If you are the legal next of kin of the deceased, the first step you must take is to select a funeral home to handle the funeral arrangements. You must notify the Funeral Director that the death is being investigated by the Waukesha County Medical Examiner’s Office (WCMEO). The funeral home should then make contact with the WCMEO so that we will know who to contact once the decedent’s body is ready for release.
The typical sequence of events that follow a death is as follows:
- The WCMEO will be notified of the death by law enforcement, by EMS, by nursing/medical staff, or by hospital personnel.
- The WCMEO will determine, after assessing the circumstances surrounding the death, whether it has the legal authority and statutory responsibility to assume jurisdiction over the death (pursuant to WI State Statute 979.01).
- The death and/or injury scene is visited and investigated, if possible.
- Information is collected regarding the circumstances surrounding the death, as well as, the deceased’s medical and social history. Collecting the necessary information may include (but not be limited to): interviewing witnesses, family, friends, etc.; speaking with personal physicians; reviewing medical records; and, conferring with law enforcement.
- If the WCMEO assumes jurisdiction over the death, the decedent is transported to the MEO for an autopsy or external examination, as appropriate.
- If the deceased is unidentified, the WCMEO staff will take steps to make a positive identification.
- A postmortem examination is performed (external examination or autopsy) by a forensic pathologist.
- Evidence and necessary specimens are collected for further laboratory testing, including toxicology.
- Following the examination, the decedent is released, along with their personal effects, to the funeral home chosen by the next of kin.
- An official report of the findings is prepared (once ALL information has been collected and decisions on cause of death have been made).
- The death certificate is completed (a “pending death certificate”, with "pending" as the cause of death, is prepared if more time is required to complete further testing necessary to determine the cause and manner of death).
- Permanent records are kept for all cases investigated and examined. This information can therefore be accessed in the future for use in criminal and civil trials, for use in the processing of insurance or worker’s compensation claims, for statistical analysis, and other matters.