If you find your spouse has died, who do you call?

5 answers | Last updated: Oct 07, 2016
A fellow caregiver asked...

If you find your spouse has died, who do you call?

Expert Answers

Ed Markin, BS, MBA, PhD, is the director of research for the Alzheimer's Disease Research Foundation and author of more than a dozen books. For the past 15 years, Markin has operated the Funeral Help Program.

You asked 'who do I call if my spouse dies?' and the answer will largely depend upon how death occurred. If it was an anticipated death, say the spouse had in-home hospice care for a terminal disease or condition, your hospice care provider should be able to advise. If the death was unexpected, from misadventure (accident), suicide or homocide you'd need to call the police first. Generally calling 911 will get you the information and coordination you need at this point.

DO not call a funeral home until A) cause of death has been determined by competent medical professional (this will vary from state to state) and B) you have discussed funeral arrangements with family and/or friends. Once the body is in possession of a funeral home you OWE them, even if they just take it to the medical examiner's office or morgue, and they may hold the body until paid in full.

Community Answers

Lakeside answered...

Obviously you had a bad experience with a funeral home. No reputable funeral home will hold a body hostage the way you described.

Strider answered...

I am surprised that you do not advise calling the doctor first. That is what I have always had in mind.

I do agree calling the police is appropriate in the situations you mention, but I would still like a medical assessment first.

A fellow caregiver answered...

Aloha - As a doctor I know, like most do, if you call during office hours, you will be directed (my the office personal)to call 911. If you call after hours and your doctor is not on call, you will be told to call 911. If your doctor is on call and actually manages to get back to you within an hour or so (remember, one doctor is on call for lots of other doctors' patients as well as their own), she/he will almost always tell you to call 911, and if there is anything "suspicious" - the police as well (through 911). Almost anywhere in the US, 911 is the fastest and best way to deal with any such situation - especially as the "dead" person in question may not be dead, or may still be able to be "saved" - even with CPR directions given over the phone by 911!! Many "dead" people have been found to be "not dead" this way )- and many have been helped by paramedics and found to not be dead - (this is assuming the person in question is not blue and cold....). In any case, you lose nothing by calling 911, you probably (in most places in the US) can't reach your doctor (in a timely fashion - they are NOT on call to help the dead, they are on call to help those who can be helped....) and if you do, you may have wasted valuable time that paramedics sent by 911 could have used. I am sorry if I sound harsh, but early in my practice, before I knew better (to give out cards with such basic advice as what to do if you think you spouse is dead....), I believe I lost at least some patients who might have been saved had 911 been called before I was called (and told them to call 911 - and THEN tell me what the problem was - again, do NOT waste what may be the most critical few minutes of someone's life).

If you live in Mayberry, RFD (sorry if I messed up the spelling) or in a very rural area where the doctor is more available and closer (and makes urgent house calls as there are no close paramedics) - in such rare situations, it might make sense to call the doctor first - but again, only in places where doctor's personal phone no's (home no's) are available!

And there is one very, very, very important thing that most anyone reading this can do - take a CPR course (and retake it at least every one to two years). Then YOU can be very likely be saving your spouses life while you are waiting for the paramedics (or your doctor.....) to show up! Check the statistics for yourself - and please - if you are about to have a baby or have one, or toddlers, please both parents learn CPR (it's different for babies and toddles and grownups) - and make sure any babysitter you use (even if it's "grandma") knows CPR. It's takes very little time to learn, it's very easy, and check with you local police, fire department or Red Cross for availability of classes. The cost, if any, is minimal - orders of magnitude less than a funeral! aloha, learnforget (MD) ps - your point about liking "a medical assessment FIRST" is 100% valid - you will start getting that assessment by talking to the 911 operators (it's not only doctors who can start making medical assessments) and then a much fuller assessment when the paramedics arrive - and all this will have occurred - including the necessary medical assessment you want "first" in almost all cases long, long before you will have been able to even establish contact with the doctor in question. You are completely correct in what you want first - and maybe where you live 911 ONLY gets you the police. It is my understanding and experience that 911 screens calls - and many of the calls dispatch the police, and paramedics, sometimes just paramedics, etc - depending on the info the 911 operator is able to extract from the caller. If you don't know what happens when you call 911 in your area, I'd suggest you find out- and if they ONLY deal with police matters, I'd ask THEM who to call in the above mentioned situation. again, aloha

Marly26 answered...

In any case please call 911, when they are called you not only get the paramedics,you as well get the police, firestation etc. This way you have all the help you will need for any assessment. If you think your spouse/partner or anyone has passed please remember to check the neck artery. Put your pointing finger and middle finger on the side of the neck to see if there is a pulse. In any case call 9ll. I agree that everyone should take CPR, it is beneficial to everyone. Yes some places do charge a minimal fee but remember you could be saving ones' life. Call 9ll, explain the reason for your call, they will ask if you want police,ambulance or firefighter however they do all end up coming. Each and everyone of them are certified in determining death. My hugs and prayers are with you. Take care.