Death at home
Expected death at home
If this is an expected death and the family member dies at home, it is likely you are already in regular contact with your family doctor and home care nurse. Your deceased family member may have discussed his or her wishes with the doctor or the nurse. In cases where the forms have been signed for "No CPR" (No Cardiopulmonary resuscitation), there is no need to call an ambulance.
Immediately after the death, you may choose to spend some time with your deceased family member and participate in rituals that are in keeping with your spiritual beliefs. You can take the time you need before calling the family doctor or the nurse. If it is late at night, you may wait until morning before calling.
The family doctor may come to pronounce the death or give the attending nurse permission to pronounce the death. This is often done to provide assurance and support to the family and verify that this was an expected, natural death.
If the doctor has already signed the form called Notification of Expected Death, a pronouncement will not be necessary.
Removal of the body
There is no legal requirement about the timing for the removal of the body from home, although there is a legal requirement about who can authorize the transportation of the body. A funeral home can take the body directly from your home. The funeral home is legally required to obtain verbal or written authorization from the executor The person responsible for carrying out the instructions in a will and wrapping up a deceased person's estate and debts. The lovely feminine form of the word is "executrix," though the masculine form is commonly applied to executrices. See "estate," "testator," and "will." or the next-of-kin before removing the body.
There is no urgency to transfer the body. The Funeral Service Association of BC recommends that the family not wait more than four to six hours after the death has occurred to call the funeral home. For more information, visit www.bcfunerals.com.
Unexpected death at home
If an unexpected death occurs at home, call 911 immediately. You should also call your family doctor. The coroner may come at the request of the police or the doctor. An autopsy is not usually performed unless the doctor or coroner asks for one, or if the death was unusual or accidental.
Death in hospital
Expected death in hospital
If this is an expected death and your family member was in hospital, you would have contact with palliative care staff. At the death, a family physician or nurse will call you according to your instructions. You can spend some time in the room with your family member. In general, the hospital will wait for the family members to say their goodbyes.
In the palliative care wards of some hospices. the deceased may be taken directly to the funeral home.
Unexpected death in hospital
An unexpected death in hospital will be reported to the coroner. In some cases, doctors will ask you to consent to an autopsy of the body or the coroner may be required by law to do one.
If your child dies in hospital, doctors may ask you to consent to an autopsy. An autopsy is the parent ’s decision except where the autopsy is required by law. To find out when an autopsy may be required by law, see the section "When might a coroner be involved? ".
Questions you may have
What is a medical certificate of death?
When a person dies in British Columbia, the death must be registered with the BC Vital Statistics Agency. The first step in the process is the completion of the medical certificate of death. This is not the same as the death certificate.
It is the responsibility of the funeral home or funeral provider to ensure they obtain the medical certificate to enable them to register the death.
A doctor or coroner will usually complete and sign a medical certificate of death within 48 hours of the death.
- If the family member died at home. the family doctor or the coroner will complete the medical certificate of death.
- If the family member died in hospital. staff will contact the resident doctor to sign the medical certificate of death, or the funeral home will make arrangements to have the family doctor complete the medical certificate of death.
Even though the medical certificate is signed and the body is technically released, the funeral home cannot pick up the deceased until the hospital provides permission. In the case of private care hospitals without morgues or storage facilities, you likely have already given the private facility the name of the funeral home of your choice. Once the doctor or attending professional has pronounced the death and signed the medical certificate, the private hospital would contact the funeral home to remove your family member.
When might a coroner be involved?
The Coroners Service of British Columbia is responsible for the investigation of all unnatural, sudden and unexpected, unexplained, or unattended deaths. It is the coroner’s duty to confirm who, how, when, where, and by what means the death occurred. The coroner then classifies the death as natural, accidental, suicide, homicide, or undetermined. Anyone may report a death to the coroner including agencies, hospitals or doctors.
If the coroner’s preliminary investigation reveals the death is a natural event, the coroner will consult the family doctor to ensure the nature of death is consistent with the deceased’s medical history. If there is no concern, the family doctor completes the medical certificate of death.
What is an autopsy?
Either the coroner or the doctor can order an autopsy if they cannot determine the cause of death or if the death took place in suspicious circumstances. A trained pathologist performs the autopsy. The autopsy is usually carried out within 48 hours. When the autopsy is completed, the coroner releases the body to the next-of-kin. Funeral arrangements can then go ahead.
If the autopsy is not required by law, next-of-kin must sign a consent form before an autopsy can be done. Before you give consent for an autopsy, make sure that you understand the reasons for the autopsy. Keep a copy of the signed autopsy form. You can refuse to give consent for an autopsy, unless it is required by law.
You can request an autopsy. If you ask for an autopsy and it is not ordered by a doctor or coroner, you will have to pay for it. Ask ahead of time how much it will cost.
The results of the coroner’s investigation are released in a public document called a judgment A judge's conclusions after hearing argument and considering the evidence presented at a trial or an application; a decision, the judge's reasons. A judge's written or oral decision will include the judge's conclusions about the relief or remedies claimed as well as his or her findings of fact and conclusions of law. A written decision is called the judge’s "reasons for judgment." See "common law," "conclusions of law," "findings of fact," and "final judgment." of inquiry. It is available by request from the Regional Coroner’s office. The report incorporates information from all agencies involved in the death, including police, ambulance, and hospitals. It also contains the findings of the autopsy. The autopsy report itself is confidential and is released only under certain conditions.
