If your partner suffered a ‘violent or unnatural death’ or ‘a sudden death of which the cause is unknown’, the death has to be reported to a Coroner (Procurator Fiscal in Scotland). The Coroner or Procurator Fiscal will examine the evidence relating to the death and decide whether an inquest is necessary.
If there is to be an inquest, the Coroner or Procurator Fiscal will normally give permission for the body to be released for the funeral to take place. They will only do this once they are satisfied that all the necessary medical tests have taken place to determine the cause of death.
The choice of funeral arrangements is a matter for the family to decide, taking into account anything it says in the deceased’s will. The funeral may take place:
- at any location in the UK, or
- in the country of origin or in the country where the next of kin is normally resident (for Foreign & Commonwealth personnel), or
- in the country where the death occurred – though not when the death occurred on active Service, when the body is brought back to the UK
The Armed Forces will pay for:
- bringing the body back to the UK from overseas or transporting it to spouse/partner's home country
- provision of a coffin, and
- delivery to an undertaker of your choice
After that you may choose to have either a
- Service funeral, burial or cremation - at public expense paid for and arranged by the Armed Forces in accordance with Queens Regulations, or
- private burial or cremation for which the MOD will give a funeral grant of up to £3,446.
If you choose a Service funeral, this will include
- a hearse and one family car
- the purchase of a burial plot
- the provision and maintenance of a Service pattern headstone or
- the provision of an Urn Plot Marker or payment for an entry in a Book of Remembrance
If there is to be an independent inquest you will be informed by the Coroner.
An inquest is an investigation presented in public to establish who the person was, and where, when and how they died. It is not the function of the inquest to establish who is responsible for the death.
An inquest gives Properly Interested Persons the right to ask questions – this includes family members.
An inquest can be a daunting prospect. The process is complicated and can cause further distress at what is already a difficult and painful time.
You can get help through this process from The Royal British Legion's Independent Inquest Advice Service, which provides the families of those who've died in Service with free, independent and expert legal advice and assistance.
Civil claim for negligence
If you feel that the MOD has failed in its duty of care as an employer in relation to your spouse/partner’s death, it may be possible to bring a civil claim for negligence. For more information go to Civil claims for negligence.
Pension and benefit entitlements
For information about your entitlements under the Armed Forces Pension Scheme and the Armed Forces Compensation Scheme see Pension and benefit entitlements for spouse. If the cause of death was an injury or illness attributable to service before 6 April 2005, see Widow/Widowers and Dependants - Injury Pre 6 April 2005 for further information.
If your partner paid into the Service Life Insurance scheme, PAX or another life insurance scheme, you may be entitled to a payment from the scheme. You will need to send a copy of the deceased’s death certificate and be named as the beneficiary of the scheme.
When someone dies, Inheritance Tax must normally be paid on their estate (everything they owned at the time of death), if their estate is worth more that a certain amount (currently £325,000). The main exemption is if they leave their total estate to their spouse.
However, if a serving, or former, member of the Armed Forces dies from (or death can be shown to have been hastened by) an injury sustained or disease contracted on active service against the enemy or other service of a warlike nature (such as operations against hostile forces in peace time or anti-terrorist operations), a complete exemption from Inheritance Tax can be granted on their estate under the provisions of s154 of the Inheritance Tax Act. For more information contact the Joint Casualty and Compassionate Centre (JCCC) or Veterans UK.
Enhanced Learning Credits (ELCs)
If your partner had registered on the ELC scheme and had completed phase 1 and 2 training, you may be eligible to receive any unused learning credits if:
- They had served for more than 4 years and their death was after 1 April 2004; OR
- They had served less than 4 years and their death was after 1 November 2010
If your partner had served less than 8 years, you may be entitled to receive unused ELCs at the lower tier of £1,000 for each year of Service, up to a maximum of £3,000, if they had served for 8 years or more, you may be entitled to receive unused ELCs at the higher tier, up to a maximum of £6,000. ELCs are provided to fund education, learning and vocational training at a higher level.
If you are living in Service Family Accommodation you should be given the opportunity to stay in your accommodation for two years. This may be extended at the discretion of the local Service Commander. Local authorities must give a bereaved spouse or civil partner who has recently ceased, or will cease to be entititled to MOD accommodation, additional preference, if you are in a reasonable preference category and have an urgent housing need, so do contact them to find out if you are eligible.
Other practical matters
There are a number of things that you need to do to sort out your spouse/partner's immediate finances See the Sorting out the estate when there is a will section for practical information about their debts, tax, pension and other matters. You can also find information to help you in Dealing with finances and insurance after your partner dies and Bereavement and other benefits.
If you have children who were dependant on the person who died they may be entitled to receive compensation under the Armed Forces Compensation Scheme, the War Pension’s Scheme and the Armed Forces Pension Schemes. You can find out more in Pensions and benefit entitlements for spouse.
You may also need help in talking to your children about the death of your spouse/partner.
- If you have teenagers, they might find the youth website Hope Again useful in helping them through the grieving process.
- If you need advice and help in supporting your children through this difficult time contact Child Bereavement UK - they have specific telephone support for bereaved military families.
Children of military personnel who have died in Service can access the Service Pupil Premium. This is for state-maintained schools in England and enables schools to provide extra, mainly pastoral, support for children. So do tell your child's school of your situation so they can provide your child with the help and support they need.
The Bereavement Scholarship Scheme aims to give children of those who have died in Service a head start in life by enabling them to go to university or further education training. The scheme provides a scholarship for the last two years at school and pays a contribution towards tuition fees. For more information contact Veterans UK (formerly SPVA).
Dealing with your grief
If you need help in dealing with the grieving process, Cruse Bereavement Care has local branches with experienced individuals you can talk to. They also have a section on their website dedicated to the Military Family with practical tips and advice on the situations you may encounter. SSAFA also has support groups for bereaved families. You can find out more on its website.
And don’t forget that the Veterans UK and a number of Service charities, including The Royal British Legion, can help you at this difficult time - see also Other Service Organisations on the Legion's Knowledgebase.