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What to do if someone dies at home

By Erica Lamberg
When someone dies at home, there are protocols to follow to ensure your loved one is handled with dignity. Markus Spiske / Unsplash

When someone dies at home, these steps can ensure that your loved one is handled with dignity -- and you follow state and local laws.

Step 1: Notify first responders

At the first sign of medical distress or death, dial 911. An operator or dispatch representative will give you instructions on what you need to do. If your loved one has an advance medical directive outlining any wishes about extraordinary life-saving measures, let the authorities know. Do the same if you believe your loved one has already passed away. If your loved one was under hospice care, consult with them as well; in many cases, they can certify a death at home without the involvement of other authorities.

Step 2:  Allow first responders access and space to work

Medical professionals may attempt to resuscitate your loved one -- or verify their death. Although the situation will be emotional and confusing, allow the first responders the space to complete their efforts.

Step 3: Get a legal pronouncement of death

First responders don't have the authority to pronounce a death and issue a death certificate. (In Ohio, for example, doctors can declare death, but must notify the county coroner or medical examiner in any case other than a natural causes.) If your loved one was under hospice care, consult with them as well.  

Step 4: Arrange for transportation of the body

If no coroner's investigation is needed, the next step is to contact a mortuary or crematorium.  (If you don't already have a funeral home in mind, we can offer some advice.) The funeral director will be able to make arrangements to remove your loved one's remains.

Step 5: Take time to process

It’s OK if you’d like to sit with your loved one’s body for a time; other nearby relatives may want to do so as well. (In some religions, such as Judaism, it’s customary that someone always be with the body until burial.) And once your loved one has been taken to a mortuary, make sure to secure their home – check on any valuables, take care of any pets, and lock up. 

Some pre-planning may make the event a bit easier to manage

If your loved one is elderly or in poor health, consider talking with them in advance about their end-of-life wishes, and the location of any wills, medical directives, insurance policies and other documents. Consumer Reports offers more advice.  

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