In some cases there will be an inquest. A coroner’s inquest is a formal court proceeding that allows for the public presentation of all evidence Facts or proof of facts presented to a judge at a hearing or trial. Evidence can be given through the oral testimony
of witnesses, in writing as business records and other documents, or in the form of physical objects. Evidence must be admissible according to the rules of court and the rules of evidence. See "circumstantial evidence," "hearsay," and "testimony." relating to a death. The coroner has a fact-finding role, not a fault-finding role. The inquest does not decide criminal or civil liability.
What information does the funeral home need right away?
Your deceased family member may have made arrangements with a funeral home, and may even have prepaid for services. He or she also may have left instructions in a will. Check to see if they made prior arrangements. If they have not been made, contact a funeral home. A funeral home representative may visit your home to help you make the arrangements.
If the deceased was a member of a memorial society, check with the funeral home to see if they have a contract with that society. If not, ask whether they will agree to provide services for the same cost as the memorial society.
You will need to provide the funeral home with certain personal information about the deceased:
- full name,
- residential address,
- date and place of birth,
- date of death,
- place of death,
- name of spouse (maiden name required),
- name of parents (mother’s maiden name required) and places of birth,
- Social Insurance Number,
- personal health number on the deceased’s BC Care Card,
- any military service or veterans affairs numbers,
- length of time in occupancy,
- marital status, and
- name of executor.
What is involved in the death registration?
After the funeral home has received the medical certificate of death and obtained the personal information about the deceased, they can complete the Death Registration form. This form goes to Vital Statistics.
What do I need to know about death certificates?
The funeral director will ask you how many "original" death certificates you will require. The fee is set by Vital Statistics and may change at any time.
You will need the death certificate to notify the institutions that handled the deceased's affairs. Some institutions will require either the original document or a notarized copy of the death certificate, while others will accept a regular copy. You may wish to order two originals, then have additional "certified true copies" prepared by a notary public A person authorized to administer affirmations and oaths, and to execute or certify documents. All lawyers are notaries public in addition to being barristers and solicitors. See "barrister and solicitor.” or a lawyer A person licensed to practice law in a particular jurisdiction. See "barrister and solicitor.".
Almost all funeral homes in BC are registered as "registrars" of Vital Statistics. They administer the documentation onsite and can produce the death certificate. This means that for up to three months, the funeral home can produce more death certificates upon request.
After that time, you must apply directly to the office of Vital Statistics in Victoria; the processing may take four to six weeks.
Anyone may order and receive a death certificate for a person who has died in British Columbia. The release of a death certificate is not limited to immediate family.
How can I get information about the cause of death?
The medical certificate of death contains information about the cause of death. Neither the death registration nor the death certificate has that information.
If you are a member of the immediate family, you can obtain a certified copy of the medical certificate of death by requesting it from the family doctor, the coroner involved, or the doctor who originally signed it. Only immediate family members are eligible to obtain a certified copy of the medical certificate of death.
What is a disposition permit?
When the death is registered, a disposition permit is produced along with the death certificate. The permit typically has three parts: one each for the funeral home, person conducting the funeral cemetery or crematorium.
It is illegal to bury or cremate human remains unless you have a disposition permit issued under the Vital Statistics Act . Usually the funeral home obtains the permit.
Who do I need to notify of the death?
The first people to notify are the family doctor, the funeral home, and family members.
If there is no will or executor, the next-of-kin has the right to control what happens to the body of the family member. In some cases, you may wish to know who within the family has priority as next-of-kin, after the executor or spouse.
The executor or the administrator is responsible for making funeral arrangements and paying for them from the deceased person’s estate The personal property and real property that a person owns or in which he or she has an interest, usually in connection with the prospect or event of the person's death..
Many people and institutions will need to be notified. Tasks may include contacting the federal government about pensions and the land Real property; a parcel of real property and the buildings upon it. See also "chattel," "ownership" and "possession." registry A central office, located in each judicial district, at which the court files for each court proceeding in that district are maintained, and at which legal documents can be filed, searched and reviewed; a courthouse. about property Something which can be owned. See "chattels" and "real property." your family member owned. In most cases, these tasks are not urgent. They can be left to the executor or administrator to handle.
What is organ donation?
Hospital staff may ask if you wish to donate your deceased family members’ organs. Your family member may have left instructions or, as next-of-kin, you can give your consent when they ask if the family member wished to donate organs and tissue.
What if your deceased family member wished to donate organs and tissue?
He or she may have made a decision to donate organs and tissue and may have discussed those wishes with you. Or the wishes may be recorded in the will.
In BC, the Human Tissue Gift Act regulates organ and tissue transplants or donations. This law governs donations made after a donor A person giving something as a gift or as a bequest, and does so freely and without expectation of payment in return. ’s death, as well as donations made from one living person to another.
The BC Transplant Society is responsible for all aspects of organ transplantation in BC. The Organ Donor Registry of the BC Transplant Society has replaced all previous ways of indicating organ donation.
When your family member dies in hospital, the medical staff enters the deceased’s personal health number into the organ registry database. If the deceased is registered in the Organ Donor Registry, the system will send the hospital the form that indicates the deceased’s decision. The medical staff will show you this form.
If your deceased family member was not registered with the Organ Donor Registry, medical staff will ask you as next-of-kin, if you are willing to have organs donated. While you are not legally bound to do so, you may wish to make your decision based on what your family member would have wished.
What is the Body Donation Program?
If your family member donated his or her body for anatomy or medical studies, you need to make separate arrangements with the Department of Cellular and Physiological Sciences' Body Donation Program at the University of British Columbia.
For more details about the donation process and to receive the “Body Donation Program” brochure and body donor consent form, contact the UBC Department of Cellular and Physiological Sciences: