What should I do if a family member dies of COVID-19?

No matter where your family member died, a qualified doctor, nurse, or coroner must officially certify death and issue a medical certificate that shows:

  • the person’s name
  • where they died
  • when they died
  • the medical cause of death
  • whether death was from natural causes

Family member died at home

If your family member’s death is “attended”, this means that a doctor or nurse who was treating them was there when they died. The doctor or nurse will certify their death and help you understand what to do next.

If your family member’s death is “unattended”, the person who finds them should call 911. Paramedics and police will come. The paramedics will decide whether to try to revive them, take them to the hospital, or call the Coroner’s Office to certify their death.

During the COVID-19 emergency, first responders will wear personal protective equipment (PPE) as required. They will also give you instructions about wearing masks and physical distancing.

Family member dies in a hospital or nursing home

If your family member dies in a hospital or nursing home, the staff will arrange for a doctor to certify their death, and decide whether to notify the Coroner’s Office. The body will be moved to a morgue and will stay there until the coroner decides if an autopsy is needed. Staff will contact the people listed as contacts.

Notifying the Coroner

The Coroner’s Office must be notified if:

  • the cause of death is unknown
  • death was from a disease not being treated
  • death was sudden and unexpected
  • death was medically-assisted
  • it appears that death was by unnatural causes, like an accident, suicide, or homicide

If you or anyone else has serious concerns about the care your family member was receiving before their death, or if it’s possible that they were abused, the Coroner’s Office must be notified. This includes the police, family members, and medical care providers.

The coroner will decide if an autopsy is needed. If there is an autopsy, you will have to wait until it has been done before making funeral arrangements. If an autopsy isn’t needed, the body will be released to the funeral home chosen by the family or estate trustee.

Death as a result of COVID-19

If your family member died as a result of a reportable illness, their death will be reported to the Chief Medical Officer of their local public health authority by the health professional who certified death. Examples of reportable illnesses include COVID-19, tuberculosis, hepatitis, and AIDS.

Death certificates

The Registrar General’s Office issues official death certificates. The death certificate shows cause of death. 

Funeral directors also issue death certificates that the estate trustee can use to administer the estate. Those death certificates don’t show cause of death.

Administer the estate

When your family member dies, in most cases someone will have to deal with their estate. This includes doing things like carrying out the wishes in a will, terminating leases, closing bank accounts, and stopping pensions and other benefits. This will be a named estate trustee if your family member made a will naming an estate trustee. If there is no named estate trustee, a family member will have to apply to be estate trustee.

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