Determine organ donation needs

Immediately After a Death

After a death, a deceased person's organs may be donated to those in need of a transplant, or donated to science for research purposes.

In order to know if the deceased was an organ donor, check their driver's license, or an end-of-life document called an Advance Directive, also known as a Living Will.

Exclamation_Icon.svgImportant There is a limited amount of time to make this decision, so it's important to assess this situation quickly.

Helpful Tips


Organ donation most often occurs at medical facilities because of how quickly organs need to be removed before they're no longer viable.

Exclamation_Icon.svgImportant In some cases, the organs of a deceased person who passes outside of a medical facility might still be able to be donated if authorities move quickly.

After a death, medical facility staff will review the deceased's organ donation status by first reviewing their driver's license, and if available, their Advance Directive, or Living Will.

Though not required by law, they may also check national organ donation organizations to determine if the deceased had agreed to donate.

If so, they will notify the registry to determine if there is a potential match with someone in need.

Lightbulb_Icon.svgGood to Know If their donation status is unknown, the surviving family, Legal Guardian, or Medical Power of Attorney will need to make a decision in the moment.

In such a case, they usually have an organ donation organization speak with the family at the hospital to explain the process and sign any relevant paperwork.

Not all organs are able to be donated, and certain circumstances may prevent donation entirely, so it's best to speak with authorities or the hospital to determine what is possible.


If the deceased had requested to have their body donated to science, they would have had to have an agreement pre-arranged with a chosen organization (typically a local university).

A person cannot request that their body be donated to science in their last will and testament; they must have a pre-existing agreement with a facility.

This is because the facility will need to screen candidates while they're still alive to properly assess their health before accepting the donation.

After a death, it's important to locate any agreement or consent forms the deceased had with the organization accepting the body.

If these forms cannot be found, more information may be found in the deceased's advance directive, also known as a living will.


Additional Resources

The United Network for Organ Sharing manages the U.S. transplant system. Read more about organ donation on their website.

Science Care is the leading body donation authority in the United States. Learn more about donating a body to science on their website.

Personal Considerations


Was the deceased an organ donor?


Speak with hospital or hospice staff to help to facilitate the donation process. They will know what to do and whom to contact.

Exclamation_Icon.svgImportant If the death occurred outside a hospital, Hospice, or other medical facility, speak with authorities immediately to determine if timing will allow for donation.

Because organ donation is a timely process, Authorities will need to help assess the situation.


Make sure that the Authorities and hospital or Hospice staff are aware. Otherwise, nothing else needs to be done at this time.

If you don't know whether the deceased was an organ donor, check their driver's license or Advance Directive, also known as a Living Will.

Guides_Icon.svgRead More For more information on advance directives, see the "Identify someone who will make decisions in the event of your incapacitation or death" section of the Guide.

Exclamation_Icon.svgImportant If their donation status is unknown, the surviving family, Legal Guardian, or Medical Power of Attorney will need to make a decision in the moment.

In such cases, an organ donation specialist may be available at the medical facility to help explain the process and any relevant paperwork.

Guides_Icon.svgRead More For more information on powers of attorney, see the "Designate Medical Power of Attorney or Healthcare Proxy" section of the Guide.


If the deceased was an organ donor:

Speak with hospital or hospice staff to help to facilitate the donation process. They will know what to do and whom to contact.

Exclamation_Icon.svgImportant If the death occurred outside a hospital, Hospice, or other medical facility, speak with authorities immediately to determine if timing will allow for donation.

Because organ donation is a timely process, Authorities will need to help assess the situation.

If the deceased was not an organ donor:

Make sure that the Authorities and hospital or Hospice staff are aware. Otherwise, nothing else needs to be done at this time.

If you don't know whether the deceased was an organ donor, check their driver's license or Advance Directive, also known as a Living Will.

Guides_Icon.svgRead More For more information on advance directives, see the "Identify someone who will make decisions in the event of your incapacitation or death" section of the Guide.

Exclamation_Icon.svgImportant If their donation status is unknown, the surviving family, Legal Guardian, or Medical Power of Attorney will need to make a decision in the moment.

In such cases, an organ donation specialist may be available at the medical facility to help explain the process and any relevant paperwork.

Guides_Icon.svgRead More For more information on powers of attorney, see the "Designate Medical Power of Attorney or Healthcare Proxy" section of the Guide.


Immediately After a Death