Following a Death

We, the staff of Michigan Medicine, wish to extend our condolences to you for the death of your loved one. This section of our website is intended to help you with logistical next steps immediately after the death occurs. To view a summary of all the information in this section, visit the Grief Support Following the Death of a Loved One page.

Please visit the Grief Support Upon the Death of a Child on the C.S. Mott Children's Hospital website for information following the death of a child and Loss of a Desired Pregnancy on the Von Voigtlander Women's site for support following pregnancy loss.


An autopsy is a medical examination of the body of a person who has died. The purpose of an autopsy is to answer questions about the person’s illness or the cause of death. Specially trained physicians, called pathologists, perform autopsies. This procedure takes place in the Michigan Medicine Morgue Suite in an atmosphere of dignity and respect. Family may request that certain parts of the body remain untouched, which is called a partial autopsy. An autopsy is typically performed soon after the person has died and does not disfigure the body or prevent an open-casket ceremony. It does not delay a funeral or cremation.

Around the time of death, a member of the care team will ask the patient’s next of kin to sign a form giving or denying permission for an autopsy. In the case of a suspicious or sudden death, an autopsy may be required by law.

There is no charge to families for an autopsy.

Autopsy Results

A final report may take up to 10 weeks due to the detailed studies performed on tissue samples and blood. The Office of Decedent Affairs, 734-232-4919, can assist the family in setting up a meeting to discuss preliminary findings or review the final autopsy results and can help the family get a copy of the written report.

Patient Belongings

If family is present at the time of death, staff will encourage them to take patient’s belongings with them.Typically, a patient belongings bag will be given to a present family member. If family is not present at the time of death, or if you have a question about missing patient property, you can contact security at 734-763-1131 or email [email protected].

Tissue and Organ Donation

Organ donation is the process of removing an organ from one person and surgically placing it in another person. There are specific criteria for organ and tissue donations, and the donation process typically happens immediately after death. If your loved one wished to be an organ or tissue donor, please let your doctor or nurse know right away. Gift of Life evaluates all cases for potential donors. A Gift of Life representative will contact you to discuss donation options.

Anatomical Donation

Anatomical donation is the donation of a whole body after death for research and education. Donated bodies are mostly used for medical education and research. There are very specific eligibility criteria for anatomical donations.

Even if a patient has “preregistered” or “enrolled” in an Anatomical Donation Program, the family will need to call after the patient has died. The program will then review the medical record and determine if donation is possible.

Some programs require a funeral home for assistance. The funeral home will file the Death Certificate, complete the Burial Transit Form, and provide transportation. Fees vary from $500-$1,000.00 for these services. 

Death Certificate

You can obtain copies of the Death Certificate from the County Clerk’s Office in the county in which the decedent died. Michigan Medicine is located in Washtenaw County. The Washtenaw County Clerk/ Register of Deeds Office can be contacted at 734-222-6720 or There is a cost.

The funeral director of your local county office can assist with the process, and give you an idea of the number of copies you will need. It is the responsibility of the funeral director to have the death certificate filed.

Funeral and Memorial Planning

Funerals and memorial services are the rituals we use to provide the chance for family and friends to help us say good-bye. Rituals help guide us when we don’t know what to say or do. This process helps us acknowledge that the death is real and provides an opportunity for family and friends to share memories.

Every family is different, and not everyone wants the same type of funeral. If you find the process of planning a memorial service too difficult or overwhelming, enlist the help of friends or other family members who are willing to make these plans on your behalf.

A funeral generally takes place with the body present and prior to the burial or cremation.

A memorial service takes place usually after the burial or cremation. Some families choose a special date, such as a birthday or holiday, while others plan the memorial service at a later time when they feel ready.

When you call a funeral home of your choosing, you will likely speak with a Funeral Director. This person is obligated by law to give you prices over the phone. It is not unloving to compare prices or to limit services provided by the funeral home if cost is a concern for your family.

Have the following information and items available for the Funeral Director:

  • Vital statistics for the death certificate including full name of your loved one, mother’s maiden name, father’s full name, social security number, place of birth, education level in years
  • Discharge papers from military service
  • Copy of the policy for any prepaid plans
  • Clothing, including underclothing and jewelry for your loved one

Funeral Home Services

Funeral home services can include:

Cremation: Cremation is the process of burning a deceased person’s body and reducing it to ash and sometimes bone fragments. The ash, also called “cremains” or “cremated remains,” can then be buried, scattered, or kept by the family in a container (sometimes called an urn) as a memento. It’s not uncommon for cremations to be accompanied by a funeral or memorial service, and the body can still be viewed at the funeral home before the cremation happens.

Direct Cremation: The least expensive choice for a family is a direct cremation, where the body goes directly from the morgue to the crematory (bypassing the funeral home).  A funeral director is required for this arrangement since the body still has to be transported and the death certificate needs to be filed. This choice eliminates the cost of visitation, embalming, casket, and a cemetery plot. However, it also eliminates the chance for a viewing, if that is something you or your family and friends might need. A cremation may also take place after the body has been viewed by family and friends at the funeral home.

Burial: A burial is a ceremonial act of burying the deceased person. A person is buried in a casket, which is a decorative box, or wrapped in a shroud, which is a cloth. Caskets have a wide variety of costs and you can discuss the best option for your loved one with your funeral director. Most people are buried in established cemeteries, but burial on private property is sometimes possible in Michigan. There are costs associated with purchasing a gravesite at the cemetery and purchasing a headstone.

Full Service Funeral: This type of funeral, often referred to by funeral providers as a "traditional" funeral, usually includes a viewing or visitation and formal funeral service, use of a hearse to transport the body to the funeral site and cemetery, and burial, entombment, or cremation of the remains. It is generally the most expensive type of funeral. In addition to the funeral home's basic services fee, costs often include embalming and dressing the body; rental of the funeral home for the viewing or service; and use of vehicles to transport the family if they don't use their own.

Home Funerals: A home funeral is an option for when a family chooses to keep a body at home after death, as opposed to having the body immediately picked up by a funeral home. Home funerals are not widely available in Michigan but there are some people who may be able to help with this process. Ask the funeral home if they will help with this arrangement. You may also find the After Death Home Care website helpful.

Green Burials: A green or natural burial indicates that there is no embalming. The body is buried in a casket or shroud that easily degrades in the earth. Some cemeteries are setting aside areas for natural burials which might be a natural meadow, no use of pesticides, and boulders as headstones. These cemeteries would not use a concrete vault.

Contact the Office of Decedent Affairs

The Office of Decedent Affairs (ODA) is part of the Michigan Medicine Department of Social Work. The ODA is the centralized point of contact at Michigan Medicine for ongoing questions and concerns before, during, and after the death of a loved one. To contact the Office of Decedent Affairs, call 734-232-4919 between the hours of 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. You may also email the ODA office at [email protected].