What To Do If Someone Dies

The Body in the Library

Clues to Your Next Step

There are few things more disconcerting than waking up to find a dead body in your home. 

It might be helpful to know what you should do next.  

What To Do If Someone Dies

If you are certain that the person is dead, then do not move the body or otherwise disturb the scene.

If the deceased was enrolled in hospice, then call the hospice nurse. The hospice company will handle it from there.  

If hospice is not in the picture, then you have an obligation to make a report of death.  Follow the usual rule for emergencies and call 911. When you call, you will need to very specific about the circumstances and the condition of the body.  The 911 dispatch will then call in personnel to come out to the home.  

Events are now officially out of your control. What happens next depends on the protocols the county or city has in place.  

While you are waiting for the personnel, get dressed.  Gather up any written health directives that the deceased may have had – such as an Out of Hospital Do Not Resuscitate Order or an Advanced Directive – and a contact number for the deceased’s current primary care physician.  You can certainly call the decedent’s next-of-kin, but now is a really bad time to have them over to the house. 

When the personnel arrive, someone must pronounce death.  This is usually done by the decedent’s physician or by emergency medical services.  

The pronouncement of death is not always the same as the time of death.  The report of time of death must include whether it is actual, presumed, estimated or found.  If there are multiple deaths, then the exact time may be important to establish who inherits property.

Then there must be a declaration about the manner and cause of death.  The declaration can be made by the decedent’s attending physician. If there is no attending physician or if death was by a manner that requires an inquest, then the declaration is made by a medical examiner or a Justice of the Peace

Note that there are no coroners in the State of Texas.  If a county is large enough, then it either has its own medical examiner or contracts with an office of medical examiner.  Otherwise, the Justice of the Peace handles all inquests within his or her precinct.   

Now for handling of the body.  If the ME or Justice of the Peace decide that an autopsy is needed, then the body is transferred to an autopsy facility.  If not, then the body is removed by a funeral home.

Keep The Following In Mind

There are a few other things to think about. 

Every non-hospice death is considered suspicious until proven otherwise. Don’t take it personally if crime tape is strewn across your front yard.

An inquest is required if the death is unnatural, cause of death is unknown, or death was by suicide.

Transfer of the body and disposition of the body are two different things.  Transfer is removal from your house. Disposition involves making final arrangements.  

 

Virginia Hammerle is an attorney with Hammerle Finley Law Firm.  Contact her at legaltalktexas@hammerle.com.   More articles may be found at www.hammerle.com/blog.

This article does not constitute legal advice.