Dealing with the death of a loved one is always tough, but it comes with far more challenges if they died in their home rather than at a hospital or hospice. Whereas the hospital staff will take care of several important matters for you, if someone dies in their home, their family is left to deal with the immediate aftermath. As such, it is important to know what needs to be done if you find a family member has died. Something that you need to consider right away is whether or not the death was “expected” or not and proceed as listed below.
In The Case of An Expected Death
If the deceased was known to have a terminal condition or otherwise wasn’t thought to have much time left, the procedure for reporting their death is different than if it was sudden and unexpected.
Assuming that the death was expected and once you’ve confirmed that the person has died (checking their pulse, signs of breathing, checking for warmth), you might feel the need to sit with the deceased and reflect on the times shared. If the death was expected, then it isn’t considered an “emergency,” so you don’t need to rush to call 911. Not only is it not a legal obligation, but it might not be what you personally need right now. After all, this may be the last quiet moment you will have with your loved one before medical and funeral protocols begin.
Once you are ready, then you can contact the appropriate agency. If the deceased were served by a hospice, then you should call them first. Someone there with the appropriate authority will come, pronounce the death, and put funeral plans into motion. This is easily the simplest approach.
However, if the deceased was not in hospice, then prepare to call 911, but be sure to tell the 911 operator that the person has already died, that the death was expected, and that there is no emergency. If you neglect to do so, it might lead to a tense situation when medical personnel arrives. Even if the death was expected, you need to be ready to talk with law enforcement when they arrive, as they’ll want to know who found the body and who the deceased’s physician is. They will also likely want a list of all medications that the deceased had been taking. It’s a good idea to make a list of these medications before the person dies and keep it in a safe place at home.
In The Case of An Unexpected Death
If the deceased’s death was unexpected, you will need to call 911 immediately. Technically speaking, an “unexpected” would mean any situation where the deceased would be considered “too young” or was not known to have any kind of terminal condition. This also includes deaths resulting from suicide or foul play.
In situations like this, the case is considered an emergency and EMTs will come to attempt resuscitation. If this fails, police or sheriff’s deputies will come to investigate the death. As with an “expected” death, you will need to talk with law enforcement and provide any requested information, including the state that the body was found in and any medications that the deceased was taking.
Along with speaking to the police, you will need to contact a medical professional in order to obtain a legal pronouncement of death. If you do not have the legal authority to make funeral decisions, call a member of the deceased family that does immediately. If you do, you should contact your local coroner, who can arrange for the body to be moved after making the official pronouncement. A legal pronouncement of death is necessary in order to get a death certificate, which will be a critical piece of paperwork going forward.
Facing the Future
Once the body has been taken care of and the police have finished their questioning, it is a good idea to take some time for yourself. Though there are many things you will need to take care of following the loss of a loved one, it is equally important to take care of your own needs. A death in the family can be physically and emotionally exhausting, and when someone dies at home it could add extra stress or pain, so don’t push yourself too hard or too fast. Most importantly, don’t be afraid to rely on others during this tough time. There is no shame in asking for help when you need it, and one can use all the help one can get in a situation like this.
About the author
Founder/Attorney, CCSK Law
I create customized solutions for families to address their planning needs.
I provide plans clients understand. Also, they make sure they know when to use them, and do so affordably. I love the opportunity to break through the legal jargon to clarify issues. We find success when we work through a person’s situation and put the law to work for them.