What to do immediately after a death?
You do not need to contact or go to the Office of the Medical Examiner. Begin by choosing a funeral home to assist you and your family. The Utah Funeral Directors Association provides a list of funeral homes that may assist you. After you have chosen a funeral home, tell them that the body of your loved one has been transported to the OME. The funeral home will make arrangements to collect the body from the OME.
Why is the Medical Examiner's Office Involved?
The OME is charged with investigating all deaths due to violence, sudden, unexpected or suspicious deaths, non-natural deaths during employment, deaths while in law enforcement custody or a mental health facility, sudden deaths of infants, unattended deaths, and deaths due to therapeutic procedures. Your loved one was brought to the Office of the Medical Examiner (OME) because the circumstances under which the death occurred fell under the jurisdiction of this office as defined by the legal code of the State of Utah.
What determines whether there will be an autopsy?
While the Medical Examiner's Act determines which deaths fall under OME jurisdiction, the medical examiner assigned to the case will make the decision as to extent of the examination. Not everyone that comes to our office requires a full autopsy.
Cleaning Up after a Death
A biological hazard may occur when someone dies violently or their body is not discovered for an extended period of time. Do not attempt to clean up biological hazards on your own or request untrained individuals to clean up. Specialized, trained cleaning companies are the safest way to remove hazardous waste and clean up a residence, car, workplace, or other site. Search the internet for “crime scene clean up” to find a qualified cleaning agency near you.
Many homeowners insurance policies will pay for biohazard cleanup in a home. For individuals impacted by a violent crime, the Utah Office for Victims of Crime may be able to help. In some circumstances, the State of Utah may be able to offer limited financial assistance. Visit the DHHS Substance Use and Mental Health website to submit a claim.
May I view the body of someone close to me at the OME?
No. The OME does not have the appropriate facilities for allowing the viewing of a body. The OME understands that family members may be eager to see their loved one’s body, and makes every effort to exam a body and release it to a funeral home within 24 hours. Funeral homes have the training, facilities, and ability to prepare a body for viewing in a way that will result in healing and closure for those who knew them well.
Death Certificate Information for Families
What is the difference between a death certificate and a report of examination?
A death certificate is a legal document that verifies the who, where, how, and when of a death. The death certificate contains some demographic information, such as name, age, marital status, education level, and where the deceased person resided, as well as information on how and where they died. A report of examination is also a legal, medical document issued by the OME that describes in detail the pathologic findings of a post-mortem examination. Most agencies, such as a bank, utility companies, and others, require a death certificate to verify that a person has died. The Report of Examination is a medical and public health document that is requested by families and in some other circumstances, by law enforcement, insurance companies, and other agencies for specific circumstances, such as the Federal Aviation Administration, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, or others.
Where do I get a death certificate
Official copies of death certificates may be obtained from the funeral home that handled your loved one's arrangements, the Office of Vital Records and Statistics in Salt Lake City, or from a local health department.
How long does it take for a death certificate to be issued?
Barring rare, special circumstances, a death certificate is typically issued within 3 days of the death itself. The OME initiates a death certificate following an examination. Your chosen funeral director will then complete some other information on the certificate with your assistance. In some deaths, the cause and manner of death may not be determined at the time of the OME's examination. In these situations, the cause and manner will be labeled as "pending," and be updated at a later date when the pathologic findings are complete.
What does it mean if the cause and manner of death are pending on a death certificate?
Some deaths require forms of pathologic testing that take additional time, such as toxicology or examining tissues microscopically. In some circumstances, additional investigation is necessary, which may require gathering additional legal reports, medical records, or additional interviews of bystanders and family members. In these circumstances, a death certificate will be issued that indicates the cause and manner of death are pending.
When the OME completes its investigation and examination, the death certificate will be amended; pending will be changed to the actual cause and manner of death.
Most agencies that require proof of death do not require a final death certificate; that is, a death certificate that is pending will suffice for most banks, utility companies, etc. After the final certificate is issued, pending certificates may be exchanged for final copies, or additional, final copies can be requested (see above).
How to Request a Report of Examination for Families
Who is legally allowed to receive a Report of Examination?
The State of Utah treats post-mortem Reports of Examination as private documents; only certain relatives and agencies are authorized to receive reports. Immediate family members, as defined in state law, is limited to
- a spouse (legally married at the time of death; the State of Utah does not recognize so-called "common law" marriage, except in very limited circumstances),
- a child of the deceased who is at least 18 years-old,
- a parent,
- a sibling,
- a grandparent or
- a grandchild.
A legal representative, defined as a legal guardian of the deceased or a personal representative of the deceased’s estate that was appointed by a court of competent jurisdiction, may also access these records. All immediate family members and/or legal representatives have equal access to medical examiner records without preference or priority.
How do I get an autopsy report?
In the State of Utah, copies of the autopsy report are not public record. The Office of the Medical Examiner will provide copies of the autopsy report to the decedent’s immediate family members or legal representative. Additional records beyond the autopsy/toxicology report will require additional fees.
When meeting with the representative from the funeral home, simply inform them that your loved one is at the Utah Office of the Medical Examiner (OME). The funeral home will contact our office and arrange for transportation of your loved one to the funeral home.
