Our practice deals with Wills and Estate Planning and Probate.  Sadly that also means we deal with the death of clients or their family members.  According to The Stanford School of Medicine, 60% of deaths occur in hospitals, 20% in nursing homes and 20% at home,[i] while Harvard Medical School states that one-third of deaths occur in hospitals.[ii]  I’m not sure who is right, but both state that people want and would prefer to die at home and that is becoming more common.

You’ve got an aging relative, someone with a terminal disease living at home, or someone just happens to suffer a massive heart attack.  What do you do when someone dies at home?  It’s a difficult thing to think about, but it helps to know how the system works.

First, if the person was under hospice care, and it is a good idea to seek such care, the family will have a nurse managing their case.  The hospice agency will have notified the necessary authorities in advance that they are caring for the patient, so all you need to do is call the nurse.  The nurse will take care of notifying the proper authorities.

If you have a terminal patient but not in hospice, you need to call 911.  If there is no hospice, the police and EMTs will treat the death as if it was a regular patient and will begin lifesaving procedures including CPR.  They will transport the patient to the ER where a physician will pronounce the patient dead.  If it is clear to the EMTs that resuscitation is useless they won’t start it and may just leave it to the police.  You will certainly have to talk to the police while they check to make sure it was a natural death and no foul play was involved.

Hopefully the patient will have told you what they want in such a circumstance and made a plan that may include a DNR (Do Not Resuscitate order).  In such a case the EMTs will honor that DNR and not do emergency procedures.  Make sure you have it available to give to the EMTs or Police.

If the death was unexpected, then again you need to call 911.  If you know CPR, you should administer it until the EMTs or police arrive. If there are any DNRs or such, have them available.  Again the police will do an investigation into the death and you should be prepared to answer questions.

If you do ever call 911 for a medical emergency, it is a good idea to unlock the front door so the EMTs or police don’t have to break the door down.



Hubert Plummer