Waukesha County

Frequently Asked Questions

Who can I speak to about a death investigation?

To inquire about a death investigation, you may contact the our office at 262-548-7575. Our normal business hours are Monday-Friday, 8 am to 4:30 pm. If you have questions outside of these hours, please call our dispatch line at 262-446-5070 and they will page an investigator for you.

You must provide your name, the name of the deceased, the date of death (actual or approximate), and your relationship to the deceased. If a Deputy Medical Examiner (Investigator) is unable to answer your questions, you will be referred to a Forensic Pathologist. If the Pathologist is unable to speak with you immediately, he or she 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 based on a photograph (for example, when the remains are those of an unidentified person or when the identification has not been previously confirmed).

The Waukesha County Medical Examiner's Office (WCMEO) does not allow the viewing of decedents at our facility under any circumstances. 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 decedent 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 Deputy Medical Examiner (Investigator) 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), the death certificate may be signed as "Pending". You may obtain a copy of a certified pending death certificate either through your funeral home, or the local Register of Deeds Office. This certificate documents that the death occurred which may be suitable for you in closing final matters. Once cause and manner of death have been determined, the legal next of kin will be notified. At this time, an amended certified death certificate listing the final cause and manner may be obtained either through your funeral home or the local Register of Deeds Office. 

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. In some instances, personal property may be retained by law enforcement or the WCMEO for evidentiary purposes. A property release form listing all property with the decedent is signed by the person transporting the decedent for the funeral home.


When will my loved one’s body be released?

The WCMEO 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 or holidays, releases involving such periods may be delayed slightly.


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. The examination report will be completed once all tests and studies have been completed. In some situations, the cause and manner of death may be able to be determined while still conducting additional testing on autopsy findings. 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 WCMEO.

Toxicology analysis is one of the most frequent reasons for delay in completing an investigation and death certificate. Forensic toxicology (in WCMEO cases) is very different from the drug testing performed in hospitals. 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 WCMEO. 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 WCMEO, 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. The funeral home can then provide you with copies of the death certificate.


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

Yes. "Pending" as cause and/or manner of death implies that additional studies are necessary, such as drug testing, microscopic tissue examination, etc. A death certificate, even a pending certificate, is a legal document which serves as proof that the named individual has been pronounced deceased. If any problems arise in the acceptance of this document as proof of death, please call the office at 262-548-7575 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 WCMEO.

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