Legal Pronouncement of Death

If an individual passes away in a hospital, in a hospice facility, or at home under hospice care, then a doctor or nurse will record the time of death and make the death pronouncement.

However, if a person dies at home without hospice care where a doctor or nurse is not present, someone needs to call 911 for paramedics to examine the body. If a do-not-resuscitate (DNR) document exists, immediately present it to the paramedics. If one does not exist, the paramedics may generally initiate emergency procedures and take the person to an emergency room where a doctor will make the declaration.

Organ Donation Arrangements

Donations of organs need to be determined almost immediately at the time of death to provide the greatest viability for harvesting of the organs. There are two key locations to look to determine these wishes, if the individual did not state at the time of death. Documents, such as a living will or health care proxy, also known as advance health care directive, will clearly state the individual’s elections. If these documents are not available, then most state driver’s licenses include a check “yes” for organ donation. Hospitals will be the best source in coordinating this process. If the death occurs outside of a hospital, then it is best to contact the nearest hospital regarding this request.

Transportation of the Body

After an individual is pronounced dead, you will need to arrange for the transportation of the body from the hospital, hospice facility, living facility, home or apartment. As long as an autopsy is not required, the next step is to contact a mortuary, funeral home, or crematorium to schedule the pick-up and transportation. A mortuary, by law, must provide the transportation cost over the phone.

Notification of Essential People and Entities

No matter the situation, there are always important people and entities that need to be notified of an individual’s passing. These communications can be conducted in no specific order, but all are essential notifications and should be made soon after a death:

  • The person’s close family and friends, and ask them to contact others of the death.
  • Handle the care of the individual’s dependents and pets.
  • The person’s doctor, if he/she was not present at the death.
  • The person’s employer, if he/she was employed at the time. During this communication request information about benefits, any pay due, and if there was a life insurance policy through the employer.

Instructions for Body Bequeathal

Another decision that needs to be made soon after the death is arrangements to donate the body to a medical school or other institution. An advance directive, living will or health proxy may provide guidance to a specific institution in which the body is being donated, and the family must respect those wishes. If the person hasn't made arrangements, the next of kin can decide where to donate the body.

In addition to these main responsibilities, there are also important funeral and burial, legal and financial, and documentation checklist that should be taken into account.