 2020