What to do when someone dies

I’ve realized through being on the other end of the phone a lot, that people seem to kind of bumble their way through the process of making death arrangements. It seems to me that a lot of people don’t really know what they’re doing or what’s happening and instead, they just let themselves be instructed through the process. No one likes to feel helpless or out-of-the-loop of information, especially when it comes to death of a loved one so I’d like to shed some light on the process of making arrangements with a funeral home.

There are two general conditions to consider that have slightly different timelines so we’ll take them separately.
A. The person died in a hospital or at home under the care of hospice.
1. Notify the funeral home.

a. Information to have on hand:

– date of death

– time of death

– date of birth

– social security number

– next of kin’s name and phone number

– whether you’re choosing burial or cremation

Even though you’ve made the call, someone from the hospital/hospice will have to obtain to legal ‘release’ of the body from a doctor before we can pick them up. We’ll wait to hear from a nurse/chaplain/doctor before we do anything so feel free to take your time saying goodbye.

Once notified and when you’re ready, the funeral home will send out a removal team to collect the body and bring it back to our facility.

2. Set a meeting time with the funeral home to fill out paperwork.

This can either be done when they come to pick up the body or by calling them the next day. Just don’t wait too long… we get antsy when we have a body but don’t know what to do with it.

Protip: even if you’re not having any kind of ceremony, you still need to contact the funeral home for “arrangements.” We still need you to come in and fill out paperwork.

b. Info you’ll need:

– decedent’s last address

– city/state of birth

– highest education level

– father and mother’s full names with mother’s maiden name

We use all of the vital statistic information you provide to generate a death certificate. We try to fill out as much of this form as we possibly can.

B. The person died unexpectedly outside of a hospital.

1. Call the police emergency line (911).

If the person dies under these circumstances the coroner will, more than likely, want to do an autopsy to find the cause of death. If they do, the person will be taken to the coroner’s office in the county in which they died. During that time, you should start taking steps to find a funeral home.

2. Notify the funeral home and set up a meeting time.

Some county morgues may require the next of kin to sign a release form before the body can go to the funeral home. If this is the case, you need to set up a meeting with the funeral home as soon as possible. The body will not be picked up or taken care of until you sign that release form.

Keep in mind that the person may be autopsied. If you’re opting for an open-casket visitation (viewing/wake/service, etc.) be aware that some funeral homes may have an extra charge to embalm an autopsied body (it’s a lot of work!).

The steps from here are the same as the prior scenario with the exception of filling out the release form in addition to the rest.

So, granted, this is an extremely over-simplified explanation of the process and there’s roughly one bajillion ways this can go wrong, be delayed, or otherwise be screwed up. But this is just the gist of it. At a later time, I’ll delve further into the process of death certificates and cremation, since those seem to be things I’m asked about a lot.


7 thoughts on “What to do when someone dies

  1. For “whether you’re choosing burial or cremation” in Part A above, I would imagine that the decedent’s wishes come first or foremost, not the family’s. In any consultation with the family, I would immediately ask what the deceased’s burial wishes were. If he/she had any, then those must be followed. If there were no wishes, only then should you give the family the right to make those decisions. At least that’s how I feel about it all anyway, and it’s a practice that I will definitely take up in my future career.

    • The most important thing to remember is that funerals/memorial service and cremation/burial is not for the deceased, it’s for the surviving family and friends. The dead person is dead. Their feelings can’t be hurt. So, yes, I agree that at first it seems somewhat immoral to not even consider their final wishes, however, when I started practicing, I realized that the living are the most important element. Mom may have wanted to be buried but the family just feels a lot better knowing she’s going to be scattered at her favourite spot in the park. In my opinion, it’s immoral for me to deny those who still have conscious thought that peace of mind.
      Also, as far as giving the family the “right” to make those decisions, they already have them. Say his mom wanted to be buried but he’s planning a cremation instead and just doesn’t tell you about Mom’s wishes. What then?

      • I’ll agree to disagree. Funerals/memorial services are definitely for the surviving family and friends. It’s a way for them to pay their respects to their loved ones. However, the cremation/burial should be up to the deceased. This is why I’m such a strong supporter of pre-planning arrangements. Make the arrangements when you’re alive (preferably on paper), and then your wishes shall be honored upon your death. I intend on fully honoring the dead’s wishes, that’s for sure.

        Now, of course, this won’t hold true in every case. You have those random, non-accidental/non-natural deaths that you have to contend with. Or perhaps a situation can arise like the example you gave above about lying about someone’s wishes. In a case like that, since I have no tangible proof that the dead person wanted things to be this way or that way, I will honor whatever the family decides….but at a price. At that point, I will be sure to push the maximum services that I can on them. As far as I’m concerned, if the dead’s wishes are not being honored, then the living should have to pay the full premium. Sorry, but that’s how I operate, and rightfully so. I believe in justice being served to the fullest extent of the law.

      • I think that you’re going to be in for a surprise when you start practicing. Also, who are you to say who’s right or wrong? The dead are not saints that lived perfect lives. The people making arrangements know more about them than you’ll ever know. I suggest you’d step off your high horse now before you start making really stupid mistakes. At brass tacks, I think you need to review your personal process of philosophical ethics. I recommend looking into utilitarian existentialism.

        Also, you need to be aware that prearrangement mean very little as far as any legal measures are concerned. They serve as a way for the now deceased to communicate their final disposition wishes with their next of kin, however, unless things are being processed in probate court, they mean nothing.

        Good luck.

      • And baby, utilitarian existentialism won’t pay the bills. It’s called egalitarian pragmatism. Take a page out of that book. You’ll need it.

  2. Reblogged this on Death's Interlude and commented:
    Perishable Bliss is an interesting, smart chick, but alas, she knows how to turn a conversation nasty. What necrobug is up her arse? Check out the comments on a recent posting of hers. She decided to turn it sour, and I had to bite right back. Such is life.

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