Frequently asked questions
Why is the Medical Examiner-Coroner's Office involved in the death of my loved one?
The Medical Examiner-Coroner is mandated by State Law (Government Code 27491) to investigate all violent, sudden or medically unattended deaths within the county. This means that the Medical Examiner-Coroner’s Office completes a thorough professional medicolegal investigation into all deaths related to suicide, homicide, accident, infectious or communicable disease, or when the decedent had not been treated by a licensed physician within the 20 days preceding his or her death. The Medical Examiner-Coroner's Office is charged with determining both the manner of death, (homicide, suicide, accident, natural cause), and the actual medical reason or cause of death. The professional investigation completed by the Medical Examiner-Coroner’s Office also includes establishing the identity of the decedent, and when possible, notifying the next of kin in a prompt and compassionate manner.
Who is considered the legal next-of-kin?
Absent a legal document designating a person or persons to make decisions after their death, the legal next-of-kin is defined by law as the person responsible for making decisions regarding what will happen to the decedent after their death. The law states that the legal next-of-kin is based solely upon a person’s relationship to the decedent prior to their death. The first legal next-of-kin would be the spouse, (husband or wife), followed by any adult children, the decedent s parent(s), and finally the decedent’s siblings, (brothers or sisters).
Where is my loved one being taken?
If additional investigation into the cause and manner of death is required, the Coroner’s Office investigator will arrange for transportation of the decedent to the Medical Examiner-Coroner's Office located at 850 Thornton Way in San Jose.
Can I see my loved one at the Medical Examiner-Coroner's Office?
The Medical Examiner-Coroner's Office is not designed to accommodate the in-person viewing of decedents, because there is generally no need for anyone to identify a decedent after they have been transported to our facility. Arrangements for viewing a decedent are normally handled by the funeral home that has been contracted to handle the funeral services, and viewings are carried out at their facility. If identification does become an issue, the legal next of kin may be asked to come to our office to view a photograph in an effort to establish positive identification. Once positive identification has been established, no photographs will be produced, displayed, or distributed. Arrangements for viewing a decedent are handled by the funeral home that has been contracted to handle the funeral services, and viewings are carried out at their facility.
What do I do now?
As soon as possible, select a funeral home and inform the funeral director that the death is being handled by the Santa Clara County Medical Examiner-Coroner's Office. If you know the Coroner's case number, provide the number to the funeral director. You can then proceed with planning the funeral services, but do not set a specific date for the funeral until the Medical Examiner-Coroner’s Office has completed their investigation and released the decedent to the funeral home. Generally, most decedents are available for release within two to three days. However, there are times when the release may be delayed for various reasons beyond our control. Your Funeral Director will coordinate the release on your behalf.
Is an autopsy needed?
Autopsies are not always required prior to making a professional medicolegal determination as to the cause and manner of death. However, an autopsy may be performed if the Medical Examiner determines, in their sole discretion, that it is necessary in order to determine the exact cause and manner of death.
Are there any Medical Examiner-Coroner Office Fees?
A fee of $210.00 will be collected by the Coroner’s Office to cover the cost of transporting the decedent from the place of death to our office. This fee is collected from the funeral home or cremation society at the time they arrive at our facility to pick up the decedent. In addition to the imposition of fees to cover our transportation costs, the Coroner’s Office will impose a storage fee five (5) business days after the decedent has been released for pickup. The Medical Examiner-Coroner's Office, at their discretion, may waive transportation fees for homicide victims. The storage fee is $45.00 per day and is a fee that is not waived for any case.
When can I have a funeral?
Our investigation should not delay your funeral plans. Although the Medical Examiner-Coroner's Office does not release decedents on Saturdays, Sundays, or designated holidays, we typically complete our investigation and release the decedent to the designated funeral home or cremation service within 48 hours. In order to release the decedent to the funeral home or cremation service that you have chosen, the Medical Examiner-Coroner’s Office must have a signed Authorization of Release form on file. The funeral home or cremation service you have chosen will normally provide you with the proper form, and under normal circumstances they will submit it to our office on your behalf.
What if I do not have enough money for funeral expenses?
If the deceased failed to make any funeral/cremation arrangements prior to their death, and it is subsequently determined by the County that the decedent was indigent and the legal next of kin does not have sufficient funds to either bury or cremate the decedent, the County will cremate the decedent at County expense and scatter their ashes in a compassionate manner. Anyone wishing to apply for the Santa Clara County Indigent Cremation Program should contact the Santa Clara County Medical Examiner-Coroner’s Office for information and directions.
Can I find out of the cause of death?
Yes, in a majority of the deaths we investigate are able to determine the manner and cause of death. Although some cases require more investigation, (microscopic/Toxicology), in a majority of the deaths we investigate the cause and manner of death are reportable within 24 hours of our completing our initial investigation.
Where can I get a copy of the Death Certificate?
Although the Santa Clara County Medical Examiner-Coroner’s Office establishes the cause and manner of death, we do not issue death certificates. If you are working with a mortuary or funeral home, they can provide you with certified copies of the Death Certificate. All other requests for copies of Death Certificates should be made to either the Santa Clara County Department of Public Health, Vital Statistics Section, located at 976 Lenzen Avenue, San Jose, CA 95126, (408) 885-2010, or the Santa Clara County Recorder’s Office at 110 West Tasman Drive in San Jose .
How do I reclaim property obtained by the Medical Examiner-Coroner's Office?
The Medical Examiner-Coroner may be in possession of personal property belonging to a decedent. The legal next-of-kin may authorize the Medical Examiner-Coroner’s Office to release the property to a funeral home or mortuary, or they may obtain the property (or authorize another person to obtain the property) directly from the Medical Examiner-Coroner’s Office. In order for a funeral home/mortuary to obtain personal property at the time they pick up the decedent, the legal next-of-kin must complete and sign a Properly Release Form which may be obtained through the Forms tab on the Coroner’s Office website. The Medical Examiner-Coroner’s Office will release property directly to the legal next-of-kin or any person (with valid photo ID) furnishing written authorization signed by the legal next-of-kin. Property is only released during normal business hours. If the property is not released to either a funeral home/mortuary or the legal next-of-kin within 90 days from the date of death, the property will be turned over to the Public Administrators Office for disposal.