Autopsy reports may be obtained in person during regular business hours upon providing proof of identification. You will be asked to fill out a brief form at that time and a copy of your picture identification will be made.
Requests for reports may be mailed. You will need to enclose a letter of request with an original notarized signature or print out and complete a Records Request Form.
Print a Records Request Form here.
Financial Assistance for Memorial Services and Disposition of Bodies for Families
The OME recognizes that a funeral and/or disposition of a body of someone close may pose significant financial hardship for some surviving individuals and families. The OME holds bodies for a reasonable period of time while families make financial arrangements for a memorial service and/or disposition of the body.
After a reasonable period of time has passed–typically 30 days–the OME initiates disposition with the county of residence of the deceased person. Typically, a county will assume costs for disposition.
If you are experiencing financial hardship, contact your local health department to learn more about what assistance may be available to you and your family. For deceased persons who resided in Salt Lake County, contact Wiscombe Memorial Services.
Getting Support after Experiencing a Death of Someone Close
We are very sorry for your loss, and we hope that you will seek out support for yourself or for others who are grieving in the wake of the death of someone close.
If you or someone you know is experiencing a mental health crisis, call or text 988.
After an Accidental or Natural Death
Losing someone close to you unexpectedly can be especially difficult. We encourage you to seek support. Many funeral homes offer grief support groups, many of which are provided at no cost to you. Caring Connections at the University of Utah also offers online and in-person, eight week grief support groups. Get more information here.
After a Suicide
Grief associated with suicide can be especially difficult. Those who lose someone close to suicide may be feeling intense anger, shame and guilt. Survivors of suicide (those who lost someone close) sometimes experience longer or more acute periods of grief.
Survivors of suicide are not alone; there are many others who have been affected by suicide and have experienced many of the same emotions. Grief manifests differently in many individuals. There is support for survivors of suicide and we encourage you to seek it out for yourself and others who may have lost someone to suicide.
Support for Suicide Loss Survivors in Utah
- Utah Suicide Prevention Coalition
- American Foundation for Suicide Prevention
- University of Utah College of Nursing- Caring Connections: Hope and Comfort in Grief
- Utah Suicide Support Groups
After an Overdose
Grief associated with an overdose can be full of pain, uncertainty, guilt and shame. Families bereaved by drug-overdose death may face social stigma, personal doubts and frequently feel that they lack support from family, friends, and the community. It’s not uncommon for people to feel isolated during this time. There are, however, thousands of Utahans who have been affected by overdose and many people who are able to support those who have also lost someone to an overdose. The following organizations provide resources for those who have lost someone to an overdose death:
What happens to clothing or other personal property that was transported to the OME with a body?
What happens with clothing or other personal property?
All personal effects that are received on or with the body will be released with the body to the funeral home UNLESS they are retained for evidence purposes. The condition of the clothing may necessitate disposal by the funeral home after consultation with the next of kin.
Medications that were prescribed to the deceased and submitted to our office will be held for a period of time and then disposed of by the OME in an appropriate manner.
You may contact this office and make arrangements to pick up items, such as keys, on an emergency basis. This can be done during regular business hours only. You will be required to show picture identification and sign a release form for these items.
How to dispose of unused medications prescribed to someone who has died
Prescription medications are typically collected by OME investigators or by law enforcement if a death occurs outside of a hospital setting. The identification of medications and number of pills remaining can provide useful information in the investigation of a death.
If leftover medications remain, take them to a drop off location for disposal. Here is a list of drug disposal sites in Utah.
Tissue, Organ, and Body Donation for Families
Can organs or tissue of my loved one be donated?
Persons received by the OME are screened by tissue recovery agencies. After their review and determination that a person would be a suitable donor, a call will be made to the next of kin to obtain permission for recovery and to obtain necessary social and background information. Some tissues, such as corneas, may be recovered without permission from the next of kin provided that the deceased had been placed on the donor registry previously, for example when a driver's license is renewed.
Organ donation, such as kidneys or a liver, would be recovered in a hospital setting prior to arrival at the OME. Tissues (such as skin, bone, corneas, heart valves) may be recovered within a certain time frame after death provided certain conditions and criteria are met. You may also be asked about donation of tissues for research purposes.
Can I donate the whole body to a teaching facility?
Whole body donation is possible after death to teaching facilities, such as the anatomic dissection lab for the University of Utah’s Medical School. Individuals who have had recent surgery, trauma or any degree of autopsy dissection will not be accepted for this program.
- More information regarding the University of Utah Body Donor Program
DNA and Paternity Testing
What if I may need DNA samples for paternity or other testing?
The OME routinely collects blood spot cards on all individuals that arrive at our office. The samples are stored in the event that DNA testing may be necessary in the future. One of the most common reasons is a request for paternity testing. If you need paternity testing performed please contact the lab that you will have do your testing and have them send us a mailing kit. Following these steps will allow preservation of the chain of custody.
You must send an original notarized "Paternity Testing Request Form" to the OME along with a processing fee of $25 (make check made payable to the Utah Department of Health and Human Services). The request must be made by an immediate family member of the deceased or by a court order signed by a judge of a Utah court.
- Print a DNA Testing Request Form