Frequently Asked Questions

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Who can I speak to about a death investigation?

To inquire about a death investigation, you may contact the Office at 920-929-3366 at any time.  You must provide your name, the name of the deceased and your relationship to the deceased.  If a death investigator cannot answer your questions, you will be referred to a forensic pathologist.  If the pathologist is unable to speak with you immediately, they will return your call at their earliest opportunity.  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 the information would compromise an active criminal investigation.

Is it necessary that I identify the body at the Medical Examiner’s Office?

Only in rare instances do we require family members to come to our facility to make a visual identification (for example, when the remains are those of an unidentified person or when the identification has not been previously confirmed).

The FDL County MEO does not allow the viewing of bodies at the Office in any other situation. 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 body can be quickly released to the funeral home of their choice.

How can I find out about the cause of death?

Following the post-mortem examination of a decedent’s body, the death investigator or forensic pathologist 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. 

How can I retrieve my loved one’s personal possessions?

All personal property that is received with the decedent’s body is released to the funeral home chosen by the legal next of kin, with the exception of items that are retained by law enforcement or the FDL MEO for evidentiary purposes.  A property release form is signed by the person transporting the decedent’s body for the funeral home.

When will my loved one’s body be released?

The FDL County MEO 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, deaths over a weekend may not be released until after their examination on Monday.  Autopsies are also not routinely performed on major holidays; therefore, the release time in these cases may be 48 hours or slightly longer. On days when the caseload is exceptionally heavy, releases may be delayed over 24 hours, as well.

How long does it take to get the results of the postmortem examination / investigation?

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 in less than 30 days. 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 FDL MEO.

Toxicology analysis is one of the most frequent reasons for delay in completing an investigation and death certificate. Forensic toxicology (in MEO cases) is very different from the drug testing performed in hospitals. Hospitals typically only perform screening tests of urine for general categories of drugs (for example, "opiates"), and do not determine ‘how much’ of each drug is present ("quantitation" of drugs). The MEO’s forensic toxicology laboratory, on the other hand, analyzes multiple body fluids for a wide spectrum of specific drugs.  The toxicology laboratory will not only quantitate the drugs detected, but will confirm their presence by a second method.  This, obviously, takes time. Toxicology analysis may only take 4-6 weeks if no drugs are present; however, 6-8 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 are 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 MEO. We greatly appreciate the patience of families and friends in these matters as we try to provide accurate and complete answers.

How can I get a copy of the death certificate?

The death certificate is completed in two sections: the medical portion is completed by the forensic pathologist of the FDL County MEO, 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 WI State Office of Vital Statistics.  Only the funeral home or the Office of Vital Statistics can issue copies of these documents.

Can a “pending” death certificate be used as proof of death?

Yes.  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 920-929-3366 for assistance.

What if the funeral is being held out of state?

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 FDL MEO.