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The death certificate is completed in two sections: the medical portion is completed by the forensic pathologist of the Medical Examiner's Office, while the remainder is completed by the funeral home. Once the death certificate is completed, it is the responsibility of the funeral home to file the document with the Wisconsin State Office of Vital Statistics. The funeral home can then provide you with the copies of the death certificate.
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To inquire about a death investigation, you may contact our office at 262-741-4729. Our normal business hours are Monday through Friday. Please provide your name, the name of the deceased, the date of death (actual or approximate), and your relationship to the deceased when calling.Keep in mind that, while we do our best to keep families informed, we may not be able to answer all questions if the investigation is incomplete or if release of information would compromise an active criminal investigation.
Only in rare instances do we require family members to come to our facility to make a visual identification based on a photograph (for example, when the remains are those of an unidentified person or when the identification has not been previously confirmed). The Walworth County Medical Examiner's Office does not allow the viewing of decedents at our facility under any circumstances. Since the funeral home is the more appropriate setting for the viewing of remains, we ask families and friends to be patient and allow us to complete our examination, so that the decedent can be quickly released to the funeral home of their choice.
Following the post-mortem examination of a decedent's body, the Deputy Medical Examiner (Investigator) will contact the legal next of kin with preliminary findings (if they wish to be notified). If the cause of death cannot be determined immediately (requiring further investigation and/or studies), you may request that a copy of the final autopsy report be mailed as soon as it is complete.
All personal property that is received with the decedent's body is released to the funeral home chosen by the legal next of kin. In some instances, personal property may be retained by law enforcement or the Medical Examiner's Office for evidentiary purposes. A property release form listing all property with the decedent is signed by the person transporting the decedent for the funeral home.
The Medical Examiner's Office does everything possible to complete examinations and release bodies within the shortest period possible. In the majority of cases, bodies are examined and released within 24 hours. Since autopsies are not routinely performed on Sundays or holidays, releases involving such periods may be delayed slightly.
In many cases, the cause of death is evident at the time of autopsy. In these cases, the death certificate is completed immediately and the examination report will typically be mailed out shortly thereafter. In other cases, the cause of death may require additional studies, and therefore, additional time. Many of these studies require processing and analysis of specimens by consulting laboratories, whose turn-around times are not controlled by the Walworth County Medical Examiner's Office.
Toxicology analysis is one of the most frequent reasons for a delay in completing an investigation and death certificate. Forensic toxicology (in Medical Examiner Office cases) is very different from the drug testing performed in hospitals. Toxicology analysis may only take 4 to 6 weeks if no drugs are present; however, 6 to 8 weeks are typically required to perform the necessary confirmations and quantitations of drugs detected. Longer toxicology turn-around times are required in cases where numerous drugs were involved, where unusual drugs are involved, or if the person is decomposed.
Finally, the death investigation may be prolonged if the pathologist's initial suspicions are not confirmed. For example, if the death is strongly suspected to be the result of drug toxicity, but the toxicology analysis detects no drugs, the forensic pathologist may submit additional tissues for microscopic examination and/or may consult with the certified forensic toxicologist to make decisions on analyzing further specimens for unusual substances. The forensic pathologist may also confer with the law enforcement agency investigating the death to consider other possibilities (asking the police to return to the scene of death or to interview additional witnesses).
As one might suspect, all death investigations are different, and determining the cause and manner of death may require a great number of steps, each requiring time to complete-the time needed to complete some of these steps may not be under the control of the Medical Examiner's Office. We greatly appreciate the patience of families and friends in these matters as we try to provide accurate and complete answers.
Yes, "pending" as cause and/or manner of death implies that additional studies are necessary, such as drug testing, microscopic tissue examination, etc. A death certificate, even a pending certificate, is a legal document which serves as proof that the named individual has been pronounced dead. If any problems arise in the acceptance of this document as proof of death, please call the office at 262-741-4729 for assistance.
When a funeral and burial is to be held in another state, the family should contact the funeral director of their choice in that state. That funeral director will then take charge of making arrangements for the transport of the decedent's body by contacting a local funeral director. The family should notify the out of state funeral director that the deceased's death is being investigated by the Medical Examiner's Office.