Notify local authorities

Immediately After a Death

After a death, you are legally required to notify local Authorities so that the death can be officially recorded by the state.

Typically, these are officially recognized professionals such as doctors, nurses, EMTs, police officers, or firefighters.

Once notified, they will produce two documents: a Pronouncement of Death form and a Death Certificate.

You won't need the Pronouncement of Death form, but you will need the Death Certificate for administrative tasks in the future.

Which authority to notify depends upon whether the death occurred at home or a medical facility.

Helpful Tips


If you are unsure that a death has taken place, it's important to check the deceased's vital signs.

These are measurements of the body's basic functions that indicate if they are alive:

  • Use your first and second fingertips on the inside of the wrist to check for a pulse
  • Count their pulse for 60 seconds
  • Listen for breathing
  • Listen for a heartbeat

Exclamation_Icon.svgImportant Keep in mind that someone can lack one or more vital signs but might still be alive.

For example, their pulse might be so low that you can’t feel it. In this case, you should still call the authorities just in case.

Make sure to share details of the deceased's vital signs with the authorities when you contact them.


After a death, all states require that it is officially recorded by a lawfully authorized professional.

These professionals are typically physicians in a hospital, hospice, nursing facility, or if the death occurred outside a medical facility, an EMT, police officer, or firefighter.

The documents they produce not only confirm the details of the death, but may be used for investigations into foul play.

Additionally, the details of the document are used by public health officials to compile statistics on causes of death.


Medical facilities, like hospitals or hospices, have standard protocol to facilitate transportation of the body to local funeral home or cremation service.

In many cases, they will coordinate transportation at the request of surviving family members so long as the body does not need to be evaluated for any additional reason (e.g., autopsy).

Exclamation_Icon.svgImportant When an unidentified body is in the hospital or morgue, authorities will conduct further investigation to determine the primary point of contact, and will get one or more family members to identify the body.

Guides_Icon.svgRead More For more information on funeral homes, see the "Organize a funeral" section of the Guide.


No matter the circumstance, determining the cause of death may be important for both legal and financial reasons.

Knowing the cause could impact potential malpractice or wrongful death lawsuits, filing a life insurance claim, or whether criminal charges will be filed.

Even if the deceased person passed away for a medical reason not associated with negligence, knowing the cause may help family members monitor their own health or seek treatment for similar conditions.


A Pronouncement of Death form is a legal document that officially states the date and time when a deceased person's was found to be legally dead (the time a person may have actually died).

It is legally required by every state, and can only be created by authorized service professionals (e.g., a doctor, nurse, EMT, police officer, or firefighter).

Medical professionals or authorized authorities will first confirm that all bodily functions have ceased, and then complete the Pronouncement of Death form.

The form is then given to the appropriate local government agency (e.g. Department of Vital Records) to be used to create the official Death Certificate.

The Death Certificate is the official document that is used by the state to legally record the death and is the most important document you will need to save.

Lightbulb_Icon.svgGood to Know A Pronouncement of Death form is different from a death certificate; neither the surviving family, nor the Executor of the Estate, will need a copy of the Pronouncement of Death form.

Guides_Icon.svgRead More For more information on Death Certificates, see the "Request multiple copies of the death certificate" section of the Guide.

Review an example Pronouncement of Death form to understand what information is required

Personal Considerations


Did the death occur at a hospital, hospice, or other medical facility?


Contact the facility’s staff.

They will coordinate with local authorities to complete a Pronouncement of Death form.

If arrangements have already been made with a funeral home, the facility will coordinate with them to transport the body.

Guides_Icon.svgRead More For more information on how to transport a deceased person, see the "Transportation of remains" section of the Guide.


Call 911 or the hospice group overseeing end-of-life care and notify them of the death.

Local authorities will arrive and complete a Pronouncement of Death form.

They will then transport the body to a funeral home or crematorium if arrangements have already been made.

Exclamation_Icon.svgImportant If the death was not the result of natural causes, they will bring the body to a local morgue or coroner's office for additional investigation, such as an Autopsy.

When contacting the authorities, make sure to provide information about the deceased, including:

  • The deceased’s name
  • Their date of birth
  • Their Social Security number
  • Their address
  • Your personal contact details
  • Any details about the circumstances of the death

If you need to report the death, or if there's an emergency, call 911


If the death occurred at a hospital, hospice, or other medical facility:

Contact the facility’s staff.

They will coordinate with local authorities to complete a Pronouncement of Death form.

If arrangements have already been made with a funeral home, the facility will coordinate with them to transport the body.

Guides_Icon.svgRead More For more information on how to transport a deceased person, see the "Transportation of remains" section of the Guide.

If the death occurred at home or outside of a hospital, hospice, or medical facility:

Call 911 or the hospice group overseeing end-of-life care and notify them of the death.

Local authorities will arrive and complete a Pronouncement of Death form.

They will then transport the body to a funeral home or crematorium if arrangements have already been made.

Exclamation_Icon.svgImportant If the death was not the result of natural causes, they will bring the body to a local morgue or coroner's office for additional investigation, such as an Autopsy.

When contacting the authorities, make sure to provide information about the deceased, including:

  • The deceased’s name
  • Their date of birth
  • Their Social Security number
  • Their address
  • Your personal contact details
  • Any details about the circumstances of the death

If you need to report the death, or if there's an emergency, call 911


Was the death expected?


Then it's likely the result of something known or understood. As such, no further investigation may be necessary.

However, depending upon the circumstances of the death, it’s possible that foul play occurred.

AutumnIcons_Providers.svgProviders Speaking with a Wrongful Death Attorney may help determine if additional investigation is needed, and if an Autopsy is necessary. Find one near you at the links below.

Guides_Icon.svgRead More For more information about requesting an elective, clinical autopsy, see the "Determine if an autopsy is needed" section of the Guide.


Report this to authorities because additional investigation may be needed.

They will transport the body to the local coroner's office to be reviewed by a medical examiner who will determine the cause of death, likely by conducting an Autopsy.

AutumnIcons_Providers.svgProviders It may be helpful to speak with an Wrongful Death Attorney about the circumstances of the death to determine potential damages. Find one near you at the links below.


If the death was expected:

Then it's likely the result of something known or understood. As such, no further investigation may be necessary.

However, depending upon the circumstances of the death, it’s possible that foul play occurred.

AutumnIcons_Providers.svgProviders Speaking with a Wrongful Death Attorney may help determine if additional investigation is needed, and if an Autopsy is necessary. Find one near you at the links below.

Guides_Icon.svgRead More For more information about requesting an elective, clinical autopsy, see the "Determine if an autopsy is needed" section of the Guide.

If the death was not expected,:

Report this to authorities because additional investigation may be needed.

They will transport the body to the local coroner's office to be reviewed by a medical examiner who will determine the cause of death, likely by conducting an Autopsy.

AutumnIcons_Providers.svgProviders It may be helpful to speak with an Wrongful Death Attorney about the circumstances of the death to determine potential damages. Find one near you at the links below.

Providers to Contact


Wrongful Death Attorneys Near You

If the cause of death is suspicious, a Wrongful Death Attorney can offer helpful guidance and advice on next steps. Wrongful death attorneys help families get compensation for the death of a loved one caused by someone else’s negligence or wrongdoing.

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Immediately After a Death