In our previous article "When a patient dies in hospital – Assistance with funeral costs: Who pays?" we set out the circumstances where a Trust should assist with the funeral costs of someone who dies in hospital.

In this article we address queries such as whether funeral costs can be recovered particularly where there is no next of kin, and how a Trust should go about recovering these costs. We also outline the interplay with the Treasury Solicitor in these circumstances.

We also cover what a Trust should do with the deceased's personal effects, and clarifies whether a Trust can recover funeral costs from the personal effects which the hospital holds.

Can funeral costs be recovered?

Where a Trust has arranged for and paid for a funeral (or has incurred incidental costs, such as buying a new suit), these expenses can be claimed against the deceased's estate, if there are sufficient funds. This is irrespective of who ultimately administers it (for example a family member or the Treasury Solicitor). Funeral expenses are the first legal charge against a deceased's estate. The Trust should therefore ensure that it keeps receipts of any funeral costs incurred, and submits these to the individual responsible for administering the estate.

Can funeral costs be recovered if there is no next of kin?

Where the deceased has no known next of kin, their estate then passes to the Crown. At this point, the Treasury Solicitor may become involved and undertake a search for any next of kin. If no next of kin are found, the Treasury Solicitor is granted probate and administers the estate. As above, the funeral expenses can be claimed against the deceased's estate if there are sufficient funds.

How would a Trust recover funeral costs?

The Trust should contact the Treasury Solicitor setting out:

  • The background to the matter;
  • The circumstances of death;
  • The steps taken to identify any next of kin and the outcome of that contact;
  • Any details of the estate which the Trust is aware of;
  • Any other relevant information.

The Trust should also submit any details of the expenses it has incurred in respect of the funeral, and copy receipts.

What action does the Treasury Solicitor take?

After investigating next of kin issues, being granted probate and becoming administrator of the deceased's estate, the Treasury Solicitor will take the opportunity to consider the above information provided by the Trust. As the administrator of the estate, the Treasury Solicitor will reimburse the Trust's expenses. There should usually be no problem in the Trust recovering reasonable costs associated with the funeral.

What happens to the deceased's personal effects held by the hospital?

Personal effects which require attention will include any items brought by or for the patient from home, their clothes, and any jewellery removed during preparation of the body. Where there is a confirmed next of kin, personal effects will need to be returned to them. More valuable items will constitute part of the patient's estate, and therefore need to be passed to the executor or administrator (which may or may not be the next of kin). Importantly, the Trust should document what happens to the deceased's belongings.

Can funeral costs be recovered from personal effects held by the hospital?

Where a Trust has arranged and paid for a funeral it should pay the funeral expenses itself, and should not take it from any monies or items belonging to the deceased which are held by the hospital. To do so could be construed as theft. The Trust will be able to recoup the costs it incurs according to the procedure set out above.

Other steps

Trusts should continue to have regard to the Department of Health Guidance "When a patient dies: Advice on Developing Bereavement Services in the NHS". Trusts may wish to consider incorporating the overarching principles of the Guidance into a more local policy.

Please contact Sumayyah Malna or Clementine Robertshaw for further information.