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  • Writer's pictureArwen Rasmussen

When Someone Dies At Home

by Peterson/Kraemer Funeral Homes with Jessica Blahnik, Marathon County Chief Medical Examiner

One question that I am frequently asked during pre-planning conversations is, “What happens if I or my loved one should die at home?”  Few people are familiar with the circumstances or procedures that come into play when a person passes away in their own home.  It’s not something people typically think about until they are in the midst of the crisis, so they are often confused about what to do if this situation occurs.  


People often simply want to know who should be called if someone dies at home --- The funeral home?  911?  The Medical Examiner/Coroner?  The first thing to understand is that death must be legally pronounced, which can only be done by a physician, hospice nurse or the Medical Examiner/Coroner.  The funeral home is not authorized to do so, and cannot remove a body from the place of death, nor can a death certificate be issued until death has been legally pronounced. Therefore, although a family member can certainly call the funeral home to notify them of the death, they cannot bring the deceased into their care until they have been authorized to do so by the doctor, hospice nurse or Medical Examiner/Coroner.  

Often, by the time someone’s health has deteriorated to the point where death is imminent, they are in the care of a hospice organization or have been admitted to a hospital, nursing home or other facility that takes care of all of the logistics once death has occurred. In these cases, it is usually the attending physician or hospice nurse who will legally pronounce the death and the family’s funeral home of choice will be called to remove the body. But what about those times when someone lives alone or dies unexpectedly without the supervision or attendance of a medical or hospice professional? Who should be called first?  

Although every situation is unique, there are some general rules of thumb that can be applied if you find someone who appears to have passed away at home. If it is clearly evident that the person has died, the funeral home can be called to notify them of the death, and they can guide you through the next steps to take. It is also possible to call the non-emergency police or sheriff’s department number directly, but this is not recommended unless there is absolutely no question that the person doesn’t need medical attention or resuscitation. If you are uncertain whether the person has died or if they might need emergency medical care, the most likely course of action is to call 911 which will summon police and/or paramedics to the residence. In either case, if the person has in fact died, the Medical Examiner/Coroner will be dispatched to the residence by the authorities to assess the situation and pronounce death.  At this point, the Medical Examiner/Coroner will determine if additional investigation into the death in necessary or if the deceased can be released to the funeral home.


It is no doubt a troubling and emotional situation to have a loved one die at home unexpectedly, but having the proper information and advance directives in place for end of life and funeral wishes can help immensely.  It is strongly recommended that people consult with their attorneys, health care providers and funeral home professionals in advance to be certain that their wishes before and after their death are carried out.  



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