What To Do When a Death Occurs

Wednesday, February 7

When a loved one is failing and you have been advised to consider preparing for the inevitable, there is much to think about. Aside from the specific details that will need to be contemplated regarding the actual funeral service and burial, knowing precisely whom to call when a death occurs is a critical part of this process. The answer will change depending upon the circumstances.

For example, if someone is at home under hospice care, a caregiver needs to contact the hospice who will either dispatch a nurse to the home to pronounce death. In NYC or one of the boroughs, the hospice will pronounce death over the phone without dispatching a nurse. In either of these instances, once pronounced, a funeral director can then be called to come to the home to transfer the decedent to the funeral home. Being able to avoid calling 911 is an enormous benefit of your loved one being under hospice care.

On the other hand, should a death occur at home suddenly with the decedent not under hospice care, the family or caregiver must call 911. Paramedics and police are dispatched to pronounce death but the decedent will not be released to a funeral home until the medical examiner is satisfied that the death has occurred from natural causes. This can be an arduous process. The police are in the home communicating with the investigator working for the medical examiner who is attempting to reach the physician that has been caring for the decedent. Because this often happens in the wee hours of the morning, it is sometimes difficult to reach the physician. If the investigator succeeds in contacting the physician and the physician expresses his/her willingness to sign a death certificate and assert that the death occurred from natural causes, the medical examiner will okay the release of the remains to the funeral director.

In the event that the medical examiner cannot get hold of the doctor, he/she will insist on waiting until the doctor is found or insist that the decedent be brought to the medical examiner’s office for investigation and possibly, an autopsy.

The interval between death and the release of the decedent to the funeral director can take many hours. Needless to say, this can be a very difficult time. If you believe a death is imminent and the person failing is at home but not under hospice care, it is prudent to know how to find the doctor at any hour who has been caring for the decedent. This will avoid undue hardship.

If a death occurs in a nursing or hospice facility, it is very helpful to have identified in advance a funeral home to call as more often than not, the facility has no means to keep a decedent and will be anxious to have the decedent removed so they can free up the bed for the next patient. Usually the facility, upon admission, will ask if a funeral home has been chosen. This avoids the issue of the facility not being able to reach the family at the time of need and having the responsibility of choosing a funeral home on behalf of the family, perhaps one the family never would have chosen.

When a death occurs in a hospital, the decedent is typically removed from the room and taken to the hospital morgue. If a family requests, this can be avoided as a decedent can be transferred from the room by a funeral director directly to their funeral home. This arrangement should be contemplated beforehand and needs to be approved by the hospital.

The loss of a loved one is difficult enough. Being prepared and informed when death does occur can make things a bit less difficult for a family.

Back to Blog