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This depends on the circumstance. In some cases, a signed death certificate accompanies the body when it is released by the Coroner.
When there is insufficient information available to complete the death certificate, a “pending” death certificate is issued. This death certificate enables the funeral services and burial to take place while the investigation continues, or for additional chemical, microscopic, slide preparation and examination.
At the culmination of these tests and investigation, the ruling is made based on all available information. An amended death certificate is then issued with the final cause of death and the ruling, which supersedes the “pending” death certificate.
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Death certificates are distributed to the family by the funeral director. Please contact the funeral director handling arrangements for your family.
The coroner cannot distribute death certificates, even for those deaths which are under investigation by the coroner.
Death certificates, once filed and registered, may be ordered directly from Vital Statistics at this link or by telephone: 724-656-3100 or toll-free 844-228-3516
For more information from the Department of Health, click here.
Pennsylvania law requires the Coroner investigate deaths of persons dying from criminal violence; by accident, by suicide, suddenly when unattended by a physician for a reasonable period of time, or in any suspicious or unusual manner.
Another reason the Coroner may be involved is that the identity of the deceased or next-of-kin is unknown, or the individual is unclaimed by family.
An autopsy is a systematic examination of the body of a deceased person by a qualified physician for the purpose of determining the cause of death. A record is made on the findings of the autopsy, including microscopic and toxicology laboratory tests. These laboratory tests are conducted before the release of the body to the next-of-kin and for burial.
There's no charge to the next-of-kin for an autopsy when a case is determined to fall under the Coroner's jurisdiction, nor for any other test that may be conducted by the Coroner (unless specific testing, such as genetic test not deemed to be consequential to cause of death, is requested by the family).
Not all deaths, and not all persons brought to the Coroner's office will be autopsied.
An exam is typically not performed where abuse, neglect or foul play is not suspected and evidence of a natural death is present.
In other cases where the possibility of legal proceedings may arise as a result of a homicide, accident, suicide, etc., an autopsy may be performed. In these cases, both positive and negative information ordinarily is found, which substantiates the ruling and the cause of death as signed by the Coroner.
The Coroner does not need permission for an autopsy. The Office of the Coroner will attempt to comply with the wishes of the next-of-kin, provided this does not conflict with the duties of the Coroner as charged by Pennsylvania law.
Whole body donations are fairly common and done for a variety of purposes. Some people may do them for scientific purposes. Others choose them because they are a less costly alternative to a common funeral with a burial, thus leaving less of a burden for their loved ones.
Usually, the person donating their body must give their own consent and therefore must be alive, of sound mind, and able to sign a donation agreement. In some cases, a next of kin can arrange a donation for a loved one. That decision is up to the donation bureau or agency. Please contact them with questions.
In all cases, these donations are not handled by the coroner. Research "whole body donation" for more information. For your convenience, two agencies are listed alphabetically below:
Anatomy Gifts Registry - Maryland: (800) 300-5433 | www.anatomygifts.org | firstname.lastname@example.org
Humanity Gifts Registry - Pennsylvania: (215) 922-4440 | www.hgrpa.org | email@example.com
The autopsy report, on average, takes about six to eight weeks from the date of death. If microscopic and chemical tests are performed, this time period can lengthen.
The Coroner, along with the pathologist, work very hard to determine and complete the cause of death in a timely manner.
There are some circumstances that arise where more time is needed to determine the cause and manner of death.
Usually, the clothing of the deceased is released to the funeral director for disposal or use as the family requests.
In cases of homicide, suicides, or vehicular deaths, the clothing may be held by the Coroner or the investigating law enforcement agency for use as evidence.
Please understand that in some cases, clothing may be deemed biohazardous or contaminated and cannot be returned.
Most often, the next-of-kin discusses the selection of the funeral director with the other family members, clergy or friends.
The Office of the Coroner is prohibited from recommending a funeral director.
A listing of funeral directors is available in the telephone book, as well as other sources.
The Coroner releases the body to licensed funeral director.
The next-of-kin of the deceased person should notify a funeral director who in turn will arrange transportation for the deceased to the funeral home.
The release for cremation (or disposition authorization) is required by Pennsylvania code for all persons whose bodies are to be cremated, buried at sea, or otherwise disposed of so as to be thereafter unavailable for examination.
The great majority of these deaths are certified by the attending physicians and would not otherwise fall under the jurisdiction of the coroner. Because an investigation must be conducted, the additional workload justifies a specific fee to be paid only by the users of the specific service rather than the taxpayers in general.
Approximately 1,000 cremations are authorized each year in this county.
When a case falls under the jurisdiction of the Coroner, there is no charge for an autopsy and the related testing.
Families are still responsible for the cost of a funeral or cremation.
After a death, there may be a need to either clean or dispose of contaminated clothing, furniture, carpeting, or other personal belongings.
The Coroner’s Office does not provide these services. We will provide you with phone numbers for such a service upon your request.
In most cases, the Coroner will not release any information about an investigation until the family of the deceased is notified.
When an investigation is ongoing, in conjunction with law enforcement, we may restrict the detail of any information that is released.
Any information that may jeopardize the outcome of an investigation will not be released until the investigation has concluded.
No, in the majority of the cases visual identification is not required.
Should it become necessary for you to come in or bring other records or x-rays, you will be contacted. A photograph of the decedent will be viewed by the next-of-kin for positive identification when necessary.
The Coroner’s Office makes every effort to contact next-of-kin as quickly as possible. Speedy notification is not always possible due to a variety of factors, such as if the victim had no identification.
To prevent a false notification, the Coroner’s Office wants to be absolutely sure of the identify of the victim before notification.
Please remember that although the victim may have been separated from his/her spouse, without a legally recognized separation or divorce decree, the spouse is still the legal next-of-kin and is usually the one who will be notified. Sometimes this may present a difficulty to other family members who believe they should be the ones notified.
Locating next-of-kin, especially if out of state or country, make take some time. The Coroner and/or a deputy along with a uniformed police officer usually makes death notification for the Washington County Coroner’s Office.
No, in spite of much research, an exact time of death cannot be determined. An estimate can be made based on a number of physical factors, but because there are so many factors involved, the exact time of an unattended death cannot be determined.
The generally accepted practice is a range between the time last seen and time found.
Insurance companies should place requests on company letterhead and include a statement of authorization or a signed release. Requests from attorneys must be accompanied by a subpoena. Faxed subpoenas will not be accepted.
The charges, per Act 154 of 2018, are:
Autopsy Report: $500.00
Toxicology Report: $ 100.00
Coroner's Report: $ 100.00
As the next-of-kin, you are entitled to obtain a copy of each at no cost. You must put your request in writing and mail it to the Coroner's Office:
100 West Beau Street
Washington, PA 15301