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Family and Friends - Frequently Asked Questions


  1. My loved one/family member/friend has recently passed away and is at the medical examiner’s office. What happens next? Once the deceased has arrived at the medical examiner’s office, an autopsy or an external examination called a “view” will be performed, usually within 24 hours. However, if the case arrives during weekend hours the examination may be performed within 48 hours depending on when the body arrived and the number of cases on hand. The legal next of kin should contact a funeral home or crematorium as soon as he or she learns of the death to make final arrangements and sign a written release giving the medical examiner’s office permission to release the body to the funeral home. Once the examination/investigation has been completed, the body will be released to the funeral home and arrangements can continue. In most cases the remains can be released within 24-48 hours of admittance unless there are extenuating circumstances, such as issues of identification.
  1. What is an autopsy, what is a “view”? An autopsy is an intricate post-mortem medical procedure often requiring complex laboratory tests. It includes examination of all major organs to document injury and/or disease. A view is a complete external examination including the taking of body fluids for toxicology testing.
  1. Can I view the body at the medical examiners office? Unfortunately, we are rarely able to accommodate viewing requests, unless there is a question about the identification of the body. Funeral homes are better equipped to accommodate the family’s requests for viewing once they have properly prepared the body.
  1. How do I obtain a copy of the death certificate? A death certificate containing the date, cause, and manner of death will accompany the decedent's body to the funeral home chosen by the family. The funeral director will complete the next-of-kin portion of the certificate and submit it to the Virginia Department of Health’s Division of Vital Records, which has an office in each district health department. If the cause and manner of death have not been determined, the original death certificate will state that they are “pending.” When a determination has been made and the case finalized, an amended death certificate will be filed with the Division of Vital Records. The funeral director can assist the family in obtaining copies of the death certificate. Additional copies may be obtained by contacting the Division of Vital Records in the district health department serving the locality in which the death occurred.
  1. What does it mean when a case “pending”? Death certificates are deemed to be pending when laboratory studies or investigations are needed to determine the cause and manner of death. Unfortunately, a time frame for when a specific case will be completed cannot be established. The circumstances of cases differ and each case is handled independently. Depending on circumstances, some cases can take more than 12 weeks to complete.
  1. How do I obtain a copy of medical examiner reports? All reports generated by the medical examiner (Medical Examiner’s Report, Autopsy Report, and Toxicology Report) are available to the legal next of kin upon written request. The request for reports should contain the decedent’s name and date of death and the name, address and signature of the legal next of kin requesting the report. Please click here for a sample blank request form. Legal next of kin may receive copies of medical examiner reports. The request can be mailed to the district office of the medical examiner where the case was handled. Once the case is final, the reports will be mailed to next of kin whose name and address appear on the request.

    §32.183 C: …Upon request, the Chief Medical Examiner shall release such autopsy report to the decedent's attending physician and to the personal representative or executor of the decedent or, if no personal representative or executor is appointed, then at the discretion of the Chief Medical Examiner, to the following persons in the following order of priority: (i) the spouse of the decedent, (ii) an adult son or daughter of the decedent, (iii) either parent of the decedent, (iv) an adult sibling of the decedent, (v) any other adult relative of the decedent in order of blood relationship, or (vi) any appropriate health facility quality assurance program.”

  1. Are others entitled to a copy of the reports? In Virginia, the records of the medical examiner are deemed to be medical records and, as such, fall under statutory protection. Therefore, only the legal next of kin in the following priority may receive copies of reports: spouse, adult child, parent, adult sibling, any other relative of the deceased. In cases where criminal prosecution is anticipated, those involving unnatural death and certain other cases, copies of reports will be sent to law enforcement agencies and to the local commonwealth’s attorney. A written release from the legal next of kin is required for reports to be sent to other interested parties, such as insurance companies or private attorneys.
  1. Do I have to pay for the medical examiner examination being performed? No.

Last Updated: 03-13-2013

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