The death of a family member is a challenging event. The sadness associated with a family member’s death combines with questions and even confusion about what happens next. If you are like most people, you likely have questions about what happens when a family dies at home. For example, you may wonder who removes a dead body from the home.
Death While in Residential Hospice
If your family member has been in hospice in the home prior to passing away, the removal of the body becomes a relatively smooth process. One of the steps taken when a person is placed into residential hospice is to make arrangements with a funeral home. (In some cases, the person in hospice care already had prearranged funeral and burial plans.)
When a death occurs in the home while a person is in residential hospice care, the family contacts the physician’s assistant or charge nurse primarily assigned to caring for the deceased individual. This individual arranges for a doctor from the hospice team to come to the residence and formally declare the person’s passing.
At the same time, the predesignated funeral home is contacted. Depending on when the doctor is expected to be on the scene, the transport of the remains is coordinated with the funeral home.
As an aside, California funeral homes are required by law to provide you specific information about the cost to transport. In this type of situation, this cost is likely to be a part of the overall fees associated with the funeral arrangements previously made with the mortuary.
If a person dies a traumatic death in the home, the removal of the remains becomes more complicated. If the traumatic death is discovered immediately (or fairly soon after it occurred), emergency and law enforcement personnel are called, usually via 911. The police and paramedics are dispatched to the scene.
Law enforcement will make a preliminary determination as to the manner of death. Oftentimes, the manner of traumatic death can be ascertained with relative ease. The trio of types of traumatic death that occur in a home include:
If the death clearly is the result of an accident or suicide, law enforcement will permit the remains to be transported immediately to a funeral home. If there is evidence that homicide occurred, the remains will not be released at that time for transport to a funeral home. Rather, the coroner’s office will be notified. The coroner will take custody of the body and transport it to the coroner’s office for a forensic evaluation.
In addition, if the cause of death cannot be ascertained with certainty at the scene, the coroner will also take custody of the body. A forensic evaluation will be undertaken to ascertain the cause of death.
In most cases, the coroner in Los Angeles and other Southern California counties completes the initial forensic examination within 24 to 48 hours. When this is completed, the body must be transported from the coroner’s office within 72 hours. Typically, the family has made arrangements with a funeral home for that transport.
In some states, when a death in the home does not occur in a situation in which hospice care is involved, the remains must be transported to an emergency room where a doctor declares death. In California, when an individual dies a natural or accidental death in the home, a paramedic has the authority to declare death. In the case of an unknown cause of death or a homicide, the coroner will declare death.
There are situations in which a person dies an unattended death and the body is not discovered for some time. In such a situation, law enforcement and emergency personnel are contacted via 911.
In some circumstances, the cause of death may be obvious. However, depending on the time period that lapsed between the suspected time of death and the discovery of the body, and some other factors, the immediate transport of the remains to a funeral home may not be possible. The coroner may need to take custody of the remains to confirm the cause of death.